Prosperity Blog

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6/26/2020 :: Face Masks Protecting the Public & Preserving Livelihoods

By Chidera Okeke, Global Mamas Community Outreach Specialist.

For the past 17 years, Global Mamas has progressed in its mission to create a life of prosperity for women across Ghana by creating and selling handmade fair trade products. The upsurge of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a derailment in the organization’s activities and threatened to displace the livelihoods of 330 women. Faced with this dilemma, the Global Mamas’ community of self-sufficient and creative innovators have channeled the organization’s resources to make standard protective face masks, effectively helping to slow the spread of the virus and keep the Global Mamas’ community of women earning income despite business challenges.

 

Global Mamas expects to produce nearly 20,000 masks to help in the fight against COVID-19. Photo by Mallory Savisaar

 

The mask-making project is supported by the USAID-funded West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) Program, which also played a key role in Global Mamas launching their new line of eco-friendly water hyacinth product, Fibers of Change. Through this new initiative, Global Mamas expects to produce nearly 20,000 protective cloth masks to be distributed to under-resourced health facilities in high-risk communities, including Old Fadama, Ashaiman, Madina, Agloboshie, and Nima. Hospitals in these and other communities in Ghana are experiencing shortages of N95 respirator masks despite donations to the Ghana Ministry of Health from the World Health Organization and other donors. Fortunately, healthcare professionals can use fabric face masks like the ones Global Mamas is producing to cover their N95 respirator masks and give them a longer life as the fabric masks can be washed and reused. Recently approved by the Ghana Food and Drug Authority (FDA), the fabric masks can also be worn in public when physical distancing is difficult or at home while caring for sick family members. The masks have been shown to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 from an infected person, even if asymptomatic, through speech, cough, or sneeze.

“We feel so grateful to be working on this project,” said Mallory Savisaar, Global Mamas’ Fibers of Change project manager. “Not only are we able to preserve the livelihood of several hundred women in the middle of an economic downturn, but there is a collective pride we share knowing that we are working together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Ghana.”

 

Priscilla, a quality control staff member in Cape Coast, proudly wears her face mask. Photo by Nicholas Ruffalo

 

Global Mamas’ three-ply, high-quality, long-lasting fabric face masks are made with two layers of Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton and a layer of stiffening in the center. The masks are being made in Global Mamas’ Cape Coast and Akuse production centers under strict hygienic and social distancing rules. The “Mamas” have been split into different teams (piece cutting, sewing, finishing, quality control, and packaging) to increase efficiency. An infographic made from Global Mamas’ water hyacinth paper is attached to every mask produced, detailing steps for effective mask usage and care.

Thus far, 8,890 masks have been made and distributed to local communities currently working with Global Mamas in the Akuse area. The project has also garnered support from corporate bodies. One such group, Total Family Health Organization, offered to use their ties with various health facilities in the country to boost the distribution of the masks.

“Total Family Health Organization, as a local non-profit organization, is pleased to support local manufacturing capacity in this manner, said Demi Duah, the organization’s technical director. “Through our collaboration with Global Mamas, these FDA-approved face masks will be made readily available to the Ghanaian populace, thereby supporting in reducing the spread of coronavirus.”

 As the pandemic spreads across the country, there is an urgency in ensuring that these masks are readily available to frontline health workers and the most at-risk members of the country. Samples have been sent to some health facilities in Ghana and Global Mamas has received positive reviews. Major strides have been taken to ensure that increased effort is applied to meet the project’s objectives by the end of June. Three-ply face masks are available for purchase at Global Mamas’ store in Osu, Accra. Two-ply masks with filter pocket (filter not included) may be purchased by international supporters through the Global Mamas website. 

Designer Elizabeth Adams (left) and Production Manager Amos Kporshiebu (right) of Global Mamas make a mask delivery to the Akuse prison. Photo by Mallory Savisaar



5/7/2020 :: Educating on Healthy Pregnancies

By Rebecca Fogel

 

 

Global Mamas’ Krobo office with members of the Marie Stopes team. 

 

Earlier this spring Global Mamas staff and producers in Krobo, Akuse, and Cape Coast participated in workshops educating on pregnancy and delivery, facilitated by Dr. Akpene Nyamadi, Clinical Quality Advisor at Marie Stopes International in Ghana. Marie Stopes is a global organization that has been educating and providing family planning services to Ghanaian women and girls since 2007. 

