Prosperity Blog

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12/1/2010 :: A "Small" History of Batik in West Africa

By Genny Cortinovis

Emma Myers, one of the founding producers of Global Mamas, proudly carries on long tradition of handcrafted batik in West Africa.

The story goes the Belanda Hitam, Malay for Black Dutchman, brought batik to West Africa in the mid-nineteenth century after serving as indentured soldiers for the Dutch in Indonesia. Returning home from 15-year conscriptions, legend says the men brought back trunks of fine Javanese batik, covered in opulent whisper-thin patterns that captured the imagination of their friends and relatives. It’s a very neat story, but unfortunately, as any scholar will tell you, textile history is one sticky wicket. Of the 3080 recruits from 1831-1872, only a handful returned to West Africa (many married Javanese women), and those that did make it back, usually returned empty-handed; the recruits were not paid until they reached their final port, which would have made souvenir shopping pretty difficult.


Batik is older than history, with traces even laced in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies. Most people think of Java when they hear batik, and indeed the word derives from several Malay words, but nations as diverse as Japan and Sri Lanka have had their own, sometimes isolated, traditions of the process. Batiks were as good as gold for much of history, and were enthusiastically traded among Asian neighbors as early as the seventh century. Europeans entered the mix much later, but they became the major pushers of "woven cargoes" from the seventeenth century on, and some colonial powers, most notably the Dutch (during their Golden Age), had a heavy hand in industrializing the technique.


Of course, this doesn’t quite explain how, or when, batik got to Africa. Dutch Scholar Ineke van Kessel suggests the fabrics came from India to West Africa by land, not sea, over the ancient trans-Saharan routes. Local populations like the Yoruba in Nigeria incorporated aspects of the wax printing into their tradition textiles, and little by little the trend caught on. When the Dutch and English began trolling the coast of West Africa in the seventeenth century, they brought their wax (wax batiks) and non-wax (roller prints) fabrics, targeting a local population already poised for their consumption. With time, they began tailoring their European-produced prints to refined African tastes, tweaking designs down to each region and port.


Batik, in its original handcrafted form, and its derivative roller print (often confusingly called real Dutch wax print) are ubiquitous and highly cherished across West Africa today. Prints range from abstract geometry to figurative images, and beyond. For many men and women, the patterns are a form of expression and even communication, announcing everything from their marital status and mood, to their political and religious beliefs. Up until the 1960s most wax prints were still produced in Europe, but in the post-colonial era, that all changed. Ghana boasts three of the finest wax print manufacturers in Africa: Woodin, GTP (sister of Real Holland Wax Print), and ATL (sister of ABC textiles in Manchester). Unfortunately, legal and illegal Chinese and Nigerian copies have flooded the markets of late, and many, especially GTP, have seriously suffered.


Global Mamas carries on the long tradition of handcrafted batik, and in many ways, our hybrid design philosophy is apropos to batik’s complicated history. Many of our volunteers bring ideas from home, and then collaborate with our local batikers to create a finished product. The resulting designs are timeless and multi-national, incorporating ideas and styles from Java all the way to Jersey.




9/1/2010 :: New Products Changing Lives: Ampiah-Ajumako Business

By Heather Boyd

Two Ajumako producers modeling their braided necklace samples

The economy of Ajumako is mainly agricultural and before Global Mamas many of the women were employed through that sector and were not making a steady income. The Ampiah-Ajumako Business Center opened in January 2008 with 3 workers and has now grown to employ 11 women. The women of Ajumako create items out of Global Mamas’ scraps by weaving left over pieces of fabric, allowing Global Mamas to recycle scraps while making exciting and colorful products.


After successfully producing the Woven Trivets for two years, the women of Ajumako were looking for a new challenge. Jordan Croft and Sarah List, design interns, traveled to Ajumako over the summer of 2010 with new product ideas for 2011 in-tow. They trained the women on new items such as braided necklaces and accessories, as well as woven dog leashes. Jordan reported that "the women got really excited about the new products and their eyes lit up". After the women were taught how to make the products they became silent, concentrating on taking their time and perfecting their technique. The silence was only broken by the women taking turns singing. Once the women understood the construction of the necklace they took initiative and expanded the design into bracelets and earrings. The women of Ajumako are industrious and were exciting focused on the new product designs.


