Tag Archives: art

Mamas know best: an organization in Ghana profits with fair trade

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA & CAPE COAST, Ghana – The Bangladesh factory collapse has forced Canadians to look at their closets a little more closely.

The discovery of Joe Fresh garments in the rubble has also brought renewed calls from NGOs and labour groups to improve conditions for garment workers in the developing world.

Currently, there is no existing fair trade certification program in North America for apparel, only for commodities.

“It started with coffee, then chocolate, sugar… But it’s so expensive for businesses to go through certification so it falls on the producer’s shoulders,” said Carrie Hawthorne, former board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC.

Fair trade screening does exist for apparel, but is entirely voluntary. Expenses to remain “fair trade” increase production costs, putting companies at a competitive disadvantage to those not operating at the same standards.

The only incentive is to appeal to the small market of fair trade consumers. This incentive isn’t enough, for most.

“Can you really keep up with Walmart?” asks Hawthorne, who is now working for a fair trade organization in Ghana called Global Mamas.

This organization might be an exception to the rule. It is a Ghanaian-based clothing company with a formula to trade fairly and make a profit.

“The model that Global Mamas is setting up is to be large scale,” says Hawthorne.

The women involved essentially own their own businesses – each “Mama” is responsible for managing her own finances and hiring help if needed.

This approach means the company is dealing one-on-one with Ghanaian entrepreneurs rather than a company in Bangladesh, for example.

Women are employed in seven different locations in Ghana. The organization provides raw materials and orders for batiking, sewing, bead-making, assembling, weaving and soap-making.

Gloria Amanful, a seamstress in Cape Coast, has been working with Global Mamas for the past nine months. She is saving money to buy land, and is now thinking of buying a knitting machine to expand her business.

Amanful says she is gaining confidence in herself through her work. “Global Mamas has helped me by giving me something for my children and my family,” she said.

It’s something that Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam said is an advantage of working with women.

“You can be assured they’re going to invest their money in their family,” she said. “Women are definitely the best investment for the betterment of an entire community.”

“They even start employing other women,” said Adam.

Mary Koomson is proof: since she started taking on contracts with the organization, she’s been able to purchase her own plot of land, pay for her niece and nephews to attend school, hired two workers and one apprentice, and is now thinking of expanding her business.

“I want to open a store to make my new things in,” she said.

 

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

 

Koomson lives in Cape Coast, and has been working with Global Mamas for five years. She does “batiking,” an ancient process of stamping and dyeing fabric that has been practiced in Ghana for generations.

She said she has benefited from training provided by Global Mamas on fair trade, how to manage your business and how to save money.

The organization was founded in 2003 with six apparel producers in Ghana. It now has over 600 producers and is building a fair trade campus in Ashaiman, just outside of Accra.

Global Mamas hit the $1-million sales mark for the first time in 2012. Adam said that the organization is getting requests from all over the world to establish organizations there, but that Global Mamas will stay in Ghana until, she said, “we’ve helped Ghana to its extent.”

But the Global Mamas model is proving to be a success, according to Adam, in more ways than numbers.

“I think [the fair trade] approach is so amazing to be able to empower people in the workplace. It’s the opposite of what you read about China and other parts of the world.”

Going out in style: Fantasy coffin-makers of Teshie

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Hello Design Coffin Works display room in Teshie, Ghana. Ashley Terry, Global News

Hello Design Coffin Works display room in Teshie, Ghana. Ashley Terry, Global News

TESHIE, Ghana – Style is a major part of life in Ghana, so much so that Ghanaians take it to the grave.

In Ga culture, coffins are customized to represent the character or the occupation of the person who has passed away.

Families spare no expense in sending their loved ones to the beyond in an airplane, a chicken, a boot, or some other object that held meaning in their life.

Coffins can cost upwards of 2500 Ghanaian cedis (CAN$1250), or more than six times the annual income of the average Ghanaian.

“Death is a very big celebration here because we think when… [the person is] gone, we need to celebrate him for what he was representing in his community,” says Eric Adjetey Anang, a coffin maker in the Accra suburb Teshie.

