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A look at our Marketing & Brand Manager's recent trip to Rwanda & Ghana...

Our Marketing & Brand Manager, Brittany Barb, just got back from two weeks in Rwanda and Ghana photographing the beautiful people, places and things that make up our Indego Africa community. From East Africa to West, Brittany was inspired by the vibrant colors, rich textures, and breathtaking landscapes she found throughout her travels. She has given us a behind-the-scenes look at her journey, sharing a few of her favorite images and moments from her time on the road. We hope you love them as much as we do!

#artisans, #inspiring, #handmade, #ghana

Where Modern Meets Traditional

We are so excited to announce our brand-new Made-in-Ghana Series—a monthly blog and newsletter introducing you to the handmade processes, cultural histories, and, of course, talented artisans behind our Ghana collections!

First up? The hand-carved wooden pieces of our new Modern Traditions collection. Inspired by traditional African ritual dolls, warrior masks, and Bamileke stools, the Modern Traditions collection celebrates the time-honored techniques and stories behind hand-carved wooden crafts in Ghana, while adding modern design elements and details.

 

Wood-carving has a rich cultural history in Ghana. Legend has it that in olden times a man named Akwasi Yoyo traveled to the Ashanti kingdom of Denkyira, where he learned the craft of wood-carving. After mastering these skills, he brought his finished carvings back to his hometown (which today is called “Ahwiaa”) and showed them to the King. The King was so impressed that he instructed the entire village to learn and practice the art form. Since then, this beautiful craft has been passed down from family to family, generation to generation.  

In the past, wood carving was used to create a wide range of items including: household utensils, combs, baby raddles, and furniture; drums for festivals; masks for ritual dances; figurines for religious practices; and, perhaps most significantly, the Ashanti Kings’ and Chiefs’ sacred stools. 

Indego Africa’s partner artisan group, the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, carries on his legacy by continuing the practice of traditional wood-carving today. Comprised of 65 artisans, the Association is located 30 minutes north of Kumasi, which is the capital of the Ashanti region and the heart of its artisan sector (as well as the bustling home-base of Indego Africa’s Ghana operations!)

The Ahwiaa Wood Carvers are known for their incredible craftsmanship, as well as the striking intricacy of their products and designs. However, despite these remarkable skills, the Carvers are struggling to sustain their business. Given the increasing accessibility of commercial goods in Ghana, fewer and fewer Ghanaians are seeking out hand-carved wooden products for their day-to-day purchases, favoring instead more readily-available, mass-produced goods. In this shifting landscape, the art and practice of traditional Ghanaian wood-carving is at risk of dying out.

We at Indego Africa are enamored by the beauty and history of Ghana’s wood-carving tradition and are dedicated to supporting the artisans that continue to practice and preserve this craft. By partnering with the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, we hope both to improve the livelihoods of Ghana’s wood carvers, as well as to create value and appreciation for their handmade craftsmanship around the world. 

Our new Modern Traditions collection features traditional African crafts and objects accented with elegant design details to create unique, storied objects that reflect the cultural history of Ghana while appealing to the design aesthetics and sensibilities of today’s modern global consumer. 

Our new Fertility, Namji, Nyamwezi, and Fali Dolls are inspired by  traditional Ashanti, Cameroonian, and Tanzanian ritual dolls that were thought to bring good luck to women trying to  conceive, as well as health and happiness to expecting mamas-to-be. Historically, women would wrap and carry these dolls on their backs as if they were children, a practice believed to induce pregnancy and ensure a safe delivery.

Our traditional Ashanti Fertility Doll is a pregnant woman carrying a baby on her back, which symbolizes a caring mother, both during pregnancy and after childbirth. These dolls have significance in each element of their design: they have a small mouth for a quiet baby, a large forehead for great intelligence, and a pregnant belly for good nutrition. We chose white beads to symbolize the innocence of the baby and love the delicate and elegant look they bring to the piece.

Our Warrior Masks are inspired by the traditional ceremonial pieces worn by Ashanti men during social and religious dance rituals. At one time, these masks were believed to bridge the gap between the spiritual and physical world, bringing the spirits of ancestors and forbearers to life. Warrior Masks were particularly significant in some of these rites, as they were meant to bring good luck to soldiers before battle. 

Our custom collection of Warrior Masks features sleek brass inlays, intricate beadwork, and beautiful cowrie shells (an ancient form of currency) to create striking, yet refined décor pieces. Designed to be hung on walls, either alone or together, our Warrior Masks will add a touch of majestic elegance to any home.

Last but not least, our Cameroonian-inspired Bamileke stools feature carved wooden animal figures, lined with white and black beading, as well as cowrie shell accents. They are truly one-of-a-kind pieces that also celebrate the long-standing Ashanti tradition of carving sacred wooden stools for the King, Queen, and Ashanti chiefs. 

We hope you love our Modern Traditions collection and the special stories, traditions, and practices it honors. To shop the products, click here

#artisans, #inspiring, #indegodiaries, #impact, #entrepreneurs

Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day! Today we are celebrating one of our newest artisan partners and favorite all-around-awesome woman, Josepha Mujawayezu.

Josepha is the talented weaver behind our brand-new collection of mini raffia peace baskets. A mother of seven (!) and aspiring entrepreneur, Josepha first learned the art of weaving in the 1980s at a vocational school in Northern Rwanda. Despite her immense skill, for years she worked tirelessly on her own, struggling to scrape by with few customers for her products. 

