Monday, June 29, 2009

KamiAmi continue to grow and change





KamiAmi continues to change, to progress. Each success seems to present another challenge. It is a growth process for both the women and for me. It is like raising a child - when and how do you start to let go, to let them be in charge and make all the decisions?

Our original vision was to make KamiAmi Women sustainable. This is still our vision.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Daily Commute





















It’s a 30-minute walking commute from the place where I stay to the place where I work. It’s a quiet time in the mornings. Most kids are at school, and I slowly walk to work, greeting people as I travel along the dusty road. The road is littered with the plastic bags that are now used (and valued) by the KamiAmi Women. It also has a tree that is filled with weaver bird nests – quite a site to see!


In the afternoons, on the way home, I usually have escorts. They carry my bags, and we talk and sing and laugh. They are pleased to show me all the back roads of town, and I get to see places I would never see on my own. On one day we walked past the home of Mary Addo, one of our KamiAmi Girls, and there she was – practicing her crochet.

Global Mamas
















The best miracle of all is that we completed and delivered our very first wholesale order - 55 crocheted and zippered wallets. Global Mamas buys fair trade crafts made by Ghanaian women. They will test market them at their two tourist shops in Ghana, and if successful, they will include our bags on both their Web site and in their international catalog. If this is successful, it is the utmost in sustainability. The women simply take the trotro (public transportation) to Accra to do their KamiAmi business.

Sammy, as our new manager, accompanied us and collected the money. It was a very happy day.

For more info about Global Mamas visit - http://www.globalmamas.org/

Pokuase, January 2009
















It was almost like coming home. The children were bigger, the streets were still dusty, and I was happy to be back.

I knew it was time to adapt a part of my dream. I had wanted this to be a women’s cooperative, run by the women, for the women. In Ghana, very few women are trained or educated for leadership roles. They have not had good educations, and have little confidence in their school-related skills. Even writing numbers is a challenge for them.

And so I hired Sammy (Samuel Gyabah) as our business manager. He is from Pokuase, is university educated, and will help KamiAmi develop and function. He recruited more women - young women with little schooling and few job prospects. A perfect group for us! They came with their children, learned to crochet, and started to earn some income.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kids in the Classroom




















The kids love being in our classroom. They like the camaraderie, and the singing, and join in the fun of laughing at me. They couldn’t believe that I was taking a picture of a chicken!

In the summer, when school is out, we are joined by several teenage girls. At first they were just tolerated by the adults, and asked to do errands. It quickly became apparent that they also can develop good crocheting skills. They are now the KamiAmi Girls. Staying in school, studying hard, and doing their household chores is of prime importance, but crocheting the rubbers in their "leisure" time is a good way for them to earn some money. Each one of them got her very own crochet hook.

Diana, called Madua at home, is our youngest KamiAmi Girl. She is quite skilled at helping to prepare our plastic “fibers.” She always has a smile, and is willing to cheerfully do whatever is asked of her.

We have one KamiAmi Boy. Meshark, aka NanaKwami, is 12 years old. He has great crocheting skills. He does all the KamiAmi errands with a big smile, and then is just happy to sit among us. He carries his crochet hook wherever he goes.

Ghanaian Names

The birth day of each child born in Ghana is very important. A girl could be Akosia or Akua or Ama, depending on the day of the week she is born. Boys frequently have names beginning with the letter K. Kofi, as in Kofi Annan, means boy born on Friday. This name often becomes part of their house name, and sometimes part of their more formal school names.

This Land is Your Land

During my first visit, the women asked me to teach them an American song. After much thought, I decided that “This Land is Your Land” is the song that I would share. We changed some of the words to the names of Ghanaian towns – Bolgatanga, Pokuase, Nungua, and Takoradi. We practice and practice. The kids proudly sing it as we walk through the streets.
video

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Onua




Onua is a very special woman. She has outlived two husbands. She has raised seven daughters. She is a smart business woman, selling flour and other baking necessities, and is incredibly respected in the community.

Her real name is Evelyn. She has very little English; I have very little Ga. When I lived in her family compound, we talked in sign language, with some translation. She called me Onua, Sister, and that is what I call her.

I am proud to be her sister.

The Kids of Pokuase

















The kids of Pokuase are truly special, or at least I have a special relationship with many of them. They are not used to a white person, or to an adult playing with them or giving them a great deal of attention. I become a major attraction when I am there.

On many days, I walk down the street to pick up some of the kids from school. I become Celestina’s, or Laudina’s, or Harriet’s grandmother. I always carry Laudina home on my back.

As I walk down the streets, the kids yell “obruni, obruni” (white person, white person); the response they love to hear is “obibini, obibini” (black person, black person). It is always followed by excitement and laughter.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Art Classes




Art classes seem to be mostly nonexistent in Pokuase.

I bring along donated crayons, markers, colored pencils, stickers, etc., etc. On the first trip I brought a ream of paper, but surprisingly enough, it was easy to purchase paper in Pokuase. I taught a few of the older kids to make simple stitched pamphlet books. We made enough for every kid in the neighborhood.