When the women of Ajumako dream for their future, they envision continuing to work with Global Mamas. Cecilia stated that she wants to continue to work with GM "to do something for my future". Sarah wants to keep working so that she will "make enough money to complete my building, take care of my children, and add machines [to the business]". For their community, the majority of the women pray for a hospital; Florence hopes that one day there will be a medical facility, so they do not have to send for someone to come to the village.


The women of Ampiah-Ajumako are very thankful to the customers who purchase from Global Mamas and acknowledge that without customers they would not be able to sell their products nor provide for themselves and their families. But, they also laugh and request "more work!" Esi-Joyce stated that "you [the customer] have done well!" Selina also mentioned that "I am now able to take care of my children, thank you".


Since the opening of the center the women have come a long way and at Global Mamas, we hope that these new products will act as a stepping stone for the women in achieving their dreams for themselves and their community.




9/1/2010 :: Esther Gyepi-Garbrah Invited to Speak at Fair Trade Conference in United States

By Melanie Popowich

Esther Gyepi-Garbrah being introduced as one of the panelists at the 2010 Fair Trade Futures Conference

Esther Gyepi-Garbrah is no ordinary seamstress- she is an exceptional woman with an exceptional story. She was invited to speak at the Fair Trade Federation annual conference held in Quincy, Massachusetts this September. Despite many obstacles, Esther has become one of the most successful Global Mamas and is one of the most deserved women to be selected to speak at such a remarkable event.


Esther began her career as a seamstress with no materials of her own; she was equipped with only a borrowed machine and worked out of her bedroom. Because money was hard to come by, Esther soon applied for a loan. Unfortunately, she was quickly swept up in the vicious cycle of paying off only the interest rate for her loan and fell victim to a loan default and declaring bankruptcy. Esther recalls this as one of the most trying times in her life, as she was "running after the wind." Her dreams of managing a successful shop of her own were fading.


When Esther’s dreams seemed unattainable, Renae Adam, the founder of Global Mamas, made a proposition that would alter Esther’s life forever. The proposal was simple: make ten dresses instead of one. Esther managed to complete the order and she was immediately compensated. For the first time in Esther’s life, there was money in her pocket and she felt the freedom of financial independence. In time, Esther cemented her relationship with Global Mamas and continued to complete orders, which allowed her enough revenue to pay back her loan. Her store, My Redeemer Liveth Fashion, has thrived and she has even started a very successful apprentice program. Esther does not simply teach her apprentices, but she also equips them with a machine once they graduate from her program. She believes that because she had such a hard start, she feels compelled to make it easier for the others. She learned the value of a support system through Global Mamas and makes a concerted effort to provide the same support to her employees.


Esther is a woman whose deep faith has compelled her to give back, especially in the wake of success. Her motto is simple, "anytime I have more, I have to give." The death of her niece, Grace, prompted Esther to start her own NGO. It has officially been registered by the Ghanaian government and its mission is to provide free vocational training for seamstresses and batikers in the most deprived areas of Ghana, primarily the villages. She identifies with the struggles of the village people and believes that they face far greater limitations when it comes to schooling and jobs. One day, she hopes to build factories that will employ and teach skills to many of these women and men.


From the 10th through the 12th of September, Esther brought her story and experience to the Fair Trade Futures Conference. She and co-founder Kristin Johnson were featured in a seminar on "Navigating Relationships with Producers Over Time" during which they were well received with supportive feedback from current customers. Esther and Kristin also had the opportunity to provide insight on some of the audiences tougher questions such as how to negotiate pay with producers and how to ensure that producers are well represented in the companies decisions.


The highlight of Esther’s weekend came Sunday morning when she joined three other producers on the main stage as living examples of "What does Fair Trade Seek to Achieve?". Esther shared her moving story with a room full of hundreds of people. Afterwards she had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience as well as speak with individuals who sought her out in person. Esther had conversations with customers, students, other prod




6/1/2010 :: The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

By Elizabeth Murphy

The Evolution of Bead making in West Africa

Bead making is an industry that has long been a part of the West African culture. In the ancient times, beads served a myriad of functions: some were used as a form of currency for goods between tribes, whereas others adorned chiefs and their wives to indicate their wealth and status. Even today, beads hold significance as they are not only a form of artistic expression, but they represent defining life moments, such as birth, marriage, and death. Although the specific history of bead making in Africa has been difficult to trace, archaeologists have discovered that beads in West Africa were derived from different materials, primarily stone, glass, clay, and metal. Moreover, the methods and material used to create beads varied among the many regions.


