I’m in Ghana’s capital city of Accra today and thinking back to mid-October last year when I was able to take a couple of days and head up to Bolgatanga in Ghana’s Upper East Region and go back out to meet with the basket making groups that I had met in early September.
In September I went out with my friend and colleague Alfred Akolgo, a young man from the Bolgatanga area who was a Masters in Development student at Ghana’s University for Development Studies. I had met Alfred when he assisted me with a field placement for some young Canadian students, who ended up helping and supporting some development projects in Kperisi, where Baraka Shea Butter is made.
Anyway, I flew from Accra to Tamale and then traveled to Bolgatanga by truck, picked up Alfred and a local colleague and went back to visit the women’s basket making groups and to thank them for their work on the baskets.
Bolgatanga (hidden beneath the women and basket photo in the map to the left) is the capital of Ghana’s Upper East Region and the hub of the Upper East’s basket making industry.
The first group we went to was the Alamgubbe Group. The women, some children and a few men were gathered working on baskets and visiting. A couple of the women were working on ground nuts (peanuts) removing the nuts from the roots of plants that they had just harvested.
Groundnuts (peanuts) grow underground like potatoes. The plants are pulled and the nuts taken from the roots for drying, or eating green (which is how I like them! I ate so many that my stomach was protesting).
It was humbling to see the reaction we received. I had been to see the group about a month before as I wanted to meet them myself rather than to do as many do, which is to either buy the baskets from a middleman in the market or just send out an agent.
I like meeting the groups we work with personally. In addition to it being very satisfying and interesting it also allows me to let them know what we expect in terms of quality, to learn a bit about them and have a direct connection. It is traditional to bring small gifts/tokens when meeting and I always give the group’s treasurer money to be used to support the children and their education. Mostly not much (we are a very small business) but something to both help, and to demonstrate our intention.
Over time we then try to follow up with more specific projects that we work with friends and customers to raise money to support. Right now we are working with Alfred to work with the women’s groups to identify a couple of female students that we can raise scholarship money to support them for high school and post-secondary.
When I arrived in October, it was my second visit. After a very heartwarming greeting the women told me how they had used the money I had given them to buy school supplies for their children and how the money we were paying them for the baskets was helping them with school and all of the other cash costs of running a household in a northern Ghanaian village.
I was surprised when they told me that nobody else had ever came back to thank them for their work. They said that very seldom did they even meet the buyers. Mostly they worked through middlemen. They were quite touched that I had made the effort to come back a second time.
Below are some photos. You can see other photos from the basket making groups, and even some videos, here.
In the Alamgubbe group and in many of the groups you will find some of the men with the women, either working o baskets or helping with the childcare
Basket making is very much a social activity. The Alamgubbe group, like most other groups, have a meeting, work area. They will bring their supplies, children and whatever and spend the day working together and visiting. Some of the more fortunate groups have been able to secure support or earn enough to have a building so they can work inside when it rains and to store their supplies in.
Even though the work is social, the attention to detail is great and it takes hard work and concentration to make the beautiful baskets that Baraka is so proud to bring to North America.
The children enjoy being together and around parents and family.
You can see some Shea Trees in the distance.
The Alamgubbe group and children pose with some of the baskets that they were working on the day I visited them.
Alfred Akolgo (far right) with others from University for Development Studies and University of Winnipeg field placement students (photo taken in Ghana’s Upper West Region, near the village of Kperisi, where Baraka Shea Butter is made).