Like many of the other coffin designers in Teshie, Anang is in the family business. His grandfather Seth Kane Kwei began building custom coffins, or “fantasy coffins,” as they have come to be known, in the 1950s.

Now, Anang owns the Kane Kwei Carpentry Works on a coastal road east of Accra. From this small workshop comes coffins that have been featured worldwide in museums, festivals and commercials.

Anang has just returned from Milan design week, where he displayed some of his work, including a giant Campari bottle.

Carpenters at his workshop in Teshie are busily building 24 pieces to send to Denmark for the Images Festival in August.

He even has a piece on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – a fish – brought in by curator Sylvia Forni.

“We create it out of the mind,” says Anang when explaining how he plans his designs. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

“We create it out of the mind,” says Anang when explaining how he plans his designs. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Just down the road, coffin competitor Daniel Mensah is building a lion.

A local leader who was courageous and brave has passed away, and his family has asked Mensah to build a coffin to match.

Mensah and his apprentice are shaping the head of the lion-shaped coffin out of wood, and carefully attaching the pieces to the rounded body on another table.

This is one of thousands of coffins that Mensah has created in his 13 years in the profession. He is a mixture of artist and craftsman, shaving pieces off the lion’s head with ease.

“Sometimes you can draw if before,” says Mensah, explaining how he plans his designs. Other times he just starts building, he says.

Linus Mensah, sitting nearby, boasts about the recent works of art his brother has created.

He shows pictures of his former creations: a soccer boot, a hammer, a gun, a ship, a chicken, a camcorder, a stereo, a mobile phone.

“Last was a policeman,” Linus says.

 

Daniel Mensah shows the policeman coffin he made for 2500 cedis (CAN$1250). (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Daniel Mensah shows the policeman coffin he made for 2500 cedis (CAN$1250). (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Daniel says the policeman coffin cost 2500 Ghanaian cedis. Some of the other coffins in the workshop cost between 1000 and 1800 cedis.

“People spend the money because of paying their last respects to their family,” says Samuel Afotey, one of Mensah’s competitors a few minutes down the road.

Coffin-making is Atofey’s family business as well. “I started when I was very young,” he says, explaining that his father, Paa Willie, taught him the tools of the trade.

Afotey has been building coffins for 20 years. He even has designs for what he wants his own coffin to look like, but is keeping them a secret.

For more pictures, go to the original article on Global’s site and scroll to the bottom.

In Malawi when ‘Life’ gets tough, it gets banned

Saturday night in Blantyre and the drinks are flowing at Mustang Sally’s, a fluorescent bar with a swimming pool centerpiece frequented by ex-pats and a new generation of young Malawians who have money.  The laptop DJ plays LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” for the eighth time of the night.

No longer under the strict censuring control of one-party-state president Hastings Kamuza Banda, Malawian airwaves have opened up to music that in the 20th century remained an unknown.  In the years following the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994, the Malawian music industry has diversified, with Malawian artists more free to perform traditional, gospel and reggae-inspired sounds, and some images and styles even being scavenged from sexually provocative, explicitly violent and drug-saturated music on  stations such as  MTV.

Today Malawians can praise any God, they can even party rock, but if you ask Lucius Banda they still can’t protest.

Lucius Banda, the first Malawian musician to use his platform to protest government. Photo submitted.

The first musician to sing openly against political oppression in Malawi during the decades of one-party rule, Banda says growing up in absolute poverty and amid systemic social injustice inspired him to “make sure there’s an alternative voice from the government.”

“Coming from a broken family living in absolute poverty, life was difficult,” remembers Banda.  “We had to go to the Catholic mission houses to clean toilets to pay for school fees.  After we’d paid that, we’d go to school, and then if the president was visiting your area you had to raise money to give him as a gift.

“We couldn’t afford that and so we wouldn’t be allowed in class, maybe for two or three weeks.  It was like getting candy from a grandchild,” he says.  “I don’t forget that.”

In the 1980s Banda began his music career singing gospel songs as part of the Alleluya Band, but eventually branched out on his own to produce music that would “sensitize people to regain their conscience.”

“I didn’t like singing love songs,” he says.  “I talked about injustices, the suffering of the people, that was my main concern.”