 

Dr. Nyamadi discussed the stages of pregnancy, what to expect during pregnancy, antenatal care, and the labor, delivery, and post-delivery process. Emphasis was placed on good prenatal care to improve pregnancy outcomes, including taking extra folic acid, avoiding drugs and alcohol, exercise, blood tests and physical exams, and a healthy diet. Dr. Nyamadi went over the early signs of pregnancy in addition to educating the Mamas on what changes it’s normal to expect during a health pregnancy in the the first through third trimesters.

 

 

In recent years Mamas have requested more opportunities to learn about better health for themselves and their families.

 

Dr. Nyamadi shared about the Focused Antenatal Care (FANC) model, which includes at least four antenatal clinic visits during pregnancy for screenings, immunizations, and monitoring. He also shared the many benefits of engaging in exercise during pregnancy. Exercise reduces the risk of complications, eases discomfort, promotes healthy and steady weight gain, boosts mood and energy, and reduces stress. 

 

The Mamas greatly enjoyed and appreciated this workshop, commenting on the importance of antenatal care, safe sex, and maintaining a healthy diet while pregnant to ensure a healthy mother and baby. Thanks to the team at Marie Stopes for taking the time to share their expertise with so many of the Mamas!

 



4/30/2020 :: Educating Communities on Rights to Natural Resources

Akuse, a town near the Volta River in Ghana’s Eastern Region, is home to Global Mamas’ newest eco initiative. In collaboration with local communities our team is using invasive water hyacinth as the raw material for an all-new collection of natural fiber products. 

Known locally as the “poison flower,” the hyacinth earned its nickname from area fisherman who over time have identified that wherever the plant grows, fish and other aquatic life fail. This effect is caused in part by the weeds’ aggressive growth, forming thick mats across the surface of the water and blocking sunlight. Water hyacinth also has thick stems which efficiently suck oxygen and other necessary nutrients out of the water, harming native species. 

 

Women from the cooperatives harvesting invasive hyacinth. Photo credit: Eric Senanu 

Presented with this ecological challenge, Global Mamas saw an opportunity to restore biodiversity, but also create economic opportunity for individuals living in affected communities. Through this initiative over the past six months we’ve been able to create jobs not only for weavers and paper makers transforming the fibers into home goods, but also for those actually harvesting the weed from the river.

 

Cooperative member processing the hyacinth to be dried in the sun for one week. Photo Credit: Mallory Savisaar 

Global Mamas is now working with cooperatives in five different communities that are harvesting and processing the raw water hyacinth into fibers for our production team. Each week co-op members deliver their hyacinth to our Akuse office. They are paid upon delivery for both the wet stalks required for paper, and the dry stalks required for weaving. In addition to the agreed upon price, Global Mamas pays a 5% premium into an overarching community fund, which is managed by a Community Resource Management Area (CREMA). 

  

Weavers turn the dried hyacinth into beautiful woven products. Photo credit: Mallory Savisaar. 

The CREMA approach was initially developed by the Wildlife Division of the Ghanaian Forestry Commission, to address wildlife management outside protected areas and forest reserves. Due to the models great success with community based resource management, the program is now being used to manage a variety of natural resources. With our partners at Nature Conservation Research Center (NCRC)  we’ve been participating in meetings, training and workshops aimed at educating community members on the rights they have to advocate for their own natural resources.

  

Leaders form the CREMA communities together after a training session. Photo credit: Mallory Savisaar

The 5% premium Global Mamas pays to the CREMA is used at their discretion for projects that will benefit the entire community, such as sanitation projects like toilet construction. This puts the community in a better position to have a say over their own local natural resources.The real power of the Fibers of Change project is not just its ability to create jobs, but to open up a community wide discussion about environmentalism, natural resource protection, and a community based approach to resource management.

 



4/17/2020 :: Learn More About Invasive Water Hyacinth

Community partners working with Global Mamas to harvest water hyacinth.

 

Water hyacinth, a profuse natural resource that we are using as the base material for our new Fibers of Change collection, is known around the world for it’s aggressive growth. Certain species of hyacinth are known to double their size in just two weeks - meaning an initial ten plants may multiply into over 600 specimens in a three month span. This rapid growth clogs waterways while a well-developed root system readily absorbs oxygen and available nutrients, depleting resources needed for native plants, fish, and other organisms to thrive. This combination of factors makes the water hyacinth a threat to biodiversity, water quality, water transportation, and human health wherever it’s found. 