For generations, the techniques employed in the bead making process have been passed down. Oftentimes, whole villages were involved in the general production of beads. From grinding glass, to washing and stringing the finished beads, to selling them to the market, the community was a part of the industry. The Krobo and Ashanti people have long been responsible for crafting beautiful, vibrant glass beads. Today, beads from this region can be identified by distinctive attributes as being one of four main styles: clear/translucent beads, powdered glass beads, painted glass beads, and seed beads.


Making glass beads is no easy process. Despite the fact that different tactics are employed for each type of bead (powdered glass, seed bead, etc.) the initial steps are the same. To begin, a bead maker begins the process by creating the mould, which determines the shape of the bead. To create the mould, the bead maker first pounds the clay with a mortar and pestle until it is pliable. The clay is then rolled into cylindrical shapes where it is then divided into smaller sections, depending on the type of mould being made. Once the clay roll has been made, it is ready to be formed into a mould by taking the slab of clay and patting it flat with a paddle until it is 1 ¼ inches thick. A wooden peg is pressed into the wet clay to form depressions and is left to dry at room temperature for 3-4 days. The Moulds are then sun dried for another 3-4 days and coated in kaolin to prevent the molten glass from sticking to the mould during firing. Finally, the mould is placed in a preheated oven to dry. Next, the bead maker uses the Kiln, used to fire the mould and creating the desired bead. The moulds are inserted into the one opening in the front of the dome shaped kiln. The next steps are contingent on the types of beads that are made.


Today, the Krobo region is still well known for the manufacture of glass beads. In fact, Global Mamas jewelry is made in the small town of Odumase-Krobo, located in Eastern Ghana. They employ many Krobo local bead makers who have inherited their skills from past generations. The popularity of these beads and jewelry products in foreign markets speaks to the timeless West African traditions and it is certain that bead making will remain an important industry in the future.




6/1/2010 :: Eli Kpotorfe – A Very Special Ingredient

By Elizabeth Murphy

Eli Kpotorfe – A Very Special Ingredient

Elizabeth "Eli" Kpotorfe is not a seamstress nor is she a batiker, but she is certainly one of the most esteemed members in the Global Mamas community. In a more unconventional way, she has asserted herself as a “Mama” through her cooking. Global Mamas volunteers from Cape Coast have been frequenting EliMax’s Spot for six years now and for good reason. Eli has recently been featured in the Global Mama’s cookbook, The Spice of Life, which includes an assortment of traditional Ghanaian dishes. Since working with Global Mamas, Eli has served a very diverse group of volunteers from Japan to Spain to the United States and, yet, her dishes universally satisfy each and every customer.


A native of the Volta region, Eli started cooking at a very young age. In time, she pursued her passion by working at small restaurants and bars to perfect her culinary skills. Many times, Eli found herself repeatedly cheated and unpaid and by 1992 she moved to Cape Coast where she sought work from her uncle’s friend. After two years, Eli made the decision to start her own small kiosk stand near the Elmina Beach Resort. However, soon after opening the stand, the government insisted that she had to obtain a license in order for her shop to remain open. With the help of a friend, she was able to attain the permit and it was then when she purchased the surrounding land. She invested everything she had into building her own restaurant and eating area that would be able to seat customers.


Her association with Global Mamas came about by chance. David Hollis, husband to Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam, frequented EliMax Spot while attending a conference in Elmina in early 2003. Renae and Eli were introduced when setting up the WIP volunteer house just down the road. Eli admits to this day how much she treasures her friendship with Renae saying, “You can dream about so many things, but if you don’t have anyone to push you, to support you, you cannot go forward. Renae did this for me. She gave me confidence.” WIP also believed Eli’s restaurant would be an ideal venue for the volunteers to grab dinner after a long days work. And so, the trend began, and Eli officially began cooking for the volunteers.


Not only has Eli played a pivotal role in feeding the Cape Coast volunteers, but she has also been instrumental in helping the greater Global Mamas organization. She is responsible for introducing Wisdom Tamakloe, the current production manager and recently crowned ‘Staff Member of the Year 2009’, to Gayle Pescud, the former General Manager in Cape Coast. It was Gayle who would later offer Wisdom a position with the company. Moreover, Eli also hosted the Global Mama’s of the Year event at her restaurant where she served 60 people and helped facilitate one of the most memorable nights for Global Mamas.