In 1993 Banda released his first solo album titled “Makolo”.  The single “Mabala” which means “wounds” was critical of the ruling Kamuzu Banda regime, which he said afflicted pain on those already living in absolute poverty.

In 2001 when then-UDF chairman and President Bakili Muluzi attempted a third term, Banda released the song “How Long.”

“I did a lot of songs rebuking [Muluzi],” Banda says.  “Why should we have become a friend of Mugabe and others who were clinging to power?”

In 2005 he released the album “Enemy (of the State)” where he criticized current president Bingu wa Mutharika for quitting the UDF party that had ushered him into power to seek re-election as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate instead, and in 2006 and 2008 he released the albums “Survivor” and “Freedom” respectively with messages meant for Mutharika: “We’ll survive you” and “You will see when people realize the truth.”

But in 2011 his latest album of protest music and its title track “Life” attracted negative attention from the Malawi Censorship Board and a ban by the Malawi Broadcasting Company (MBC).  Now that his music is banned from Malawian radio stations, Banda says Section 35 of the Malawi Constitution has failed him and that without free expression the music industry is “harsh” in Malawi.

“You can’t criticize people who are in positions where you put them with your vote,” he says.  “They say, ‘Stay quiet as I’m sitting on your money’ at a time when we don’t have a strong opposition and [Malawians] are weaker than we were in terms of our reactiveness to dictatorship… The Malawians you meet today are not the Malawians of 1994.  In 1994 Malawians were aggressive.  We were patriotic.  The Malawians you meet today I’m sorry to say are desperate, everyone for himself, ‘as long as I get mine it’s OK.’  That’s why we cannot come together and fight one common enemy.”

Though he still believes Malawians who love their country should show that they’re not happy with what is happening, Banda says the MBC ban has hurt his medium.

“Because of the ban, slowly [my] music is dying, people don’t listen to it, youngsters don’t listen to it, so they [government] are succeeding,” he says.

“Today you have to censor yourself so much when an artist is supposed to be free.  If I were going into the industry now, in this environment, I wouldn’t go.”

This article was originally published on the Toronto Star website on March 8, 2012.

Listen to Banda’s song “Tikamalira” (Why We Cry) here.

Transforming arms into art in Mozambique

At the world-renowned artist studio Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, Mozambican artist Fiel dos Santos recalls a childhood robbed by military struggle.

“I grew up in civil war,” says Santos, who was five years old when his country became embroiled in a conflict that would last 16 years. “In my area the rebels were coming two times a week, every month, every day—but I’m here.”

In this video, Santos destroys weapons leftover from Mozambique’s civil war, and welds them into mixed-media sculptures. His artwork is part of a larger project called Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas (Transforming Arms into Tools), which has amassed a collection of over 700,000 illegal weapons since 1995.

“I continue this project because it’s my contribution, my social contribution,” says Santos. “Transforming guns is transforming minds.”

Later this year, Fiel will be releasing a stop-motion animated short using metal sculptures created from decommissioned arms. The 17-minute film, Little Fiel, will tell the story of Fiel’s youth, growing up with two brothers fighting on opposing sides of Mozambique’s civil war.

In this video by Journalists for Human Rights reporters Sarah Berman and Sarah Feldbloom, Santos destroys weapons leftover from Mozambique’s civil war, and welds them into mixed-media sculptures.

Having a Plan

It’s easy to get jaded seeing sign after sign in the streets of Accra pointing the way to one NGO or another. Despite the slew of development organizations here, people continue to live with poor drinking water, low incomes and lack of decent health care.

One NGO (besides jhr, of course) seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Plan Ghana has been working with children in the country since 1992. The goals, according to their website, are to provide quality education and teacher training, create awareness of children’s rights and ensure food security for children.

Anyone can state goals on a website. It’s much harder to find effective ways to achieve them. Plan Ghana held a forum this week as part of a week-long workshop on the status of children in the country. They flew in 80 youth delegates from all over West Africa. It had real results.

This wasn’t an event where adults tell kids what they should think. The young delegates posed questions to the forum guests, including the United Nations Representative for Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Ghanaian Minister of Sports and Youth, Akua Sena Dansua.