   

 Water hyacinth located on an abandoned fish farm on the Volta River.

 

Originally from the Amazon Basin, water hyacinth may now be found in waterways around the world. Spread has occurred in part due to its deceptively pretty blossoms that are found desirable as ornamental pond plants.  Once established in a wetland or water body such as Ghana’s Volta River, the weed can spread through wind propulsion of floating plants (or plant fragments), through water currents, and on the feathers and feet of local species and migratory waterbirds. (source) The construction of the Akosombo Dam, located just north of the area where we are sourcing the weeds, has created favorable conditions for water hyacinth colonies to flourish. Every time the Dam opens more weeds float downriver to our partner communities, meaning mechanical or chemical means to eliminate the plant are not a viable long-term solution. Under the Fibers of Change* Project Global Mamas is working with communities in the Lower Volta River to find truly sustainable ways to protect the biodiversity of the river while providing fairly paid livelihoods for community members affected by the water hyacinth infestation.

 

 

*This project is funded by USAID through the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change program (WA BiCC)

   

 Global Mamas staff training community members on the benefits of harvesting water hyacinth.

 

Harvesting the water hyacinth by pulling it from the water whole has been recommended as the most sustainable way to mitigate its spread. Removing the plant by hand prevents secondary pollution caused by using chemicals or pesticides, and it also creates sustainable livelihoods for community members as they harvest and sell the hyacinth to our handcrafting team in Akuse.

 

It turns out the water hyacinth plant is rich in fiber which makes it useful for both papermaking and weaving. To create woven goods such as ropes, baskets, and bags Global Mamas weavers take fibers harvested from the river and dry them in the sun. Global Mamas papermakers use the plant fibers while they are still fresh, grinding and crushing them into a pulp. In combination with other materials such as the batik textiles and recycled glass beads already being crafted by Global Mamas artisans, our team in Akuse has been developing eco-friendly water hyacinth products since Fall 2019.  Various colorways of the innovative products shown below are available online now.

 

 

 We hope you love this unique and eco-friendly line as much as we do! 



4/17/2020 :: Meet the Mamas: Martha's Story

 Interview by batik designer Nick Ruffalo. Cape Coast Ghana, April 2020. 

Martha Rhule: Auntie, Inspiration & Mentor.  A Global Mamas Batiker Since 2010.

 “My name is Martha. I have been working as a batiker for Global Mamas for 9 years. When I first got into home-sciences, I was a seamstress. A lady came in wanting me to sew something for her; I thought her fabric was amazing. She told me she was a batiker, and she made it herself. I asked her if she could teach me. After a while I began batiking for my own work.

After several years, a friend of mine who used to order fabric from me introduced me to Global Mamas. She sent someone from Global Mamas to come visit my shop, and they asked me if I wanted more work. I thought it was maybe a personal order, but then she asked me to come back to her office. I was confused, but I went. When I got there, they took me into an interview, and within a week they called me back to hire me. Now I have 3 employees, and we are always working on an order."

 "My mother was a trader, she sold everything. My mother supported us when we were kids, but we also supported ourselves. After school my sister and I would work sorting and smoking fish. When the boats would bring the fish, we would help carry them and take some fish as payment. When I was fifteen my mother passed away. My sister and I kept working, but since I was older I was looking after her. At that time there was a fish called Ewura Fua, it helped us a whole lot. The fish brought in a lot of money. (It is now extinct.) 

My father was a salt-maker, he owned salt flats. My father didn’t take care of us, he had another family. So, I put myself through vocational school. There was a time when I had to drop out due to money. The school accidentally called my father, thinking he supported me, and begged him to allow me to continue because I was good. Then he came in to help, but he said if I did home-science he wouldn’t sponsor me. I went into it anyway." 

 

"Now I have been helping my brother-in-law support my late sister’s 5 children. The twins, Penyin and Kakra, are both in their national service. Lord has completed school and is now working as a contractor. Donald is not working at the moment but wants to become a pastor, and Kofi has completed two years of school but wants to work and save some money before returning. My nieces and nephews would describe me as their mother. They are concerned for me. They care about me and my health. If I am sick, they look after me. I am very proud that I have been able to take care of them. For their future, I hope they all have their own work and are able to live comfortably. 

I am proud of myself for joining Global Mamas; it has helped me a lot. I am able to live comfortably. I have become a successful Batiker, and I am proud that I’ve been able to train many others.”