Without a steady source of income, Josepha often resorted to peddling her products on the street, something which on several occasions got her into trouble with the police. She describes that period of her life as filled with fear—fear that the police would arrest her; fear that she would not be able to provide for her family. 
We began partnering with Josepha in the fall of 2015, and we are so excited to see how much has changed for her since then. For starters, she’s no longer working on her own. With steady orders coming in for her products, Josepha has hired and trained 10 other women to work with her. In fact, they are banding together to form a cooperative, something which Josepha hopes will get them more local (and international!) business down the line. 
Josepha is excited about all these changes too. She told us: 
I’m excited because I have been receiving orders. I no longer have to be scared of the police and am building new skills by working on different Indego Africa sample products. Plus, registering as a cooperative has helped me become more confident because I had to interact with government officials. 
Josepha is also excited to be working with other women. She enjoys training them in new artisan skills and is happy to be able to provide younger women with the economic opportunities she wishes she once had. She says she now feels empowered: 
Being empowered to me means having the ability to provide for my family and myself without having to ask my husband. I earn an income and can pay for my children’s school fees—I can feed them, clothe them and even afford health insurance. 
We are so inspired by Josepha’s years of hard work and perseverance and are happy to see them finally paying off. On International Women’s Day, we are proud to celebrate a woman who has not only overcome a great deal of obstacles in life, but is using her newfound opportunities to empower and uplift others. Her spirit of generosity, collaboration, and mentorship is commendable and a strong testament to the power of women working together and supporting each other. 
Cheers to Josepha and to women around the world working towards better futures and lifting each other up along the way!

To shop Josepha's hand woven products, click here

#community, #collaboration

The F-Word is Out at Story!

We are so excited to be part of STORY’s newest installation, the F-Word! Launching on March 7th, just in time for International Women’s Day, the F-word is about celebrating Feminism and the amazing stories of women around the world (involving many other F-Words like Future, Fun, Fierce, and Family, to name only a few).

Our favorite F-word? Femininity! To us, celebrating femininity is about celebrating the (many!) wonderful qualities of women around the world—especially the women we partner with in Rwanda & Ghana. We are thrilled to be able to showcase some of our partners’ products and stories at the F-Word, and we hope you’ll stop by to check them out!

 

Here are all the deets: STORY is a unique retail concept store that reinvents itself every four to eight weeks. The F-Word will run from March 7th – March 27th at 144 10th Ave. at 19th St. For more information about STORY and the F-Word, click here

#community, #impact, #education, #entrepreneurs, #vocationaltraining

Introducing…Vocational Training for Youth in Rwanda!

In Rwanda, only 8% of young adults go to college. College tuition fees are high and, for many struggling families and individuals, the need for immediate income often outweighs the potential long-term benefits of higher education. Many of Rwanda’s youth go straight from high school and into workforce. Some go even earlier.

When they do, they find themselves without job skills, searching for employment in an economy with few wage-earning jobs on the market. Where does this all lead? A not-so-great 63% youth underemployment rate throughout the country. 

That’s where we want to help. Given the economic landscape for youth in Rwanda, there is a pressing need to equip young people—and especially young women, as they are less likely to be formally employed than men—with marketable skills to help them enter the workforce. So we put our heads together and came up with an idea – to create a brand-new Vocational Training program designed to address this exact challenge! 

Launched on February 8th, our six-month-semester Vocational Training program provides underprivileged young women in Rwanda with artisan skills training and business education to help them improve their livelihoods and achieve financial independence. 

How does it all work? Here’s the scoop: three days a week, 45 young women learn artisan skills at five of our partner cooperatives. The lucky five this semester? Twiyubake (banana leaf weaving); Ejo Hazaza (beading); Abasangiye (sewing); Imirasire and Covanya (both sweetgrass weaving).  

The other two days a week, the young women gather in Kigali to take our Basic Business Training course where they learn fundamental business skills like bookkeeping, budgeting, quality control, marketing, and technology.

By combining artisan skills training with business education, our Vocational Training program will help young women in Rwanda achieve long-term economic security and prosperity. At the end of each six-month cycle, our goal is for the trainees to have the option to either join the cooperatives as full-time members, having mastered the skills necessary to produce products for local and international markets, or to start businesses of their own.

The young ladies participating this semester were all chosen from the local communities around our partner cooperatives. 89% of them currently do not earn income and the remaining 11% work odd jobs that do not earn steady or substantial pay. While they all graduated from high school, none were able to continue on to college because their families couldn’t afford it.

Therefore, they are eager to take advantage of this opportunity to gain valuable job skills. As one woman, Dancille (Imirasire Cooperative) enthusiastically stated, 

“I hope to learn how to weave baskets and how to run a business so I can start my own one day and employ others.” 

Our Vocational Training program is not only valuable to the participating trainees, but also to our partner cooperatives themselves. Most of our artisan partners are survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and the age demographics of their cooperatives are getting progressively older. They are excited about the opportunity to train and incorporate younger women in order to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their businesses in the long-run. This, in turn, creates opportunities for younger women to rise up as leaders, grow their cooperatives, and help generate economic activity and opportunity in their communities.

We are so excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for these young women as they seek to build brighter futures for themselves and for generations to come. They are motivated, ambitious, entrepreneurial, and ready for action. As one young woman, Olive (Twiyubake Cooperative), kindly noted: 

“Thank you Indego Africa for thinking about the youth and helping us support ourselves by learning new skills. I am ready and excited to put the knowledge I am receiving into practice.”

To support our Vocational Training and provide life-changing opportunities for young women in Rwanda, click here