Eli’s recipes have also been published in the Global Mamas cookbook “The Spice of Ghana Life”, which has been a hit among customers. From traditional meals like palava to more Western themed meals like grilled cheese, Eli has managed to add her own spin on the dishes as she combines local ingredients with her own special touch. The dishes are made each night strictly from her memorization. She offers a very reasonable price for all the meals - in fact it often leaves volunteers baffled as the quality rivals that of any high end restaurant in the United States.


The comprehensive skill set offered to the Global Mamas batikers and seamstresses is similarly offered to Eli. Over the years, a number of volunteers have had the opportunity to work with her restaurant business. Just this past summer Kelly Pierson, an intern, worke




4/1/2010 :: The Start of Shea Butter: Testing a New Territory

By Elizabeth Murphy

Members of the Christian Mother's Association processing shea butter in Northern Ghana.

When it comes to personal care, women want what is best. Every year the United States spends over 8 billon dollars on women's cosmetics and the figure continues to grow each year. This massive consumption speaks to the universal desire of women to take care of their skin and body. Consumers are beginning to understand the importance of using natural products, as it is healthier for the body. Global Mamas, recognizing the need for authentic, organic personal care products, saw an opportunity and chose to explore this new territory.


Northern Ghana is rich in both resources and opportunities. Women-based shea nut cooperatives are common in this region due to the abundant wild karite trees, which are the critical component to shea butter production. Many Africans refer to shea butter as “liquid gold”. In addition to containing antioxidants, vitamin E and minerals that work to moisturize and restore the natural beauty of skin, the shea butter also holds natural UV protection and reduces the appearance of wrinkles and stretch marks.


Poverty and market fluctuations, however, had been preventing these women from taking part in the actual transactions. These women tended to be among the poorest in the world. Global Mama's identified the state of the economy and decided to implement a poverty reduction strategy to overhaul the situation. The organization planned to assert itself as a quality producer of shea butter products while simultaneously helping to improve the livelihood of the women.


Global Mamas formed advantageous partnerships with Naasakle Ltd and the West African Trade Hub. Both would provide direct access to export markets in North America for women's cooperatives in the Northern Region of Ghana, while also helping to manage the training in production, quality control, and marketing initiatives. Global Mamas hopes that once the business model has been successfully replicated, the Global Mamas Shea Butter Export Program will be expanded to other shea butter producers in West Africa. In the meantime, over 500 women's lives have been positively impacted by the presence of Global Mamas in the Northern Region.


Global Mamas Slippery Slope Shea Butter is offered in several scents such as tropical, lavender and vanilla. Global Mamas Dandy Lion Black Soap is made with shea butter and cocoa pod ashes that give it a natural cleansing power, universally beneficial for all skin types. The line of shea soap, called Global Mamas Trunk Scrub, is also made without chemicals, preservatives, or color additives to uphold the tenet of producing quality products in a sustainable way. Global Mamas is excited about its new skin care line and is working hard to create superior shea butter products while bettering the lives of the women.




4/1/2010 :: Global Mamas of the Year: Cape Coast

By Melanie Popowich

Georgina Abra Afenyo (right) was delighted to receive the Global Mamas of the Year Award (Cape Coast) for 2009.
The much anticipated Global Mamas of the Year event was held this past March. It was such a pleasure to organize this event, but also a huge learning experience. No matter how many events you plan, each is so different and has to be handled carefully, especially with the laid back Ghanaian culture. Along the way, I learned that patience is key and if you want people to arrive at 6PM, you have to tell them to arrive at 5PM. (Similarly, if they tell you that the cost is 65 cedis, budget for at least 75).


The event was hosted at Elimax Spot outside of Elmina. Considering that Elimax owner, Eli, typically has five customers for dinner, hosting 60 people was a first for her! We quickly learned the art of improvising as we realized an hour before the women were expected to arrive that there was a serious shortage of tables and chairs. Fortunately, after a quick scramble, we were able to borrow chairs from the church across the street. Tables were a bit harder to come by and we became scavengers– using every available, partially functioning table we could find. We managed to find enough and drape them with the colorful Global Mamas table cloths. As the sun set, we lit over 100 candles and their soft glow only helped to accentuate the beautiful colors. It would be an understatement to say the restaurant looked amazing.