Every child and teenager was welcome at our twice-weekly classes. Each one received a blank book and some writing / drawing supplies. These were returned at the end of each class, to be retrieved the next time they attended.

Word spread, and our classroom was always full.

My plan for distribution of all the supplies on the last day usually ended in bedlam. And I thought it would be simple to just give it all away….

Prince and His Car



Prince is a born craftsboy. You need to guard your flip-flops and other assorted possessions that could become the raw materials for one of his car creations.


I offered him a trade: art supplies and small tools for one of his cars. This car, in the photo, is made of tin cans with flip-flops for wheels. It now resides on the mantel in my living room.

Field Trips




Pokuase is located about an hour north of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Accra is on the sea. Most of the Pokuase kids have never been to Accra, and have never seen the sea.

On each of my trips to Ghana, I choose three of the older kids, those who have been the most helpful, and take them to Accra on one Saturday. We have a deal. I pay for the tro-tro (public transportation) and give them each 3 Ghana cedis – worth about $2.50. They can do whatever they want with their money – save it, spend it, buy food or water. They cannot ask me for anything else.

This has worked. 3 Ghana cedis is more money than they have ever had at once. On one trip, we visited the sea, and ended up touring the football (soccer) stadium. It is a very special treat – for them and for me. How wonderful to have the opportunity to introduce them to their own country.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pokuase, August 2008




I was back! I was greeted by hugs and cheers and dusty children.


The women had been practicing. They met every Thursday and Friday, and crocheted over 100 bags. They were not all wonderful, but it was impressive and they were proud.


While I was there, we designed our first official KamiAmi bag – called MamiAkua. It is a double-handled oval bag, crocheted of the ubiquitous black rubbers and an accent color from the recycled bags I bring from the US. All of the KamiAmi Women can now make this bag, the exact size, with good quality. And they can make many of them.


We started marketing. We traveled to Accra and put out bags in galleries, and we set up our first exhibition for the visiting university business students. By Ghanaian standards, it was a roaring success.

The KamiAmi Classroom




Our classroom is an open air building on a family compound near the center of town. (My understanding is that) the floor was started and then abandoned. WomensTrust later put up the walls and the roof.


It is a busy place, particularly when schools are closed. Children and chickens are always walking through. Many women come by, selling their goods from their heads: palm wine, prepared food, batiked fabric, kitchen utensils. You name it. Just sitting in the room, watching life pass by, is an incredible experience.


One area just outside our classroom is an open-air church. The praying is done in a language I don’t understand; the singing is quite beautiful. They meet two or three times a week, and once joined us in the midst of a downpour. They seemed to be most welcome in our very crowded room.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Readers beware


Readers beware!

These stories and tales are seen through my eyes, the eyes of a westerner.

I am a visitor to a different culture. It is not always easy to understand or to translate anything that is happening around you. You do the best you can, and then you trust....

Poverty is relative



Poverty is relative, even in Pokuase. At first glance, almost everyone seems poor. Most homes are one or possibly two rooms, in need of paint, with no electricity or running water. If you can see beyond this lack of amenities, there is a kind of wealth that is often unfamiliar to us. It is a social wealth: people connecting to people, people caring about people, people sharing their lives. If you are lucky, you are surrounded by your family and friends, and you are able to say you have enough.



Not everyone has enough. Some people drink polluted water because they cannot afford to buy clean water. Many people eat primarily carbohydrates, because it cheaply fills their bellies and the bellies of their children. Many children cannot go to school, because their families cannot afford the costs of fess, uniforms, and books.


This is why there are so many of us there – trying to somehow make a difference in this cycle of poverty.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pokuase, January 2008




My first trip to Pokuase. We gathered together daily for three weeks. It was a Ghanaian crocheting bee. They learned from me – to create fibers from discarded plastic bags and to crochet with these fibers. And I learned from them – about their lives, their language, and their culture.

For the last two weeks, I moved into a family compound – a conglomeration of small buildings or rooms, each one belonging to another family member or friend. Scooby is the dog. There were chickens and children tumbling in the dust. Always visitors. Everyone helps to take care of the babies.

Every day was busy and full, dusty and dirty, and incredibly special.

The two women crocheting are wearing glasses from the Dollar Store in Brattleboro, Vermont.


For more tales, check out my website at www.jackieabrams.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The KamiAmi Women of Pokuase, Ghana


In the local Ga language in Pokuase, Ghana, “kami ami” translates to “don’t make it too tight, keep it loose.” It was the first crocheting instruction I learned as I worked with a group of women, teaching them to crochet wallets and handbags with the plastic bags (called “rubbers”) that usually litter their environment. We became the KamiAmi Women; we are a community development project of WomensTrust, a micro-lending organization in Pokuase.

Followers

About Me

My photo
Hands photo by Dani Abrams