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Posts Tagged ‘ghana’

092618-basket-ordered-direct-from-Ghana

Look at this thing of beauty! I ordered it direct from Ghana to replace my old laundry basket. Here’s how I learned about the amazing Baba Tree.

The story starts with Suzanne’s bicycle. She wanted a bicycle basket and went online to see what might be available. That’s when she found a company in Ghana that helps basket-making artisans sell their works in the global marketplace.

Suzanne ordered a bicycle basket, and when it arrived safe and sound a few weeks later, I happened to be at her house. I starting thinking, What kind of basket do I need? I went online.

Founder Gregory MacCarthy writes an oddly defensive blog at Baba Tree in which he explains about the company, the prices, and the reasons he is not applying for “fair trade” status. As I read it just now, I was reassured — I have a lovely basket in front of me and I like finding quirky individuals behind something good.

MacCarthy writes, “We are not a ‘project,’ a charity, a foundation or a non – governmental organization (NGO). Though we engage small acts of charity every day, we are here, in Bolgatanga, to do business and do our best to empower the folks with whom we work through the open market. …

“The people with whom we work are very capable. Though we have customers who are very committed to their charities and purchase our baskets wholesale to raise money for them, the Baba Tree chooses to empower our people in the market place. It’s not that the Baba Tree is fundamentally opposed to aid and charity, it’s that it is rarely carried out honestly, efficiently and effectively which creates further dysfunction.

“The weavers with whom the Baba Tree works are more than capable of taking care of themselves, excelling through their own sweat and creativity that ultimately produces Excellence. The Baba Tree refines and cultivates the excellence brought forth through our weavers, and does an excellent job organizing and marketing that excellence throughout the world. …

“We are not subsidized in any form at all. All that is produced, and received, by the Baba Tree, is through our own sweat and creativity. At the Baba Tree everyone gets paid.”

A card inserted with my basket describes the hours spent stripping and dying elephant grass fibers, then braiding them in the Baba Tree compound to the accompaniment of “laughter and singing … interwoven into the very folds of our baskets.”

In the picture of my new basket (created by Martha, I’m told), you can see that “Do Not Crush” was written on the box. Although neither my basket nor Suzanne’s got crushed, the boxes and the baskets inside sometimes do suffer in transit from Ghana. For that reason, a paper was enclosed telling me how to fluff out a crushed basket by soaking it first in a tub of water.

I loved tip no. 8 on that paper: “Please do your best to use the water to water a tree or plant” after finishing. That tells me so much about Africa and about this company. And it reminds me that we should all be more thoughtful and thrifty with our abundant water.

Read more at Baba Tree and enjoy the gorgeous pictures there.

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Photo: Tim McDonnell /for NPR 
Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam “farm.” Collecting data is the first step in protecting indigenous livelihoods.

I love reading about how people around the world come up with constructive ways to use technology. This story is about clam farmers in Africa enlisting GPS data as a first step in protecting indigenous rights.

Writes Tim McDonnell at National Public Radio, “Samuel-Richard Bogobley is wearing a bright orange life vest and leaning precariously over the edge of a fishing canoe on the Volta River estuary, a gorgeous wildlife refuge where Ghana’s biggest river meets the Gulf of Guinea.

“He’s looking for a bamboo rod poking a couple feet above the surface. When he finds it, he holds out a computer tablet and taps the screen. Then he motions for the captain to move the boat forward as he scans the water for the next rod. …

” ‘Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data,’ says Bogobley, a researcher with Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian nonprofit that supports small-scale fishers. ‘These people don’t have any platform to fight for what is theirs.’

“The Volta River is rich with clams, harvested year-round by a bustling community of several hundred fishermen and women. The meat is packaged for sale across West Africa, while the shells are ground into an additive for whitewash and chicken feed.

“The riverbed itself is divided into intricate real-estate parcels, each one an underwater clam ‘farm’ with its own caretaker.

“The farms have become a flashpoint in a broader conflict over the land rights of indigenous peoples in Africa: The clam fishers have no legal claim to their farms, and are under increasing pressure as they compete for prime real estate with the booming tourism industry and cope with the impacts of climate change. …

“[Clam farmer Kofi] Amatey spends most of every day working here about ten feet below the surface, gathering clams into a basket. Wearing eye goggles and a weighted belt, he breathes through a makeshift scuba apparatus that pumps air from a compressor on his canoe.

“It’s a subsistence living: Amatey estimates that he earns less than $1,000 per year. And in recent years, it’s gotten even harder.

“A crop of new luxury resort hotels now crowd the riverbanks, forcing the clam fishers off of land where they used to live, dock canoes and process clams. Tourists’ speedboats and jet skis churn the water, threatening to topple the narrow dugout canoes loaded with clams. …

“Without a formal, legal claim to the clam farms, Amatey and his neighbors say they have no way to protect themselves from hoteliers and other developers who acquire deeds from the government. …

“Many indigenous land rights lack protection because of a scarcity of data. …

“That’s where the GPS tablets come in. A growing number of research groups and international aid organizations are rolling out software aimed at making it easier for anyone with a tablet or smartphone to accurately map community-held land and record basic information about its proprietors. This data alone doesn’t offer any legal protection, but it’s an essential starting place.”

More here.

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Ghanian teacher Richard Appiah Akoto drawing Microsoft Word on a blackboard because he has no computer to help his students pass exams.

Over here in the Land of Plenty it’s hard to imagine some of the stratagems teachers in less favored regions must employ to help their students learn.

And although this particular story is about Africa, I don’t mean Africa only. There are many parts of the United States where meager school funding pushes dedicated teachers to extraordinary feats of creativity.