Most importantly, the kids got a chance to tell their stories to a wide audience, and the media and representatives from various NGOs had a rare opportunity to hear well-spoken, motivated youth describe their experiences with children’s rights abuses.

One girl from Cote D’Ivoire told us in her native French how girls in her country are beaten by child traffickers when they refuse to prostitute themselves, and how a three-year-old girl was sexually abused by a neighbour. Police jailed the man for 72 hours and released him.

Outside the auditorium, Plan Ghana displayed pictures made by West African children that illustrate the abuses they’ve seen during their young lives. There were images of people being beaten, stabbed, raped and murdered.

I remember drawing snowball fights and monster trucks when I was their age, maybe the occasional army tank. No one being murdered though, or raped—I was lucky enough to grow up far away from that.

The forum was effective because the kids were active participants, not mere objects to be educated. We learned as much as they did during the forum, if not more. These kids came away with the pride of knowing they played a role in shaping their future, and Plan Ghana distinguished itself as more than just another NGO with a bunch of goals posted on its website.

Art for Advocacy

The presence of Ghana’s traditional and contemporary art in everyday life is extremely vibrant, literally.  The bright colours composing Ghanaian dress, buildings, posters and advertisements are so vivid and captivating that they are almost blinding at times.  Traditional kente cloth, often worn for special events, but used for everyday purposes as well, displays colour combinations that are particular to the original tribes of Ghana.  Here in Kumasi, there is a lot of kente with a yellow, red and green pattern to represent the Ashanti people.

My favourite place to admire all of the artwork around Ghana is in the painted signs advertising everything from toothpaste to sardines.  Often, an entire wall stretching around a large building will be covered with the repeated, painted logo of a single product, turning the entire building a bright red, green, or blue.  Even the smallest of shops have some elaborately painted signs or detailing.  Be it a simple chicken thigh and a fish to draw buyers into a cold shop, or the intricate portrait of a women with an elaborate hairstyle on a placard outside of a salon, painted signs are always eye-catching.

A poster on the wall of the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition in Accra

What I find most interesting, though, is the way Ghana’s strong connection to visual art is utilized by NGO’s for advocacy.  While visiting one Ghanaian anti-corruption institution to the next, the large number of anti-corruption posters hanging in frames on the wall caught my eye in every office.  Messages in a bold font that tell you, “Say no to corruption”, or “Be a whistle blower” are accompanied by a strikingly drawn, Ghanaian man or woman pointing an accusatory finger at the poster’s viewer.  Throw in the bright colours that adorn everyday Ghanaian life and, needless to say, these images become difficult to ignore.

In a country like Ghana where, according to UNICEF data, 35 per cent of adults are illiterate, organizations are realizing the importance of making information accessible by other means if they want their advocacy to make an impact.  The Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), for instance, is working to inform civil society of the corruption that occurs in all levels of social life including one’s day to day interactions in both public and private institutions.  On top of their more structured training sessions to teach civil society members how to identify corrupt practices, one of their largest initiatives during Anti-Corruption Week, coinciding with the UN’s Anti-Corruption Day, is to widely distribute anti-corruption bumper stickers throughout the streets of Accra.  GACC is trying to make a visual impact that will constantly remind Ghanaians to be on the watch for corruption around them.

An artist’s rendition of “Democracy & Governance” outside the Centre for Democratic Development

Even something as seemingly complex as the Whisleblower Act, a bill passed in 2006 to protect those who report suspected corruption, has been condensed into an image-based message to make the Act more accessible.  The pocket-sized, 30-page “Guide to Whistleblowing in Ghana” includes a series of cartoons right in the centerfold that highlights the main points of the guide.  The larger training manual for civil society organizations also includes the same cartoons, but in a full-colour version.  The cartoons artistically portray the whistleblowers, the allegedly corrupt persons, the police, and the media all in the same illustrated style that is so characteristic of Ghana’s street scenes.  A cartoon woman drawn in one box asks a friend, “Can I still blow the whistle if I can’t read or write?”  In the same box, the cartoon explains that whistle blowers can make a claim verbally as well as written.  Hopefully, these splashes of colour and an artist’s touch will go a long way to educate other members of civil society just like her.