The Story (and People) Behind Fair Trade

Batiker at the Ashaiman Global Mamas location.

Batiker at the Ashaiman Global Mamas location.

During my last few weeks in Ghana there was a volunteer from Finland who worked for an NGO investigating and writing reports on third world working conditions. After hearing about her work and the many facets of this issue, I asked her opinion about how we can start to solve the problem of unfair working conditions around the world.  She believes that the number one solution is for companies to raise the wages of the workers – which is essentially what they don’t want to do.  Again and again her organization has pushed for raising the minimum wages in many of the manufacturing plants in various countries of the third world, but rarely has a company taken this recommendation.  She shared with us that the salary of Nokia’s CEO equals that of 3000 Indian workers at their plant in that country. Continue reading

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The Patchwork of Life

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I am in the last few days of my trip to Ghana and I only have a post or two left on this blog.  First, I wanted to say thank you for sharing in my adventure.  Having a blog has added an extra layer of fun to my trip.

I have often thought  about aspects of life here that are different from home and wonder how best to present them on my blog.  I have kept a list of topics that I wanted to cover and I won’t get to all them.  I decided to use this post to briefly cover a few of them. Continue reading

Women of Ghana: Seamstresses

Sabina, a seamstress in Cape Coast.  She works on a lot of Global Mamas products and I also hired her to make a few gifts for me to take back to family.

Sabina, a seamstress in Cape Coast. She works on a lot of Global Mamas products and I also hired her to make a few gifts for me to take back to family.

Another one of my projects during my time in Ghana has been to write the bios of many of the Global Mamas so that they can be uploaded onto the Meet the Women section of the website.  Another volunteer interviewed most of the women and I took the notes and wrote them into short bios.  Many of the women who work with Global Mamas are seamstresses and one of the interviewees said the following, which I think sums up the role of seamstresses here very well.  “Veronica believes that seamstresses play an important role in Ghana.  Without them women can’t go anywhere!  Women need to look nice when they go out and they need seamstresses to help them do so.

Seamstresses (and tailors) are everywhere in Ghana.  I would love to know how many seamstresses there are per person in this country.   It seems that pretty much every person, no matter what income level,  has clothes made for them.  Continue reading

Project: Water Bead

Sitting in the volunteer house experimenting with water beads.

Sitting in the volunteer house experimenting with water beads.

One of my ongoing projects during my time with Global Mamas has been to help create a new water bead.  These beads are made out of old plastic water bottles.  The Ghanaian woman who lives in the volunteer house in Elmina, Ellen, has been making water beads for Global Mamas for the past few years.  The products they have been using the water beads in haven’t been selling very well so their orders to her have dropped off.  They wanted to breathe some new life into the beads and, despite the fact that I know nothing about jewelry design, I agreed to take it on as a project.  I’ll explain the process of making the beads and then describe how we made some changes. Continue reading

Ghana in Pictures

I have been collecting a series of photos that speak to different parts of my experience and to life in general in Ghana.  Enjoy!

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All of the products that go into the Global Mamas catalog need to be photographed – often on models. This is one of the women who works in the Cape Coast office being photographed by one of the designers who works in the U.S. office.

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We visited a weaving studio while traveling over the Christmas holiday.

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Traveling from Point A to B in Ghana

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Julia and Laura waiting for the fast car to fill up for the trip back home.

In a country where the majority of people do not own a car, how do 25 million people travel from place to place each day?  One of my favorite things about traveling in the second and third world is that it is possible to get virtually everywhere by public transportation.

In Ghana, the least expensive way to get around is by tro tro.  Tros are boxy vans, bigger than a minivan, but smaller than a short bus. They travel short to medium distances on a fixed route.  An in-town trip usually costs around 30 US cents, a longer journey $1-2 USD.   In every tro, apart from the driver, there is a mate.  He collects the money, helps people in and out and makes sure the tro stops when people want to get off (usually by knocking on the outside of the vehicle).  As the tro travels down the road he leans out the window pointing and yelling the destination, “Takoradi, Takoradi, Takoradi.”  A tro tro can be caught at a station if you happen to be at one, but most folks just stand on the side of the road and flag them down.  You need to use different hand signals depending on your destination.  You point down to the ground if you are staying in town; for other destinations you might point over your right shoulder, straight up in the air, over your right shoulder into the air, etc. Continue reading

Ghana’s Bead Artisans: Part II

Beads from a bead market

My purchases from the bead market. Some of these would be great in a mosaic.

Apart from the bead makers, there are two other groups that factor into the bead trade in the Krobo area ~ bead sellers and bead assemblers.  Bead sellers are mostly women who travel to the rural villages where many of the beadmakers live to purchase their beads.  They then take them to the Krobo bead market and sell them at their stalls.  The bead market is a portion of the larger town market at the center of the town of Krobo-Odumase.  Walking through the main market to the bead section you pass stalls selling almost any small items you could possibly want: fresh vegetables, cleaning supplies, second hand shoes (most likely from the U.S.), bulk beans, stationary, fabric, pirated movies, cell phones, and plenty more.  Gladys, who manages the Krobo Global Mamas location, was our guide through the market and took us to the stalls of the women who are partners of Global Mamas.  Most of the beads sold at the stalls are handmade glass beads, some similar to the types we made in our workshop  in the last post, and many varieties of handpainted beads. Continue reading

Ghana’s Bead Artisans: Part I

During the past few days I have been introduced to various facets of Ghana’s bead industry.  It’s multi-layered and has a few different players, so I’ll start with the first step of the process – making the beads.  I have to admit, before this weekend how beads are actually made has never really crossed my mind.  But, this past Saturday morning two other Global Mamas folks and I got the chance to experience beadmaking firsthand with local beadmaker, Moses.  The walk to his workshop meanders down a dirt road past small houses tucked here and there, one room wooden shops selling things like cookies, water, and the locally made key soap, and groups of children who stop to wave and stare at us.  Set in a small grove of banana plants and mango trees three doors down from his house, his workshop is an outdoor thatch covered space that holds his wood fired clay oven, stacks of clay molds and other assorted supplies.

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Moses’ outdoor workshop.

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Women of Africa ~ Mary Koomson

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Mary in her studio.

Meet Mary, a Ghanaian batiker. She built her studio after working at a supermarket for two years to save up the funds for the building materials. She studied textiles and batik at a school in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Mary has been a batik artist for thirteen years and has owned her shop for eleven years. She often hires help to assist her in completing larger volume orders. Like any good businessperson she has a diversified customer base and serves Global Mamas, a local school for which she batiks the school’s emblem on the uniforms, and individual customers from around town. Continue reading

Ghanaian Art ~ Batik

Batik artists abound in Ghana.  Global Mamas (the organization I am volunteering with) contracts with many women who batik the material that will later be made in to products by their seamstresses.  I had the opportunity to visit one of the local batikers, Mary, this week to experience the process and batik my own cloth.

First, a pot is heated up over charcoal and the wax is melted.  As that process is happening the artist selects her stamps.  Some stamps are made out of plywood, which the artist usually buys from a supplier.  Other stamps are made out of foam, which are often designed and cut by the artist.

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Wax is heated in a metal pan atop hot charcoal.

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Foam stamp on the left and wooden stamp on the right.

Continue reading