At CNN, Gianluca Mezzofiore reports on a teacher in Ghana who needs to teach kids computer usage — without a computer. How does he do it? He draws a screen image of Microsoft Word on a blackboard.

“Richard Appiah Akoto is a Ghanaian teacher who faces a pretty discouraging dilemma. His students need to pass a national exam that includes questions on information and  communication technology (ICT) — but the school hasn’t had a computer since 2011.

“So Akoto had an ingeniously simple idea: he drew computer features and software on his blackboard, using multicolored chalk.

” ‘I wanted them to know or see how the window will appear if they were to be behind a computer,’ Akoto told CNN. …

“Images of Akoto — who on social media uses the nickname ‘Owura Kwadwo Hottish’ — drawing a diagram of Microsoft Word for his pupils at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase went viral after he posted them on Facebook. …

“Akoto’s 100-plus students were happy about the drawing because it made the explanation about launching Word simple for them, he said. And this is not the first time he has illustrated IT technology on the board.

” ‘I have been doing this every time the lesson I’m teaching demands it,’ he said. ‘I’ve drawn monitors, system units, keyboards, mouse, formatting toolbar, drawing toolbar, save as dialog box and so on.’

Quartz, which first reported on the teacher’s story, says the written exam is a requisite for 14- and 15-year-olds in Ghana to progress to high school.” More here.

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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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A certain community organization that believes in the importance of affordable housing also believes in the importance of community. That is why it fosters numerous community-building initiatives, including the new Sankofa farm and market.

Leigh Vincola at ecoRI reports from Providence.

“If you have traveled around the city’s West End this winter, you may have noticed a number of buildings going up rather quickly. Wondering what they are and who they belong to?

“The answer is Sankofa, a Ghanaian word meaning to go back, get what is yours and make positive progress in the future. The Sankofa Initiative of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC) is doing just this.

“The initiative was born in 2011, when the WEHDC completed an extensive survey of West End residents that determined their primary concerns centered around health and food. In a predominately low-income neighborhood — 32.5 percent of households live below the poverty level — the survey determined that for many the West End is a food-insecure neighborhood. There isn’t enough access to fresh food, and particularly food that is culturally relevant to the immigrant populations that make up the community, primarily Central American, West African and Southeast Asian. …

“Sankofa is a response to these needs, and has three main elements: an affordable housing development, a large-scale community garden and a weekly World Market. The $15 million project is funded by Rhode Island Housing and work is underway on all aspects.” Read up on the amazing range of positive efforts here.

According to the market’s Facebook page, things will get going for spring with a “pop-up market May 7th, from 12pm to 4pm at Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Ave. There will be art, bath and hair products, handmade jewelry, homemade candles, fresh food, FREE seeds, henna, giant bubbles and much more.”

Photo: Sankofa Initiative
The Sankofa World Market is a local farmers market with international flavor.

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I enjoyed this cheery article at Roads and Kingdoms/Slate on a family in Ghana who will design whatever kind of coffin is requested — like the potato chip coffin below.

Reporter Akinyi Ochieng describes seeing “coffins of all shapes and colors: a chili pepper, a cat, a scorpion. …

“Founded in the 1950s by Seth Kane Kwei, this is thought to be the oldest coffin shop specializing in abebuu adekai: proverb boxes.

“In the last 50 years, these fantasy coffins have become one of Ghana’s most unique cultural exports. The curious tradition of burying people in coffins shaped like everything from lobsters to busty women is primarily practiced in Accra and has spawned over 10 workshops in the capital city. Almost all of these are owned by former apprentices of Kane Kwei, who died in 1992. …

“The coffins intended for burial are made from a soft wood and cost about $700. The ones considered works of art and bound for homes and galleries, are made from mahogany. Those can sell for as much as $3,000. …

“ ‘When I started working, people used to call me a coffin maker or a carpenter,’ says [one family member]. ‘Over the years, I’ve become more actively engaged in the design process from start to finish. I think that’s what really helped me transcend just being a carpenter to being a true artist with a vision.’ ”

More from Akinyi Ochieng here. See some finished coffins, too.

Photo: Theophilus Mensah 
Design plans for an upcoming piece.

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I had to share a delightful report from the radio show Studio 360 in which Khrista Rypl looks at the cultural aspects of African textiles.

She writes, “African textiles are distinctive for their vibrant colors, bold patterns, and batik dyes that give the fabric a unique crackled texture. But I had no idea that some of the trendiest of these prints are actually designed and produced in the Netherlands by a company called Vlisco.

“Inge Oosterhoff wrote a wonderful deep dive into the history behind the Vlisco textile house, and explained how their designs have remained hugely popular in Africa since the late 1800s. But Vlisco doesn’t just make fabric; they’re known for their printed designs. … Some patterns are designed with different countries in mind, while others are distributed widely around the continent. As the patterns catch on among shopkeepers and consumers, many of them get colorful names like ‘Love Bomb,’ ‘Tree of Obama,’ and ‘Mirror in the Sun.’ …

“Many patterns are sold widely in Africa, and different countries and cultures adopt different meanings and associations. [A swallow] print is a perfect example. The fabric was used for airline uniforms in Togo, so there the pattern is commonly referred to as ‘Air Afrique.’ The pattern also symbolizes asking for a favor, like the hand of a woman in marriage. In Ghana, the swallow refers to the transience of wealth, and the pattern is referred to as ‘Rich Today, Poor Tomorrow.’ It has a similar connotation in Benin, where it’s referred to as ‘L’argent vole,’ where it could either be interpreted as ‘Money Flies’ or ‘Stealing Money.’ ”

More designs and more of Studio 360 report, “Textiles Tell a Cultural History,” here.

Photos: Vlisco

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