3/19/2020 :: COVID-19 Update from Global Mamas

TO OUR GLOBAL MAMAS COMMUNITY:

First off, we want to check-in. How are you doing? We hope you are hanging in there. This is an unprecedented time for us all and we are all doing our best to navigate the changes each day. Please know we’re sending our love, and are here by phone/email/messenger if you need a friendly voice. We’re grateful for your continued support as we face this new challenge together.

UPDATE FROM OUR TEAM IN GHANA

At this time our top priority is mitigating the impact of the virus on our community’s health-- both physically and financially. 

• As of March 17th, Ghana has 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all from recently arrived travelers. We will continue educating and preparing for how potential spread will impact the health and well-being of our community.

• Every office location and Mama has been educated on COVID-19, including how to keep themselves safe and how to prevent spread. Office locations have been provided with extra cleaning supplies to support heightened hygiene measures.

• Should we begin to see community spread in Ghana, offices will be closed and employees will be encouraged to stay home and practice social distancing.

• Our US office is taking extra precautions to ensure that our work space only has one employee present at a time. All touch points are cleaned thoroughly between shifts. 

• Each Global Mamas location has reviewed their expenses and committed to eliminating all non-essential costs.

• All travel plans have been cancelled organization-wide. 

• As production declines we will be fundraising in order to pay a stipend to Mamas who own their own businesses to help them cover basic needs. We will make interest free loans available as we are able. 

MITIGATING FINANCIAL IMPACT

As transparency is an integral aspect of our business we want to be open about how COVID-19 is affecting our financial well-being, and the part our current Facebook fundraiser will play in providing a stopgap to the Mamas during this difficult time. Contributing factors to our current situation include but are not limited to:

 A Ghana government travel ban on short term travelers. With decreased foot traffic, sales at our two brick and mortar stores in Ghana are already suffering.

• Cancellation of our volunteer and internship program for the foreseeable future. This is a huge loss for the capacity building programs we offer the Mamas-- both in terms of the financial and intellectual support volunteers and interns provide. 

• Trade show cancellations and temporary store closures in Europe have resulted in a significant drop in EU sales. 

• Retail partners in the US are facing state-mandated closures. This means we’re braced for reduced orders from North American customers in coming months. 

• During the 2014-2016 Ebola Epidemic we borrowed money to finance operations to prevent losses to the Mamas. As we are still repaying this debt we are unable to borrow additional funds without putting the future of Global Mamas at risk.

Our 76 person employee team (producers, quality control staff, production managers, Ghana store staff, US wholesale office staff, etc.) have committed in solidarity to a pay cut to help share the burden of the financial losses. We will have tiered pay cuts (a higher percent cut for higher pay), and will graduate the pay cuts as needed starting out with a small reduction and increasing over time if orders don't resume. Many of the Mamas are independent business owners and rely on global demand for their products, which is dramatically lower for the time being. To ensure that the Mamas are able to continue covering the needs of their families, we aim to pay monthly stipends for as long as we are able. When we factor in these stipends, and continuing to pay our staff at a reduced rate for several months, we are looking at ending the year with a loss of $60,885-- even after factoring in some recovery of sales throughout the year. 

If you have the financial capacity to donate to our Facebook fundraiser we'd be grateful- though we're conscious that with widespread layoffs and current upheaval, this might not be possible. Other ways you can show your support are by shopping at a retailer near you carrying our product, or by following our updates on social media (@global_mamas) and sharing the love with likes and encouraging comments. Thank you for facing this challenge alongside us! We're willing good health for you and yours and encourage everyone to take all due precautions to look after themselves.  



3/6/2020 :: Women's Day 2020: Building a Gender Equal World

With the unwavering support of our community, Global Mamas keeps pressing for gender equality for women in Ghana.  We believe greater balance of power depends on greater economic independence for women-- you can read more about this issue here.

Beyond the direct opportunities we've provided for hundreds of women over the past 17 years, it is humbling to see how many of the Mamas have chosen to reinvest resources in women and girls from their families and communities. 

  

Global Mamas batiker Martha Rhule's employees with their children. 

 EDUCATING FUTURE GENERATIONS

 Although progress has been made, girls still on average have lower educational levels than boys in West and Central Africa. Girls marrying or dropping out of school early are more likely to experience poor health, have children at younger ages, and earn less in adulthood.  With the financial means to do so, 100% of the Mamas children are enrolled in school- both boys and girls.