Staff members and a group of five drummers, led by Global Mamas night security man Appiah, warmly welcomed the women as they began to trickle in around six. The program commenced just after 7PM as grace was said before Eli's feast was served. Everyone enjoyed both the food and the company around the table as the drums played in the background. The women joined in to dance and sing – it was priceless!


Renae Adam, co-founder of Global Mamas, ushered the transition from dinner to the awards ceremony as she got everyone's attention by speaking a bit of Fante. The crowd hushed and the awards presentation began. The winners announced were as follows:


Initiative Award: Monica Eku (Batiker)
Innovation Award: Hannah Dodoo (Seamstress)
Leadership Award: Alice Korsah (Seamstress)
Staff Member of the Year Award: Wisdom Tamakloe
Global Mama of the Year Award: Georgina Abra Afenyo (Batiker)


After each name was announced the crowd went wild as they cheered loudly and clapped for each of the recipients. Georgina, the newly crowned Global Mama of the Year, said a few words that were filled with such gratitude. This brief description of the night does not sufficiently convey how memorable the night was to the staff and Mamas alike. It is most certainly a night that I will never forget.




12/1/2009 :: From the North Pole to the Equator – A long awaited trip to Global Mamas

By Leah Brickhouse

From the North Pole to the Equator – A long awaited trip to Global Mamas

Sweden sent us off to Africa with one of the coldest days in Gothenborg, -10C. Ghana welcomed us with open arms, to a balmy evening of 29C. That is how the adventure started for us - Tomas, the Fair Trade Educator / Photographer, and I, the Fair Trade Agent for Global Mamas in the "north pole", aka Scandinavia.


My first encounter with Global Mamas was at a Christmas market in Washington, D.C. four years ago. I fell in love with the colorful batiks, the women´s stories, and the mission of Global Mamas. After moving to Sweden, I started Sol Sisters - a socially responsible business focusing on fair trade, organic, and locally made products. Of course, when I moved to Scandinavia I brought Global Mamas with me and started promoting and selling their products. So, after a few years of involvement with Global Mamas, I thought it was time to travel and meet everyone in Ghana.


The fair trade movement has picked up a lot of momentum over the past two years of living here in Sweden. You can find fair trade products in all grocery stores and there is strong consumer push for more fair trade clothing in other stores. Tomas´ job is to educate people on what "Fair Trade" is, what it means for the producers, and why it is important to purchase fair trade products. He travels around Sweden presenting fair trade concepts at schools, unions, work places, and clubs. While he focuses on FLO (Fair Trade Labeling Organization) products, his interest in coming to Ghana was to gain experience with fair trade producers and organizations involved with fair trade around the world.


Our reception in Ghana was wonderful! The people were very warm and friendly. The weather was perfect - hot and sunny. Just what we needed after coming from the dark, cold winter of Sweden. I loved the fact that there where free range animals in the cities - sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, pigs and more. Now, I know what happened to the chicken that crossed the road, she ended up in my dinner. The food was fresh and locally produced. One morning in the Volta region, near the waterfalls at Wli, we had a breakfast of fresh pineapple and bananas from the garden, and organic coffee from the village at the top of the waterfalls. The access to fresh, locally produced foods in Ghana was a lot easier and cheaper, than in Sweden.


The majority of the population tavels by shared public transportation in the form of buses, cars, shared taxis, tro tros (converted trucks and buses), bush taxi´s, shared motorcycles, and shared bicycles. We often had to wait for a bus, taxi, or tro tro to fill up before it would leave. There were often no set departure schedules and time was never an issue. You just seemed to get to where you were headed "on time". Travel appeared to be stress-free with little or no need to arrive at a specific time - life just seemed to work out as it was supposed to.


During our 15 days in Ghana we traveled to Accra, Cape Coast, Elmina, Edumafa, Mankassem, Krobo, Hohoe, Wli, Ho, and the famous Akosombo Dam. We interviewed many of the members of the network in Cape Coast, Krobo and Accra, and we were lucky to see the birth of a new production site in Edumafa. My first time entering the Global Mamas office, meeting with the staff and eventually the members of the cooperative, was an emotional experience. I was moved to tears of joy and relief, at finally being able to meet the real people I had been in contact with, and about whom I had read stories and sold their products over the past few years. The pictures and voices were now alive, and these individuals have inspired me even more.





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