   

Global Mamas seamstress Deborah Asmah's apprentices. 

PROVIDING EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 The Mamas earn on their own terms- whatever works best for themselves, their families, and employees. Depending on the goals they have for their business Mamas often train apprentices and hire additional workers for their shops. Often in Ghana those trained in batik or making womenswear, are women.  

  

Krobo General Manager Gladys points out details needing special attention from Global Mamas weavers.

BECOMING ROLE MODELS

 Advanced training in technical skills and money management together with health and wellness workshops enhances the Mamas self-esteem and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their homes and communities. In advocating for themselves they become strong role models for others.

  

Global Mamas seamstress Vida with family, together with the land she purchased, and house she built.

BECOMING LANDOWNERS

Even with inclusive laws in place to protect womens rights to own land in Ghana, barriers remain. Often a woman's only claim to the land she relies on for food, income, and shelter is through her relationship to a male relative. As Mamas become landowners they have increased social, economic, and political power.

 

Thank you for joining us to make EVERY day Women's Day as we continuing pressing for gender equality in Ghana. 



1/8/2020 :: Presenting New Fabric Techniques in 2020

 

Global Mamas designer Abigail Okang uses the new watercolor technique for a SS2020 sample.

We were thrilled to transition to certified organic and fair trade cotton in 2019, but it wasn’t easy. The biggest challenge we continue to face is that the cotton absorbs the wax used in batik more deeply, making it harder to remove. Global Mamas staff spent weeks problem solving and eventually developed a new de-waxing process that works, but it is more time consuming. So our talented design team has taken this opportunity to explore new techniques for our Spring 2020 collection that use less wax. We are very proud to present their designs!

 

Upcycled plastic bags are used to bind cotton in a resist technique to create the new Tides fabric.

Exploring New Techniques for 2020
Our overarching goal in this sampling process was to reduce the amount of wax being applied to the fabric, while using techniques still applicable to batik artists:

  • Watercolor- Fabric is soaked in water, laid flat, and dye is directly applied on top of the cotton so that it disperses and creates a watercolor appearance.
  • Painting- Dry fabric is laid flat and dye is directly applied with a paint brush.
  • Marbling (what we call Iceberg)- Slightly damp fabric is laid flat, then scrunched Dye is applied directly, then cotton covered for an hour while the dye slowly disperses.
  • Tie & Dye- A resist dyeing technique in which fabric is folded or twisted then bound.
  • Spattered Wax Application- Instead of applying wax with a foam stamp (heavier application), a wooden broom is dipped into the wax and slapped down on the fabric.

 

Our Design Team has developed various tools to help batikers consistently replicate our unique textiles. The batik stencil (left) includes stamping directions and an overview of the finished fabric layout.

Creating Consistently With Our Unique Model
Global Mamas Cape Coast office alone partners with around 60 small women-run businesses in the surrounding community. From a profitability standpoint this isn’t the most efficient model, but our mission is to support and sustain these small businesses and the financial independence of the women at their helm.

To achieve consistent results from one Mama’s workshop to the next, Global Mamas’ Design and Quality Control teams put a great deal of work into providing tools and techniques to support batikers and seamstresses in achieving our top quality standards. For our signature batiks, stencils are created so that foam stamps may be precisely replicated (see above), dye recipes are created and distributed, and instructions are provided on how to stamp using terms like “full drop” and “half drop” to communicate the overall repetition of the design.

While we love the subtle variability inherent to handcrafted goods, if a batik is so far outside the acceptable range set by our Quality Control team that it no longer looks like the same fabric in our catalog-- it’s an issue! As many of these new techniques rely more heavily on the artistic eye of the batiker, they may work for brands working with just one or two in-house producers, but they are much harder to train on across a broader group working in many locations. Keeping this in mind, Global Mamas designers Abi and Nick worked closely with batikers located near our Cape Coast office to test the feasibility of these new methods: carefully considering which options were truly viable with our unique production model that would ensure successful outcomes for the Mamas.

 

We all loved this hand painted sample, being developed here by Global Mamas designer Nick and batiker Aggie Arthur. Unfortunately this fabric didn’t make the cut as it could not be consistently replicated.

New Looks Coming for Spring/Summer 2020
We’re pleased to report a range of these new fabric techniques DID make the cut for our 2020 collection, which is coming soon to stores across the globe. We look forward to sharing this new line of distinctive textiles to help you continue living life in full color!




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