Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Promise

Do you want to know why I helped get Enliven Mama Africa started? The real, true story?

I made a promise.

Two years ago, I went with Maxwell to Besease and spoke to a few women (including Rosina, Cynthia, and Martha, who are now studying the seamstress trade). Something in me was deeply moved. I knew already that I would be working on this project for a long while.

As we talked, argued, dreamed, schemed, made a preliminary budget, and constructed a website, I most looked forward to the days we were out in the field talking to our new friends. Even through the language barrier, I built a sort of rapport with the women of Besease.

At some point, it slipped out. I told the women what we were thinking. I told them when we planned to help them start learning trades. I promised them it would happen. For an eighteen-year-old with no job and little knowledge about social enterprise, it was a very foolish promise to make.

Had I not made that promise, Enliven Mama Africa would not be what it is today. If I hadn't promised my friends they would learn trades, I might not have worked so hard to be sure it would happen. I might still be dreaming.

It is foolish, stupid even, to promise someone something you don't have yet. I guarantee you, if I was in the same situation even a year into college, I would not have promised the women of Besease anything.

Why am I so excited and passionate about Enliven Mama Africa? Is it because I have some special knowledge about the experience of Ghanaian women? Is it because I am particularly wealthy and want to share my goods with the "less fortunate"? Or because I have a savior complex and want to rescue people from ambiguous troubles?

No, no, and no.

I made a promise. I promised the women of Besease, who I respect and admire, that I would find a way for them to learn a trade.

These mothers are amazing. As you are reading this, they are learning to create beautiful dresses and trousers. They are caring for their children in the spare time they have, hoping for a bright future.

I made a promise, and we followed through together.

Help us continue following through: 

-Sarah Bibbey, Co-Founder, Enliven Mama Africa

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Progress Photos

14 single mothers in Besease Ghana are working hard to learn the seamstress trade. These pictures show them after just two weeks of practicing. Look at how far they've come!

If they've learned so much in two weeks, I can't wait to see what they'll create in the future! 

Congratulations, ladies! We are all proud of you.

-Sarah Bibbey, EMA Director, USA

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Enliven Mama Africa Step One - Victory

 December 1, 2014 marks the largest day of accomplishment yet for Enliven Mama Africa. Maxwell Donkor, the EMA Director in Ghana, went to Besease and saw 14 single mothers be matriculated into the seamstress program of the Integrated Community Center for Employable Skills. The women and the community were overjoyed. I (Sarah Bibbey, the EMA Director in the USA), was able to witness their joy over Skype.

For me, the most beautiful part of the experience was hearing from the women I have known since the beginning. Rosina, Mavis, and Mary all gave me a touching personal thank you. It is because of the strength and determination I see in them that I have had the will to continue this project at all. I met them on an average afternoon in March 2013, and they shook my entire world. These women are ready to begin learning a new skill, something that can never be taken from them. They have waited long enough.

Please, if you are reading this, take a moment to celebrate. I thank you all for your generous support. You have supported Enliven Mama Africa financially, or you have supported me emotionally and spiritually. Thank you for sticking with us, though it's taken a year and a half to arrive here.

Also, as you celebrate, realize that our work is not finished. These 14 women have just begun their journey of learning, and we mean to stick by each and every one of them. 14 is a large number, but it is not nearly half of the single mothers in Besease alone, let alone the Ashanti region, Ghana, Africa, and even the world. We are in the progress of making a difference, and we've accomplished our vital first step.

The Power of Community 2 (Thank you, Besease!)

Fourteen single mothers will begin learning the seamstress trade next week (written November, 2014). When Maxwell and I began visiting these women in March of 2013, we were eager, but we lacked vision. We couldn't tell the women exactly what we had to offer. Concretely, at the time, we had nothing. Not a name, not a mission statement, and certainly not money.

We let the program be shaped by what we heard from the women. Enliven Mama Africa was born of scheming and compiling what we'd heard, what we dreamed of, and what was feasible. That early stage was made possible by the ideas and insight of my dear friends Nans, Lydia, and Mavis. Those conversations compelled me to rethink my entire future.

Because Enliven Mama Africa was created mostly inside a large volunteer house in West Kumasi by a few Ghanaians and three teenage obrunis, I was sometimes afraid that it was too far removed from Besease to be real to the community's needs. We spent so much more time in the office than in the field that I was concerned it was becoming our personal idea.

This feeling was intensified by comments I heard back here in Colorado. Some of the comments were just rude ("Why would you go exert your privilege?" "What are you, an imperialist?"), but others made me think, such as: "How do you know that this is the right project for these women?" "How do you know it's what they really want?"

As Besease prepared to get the women involved in learning trades, community members stepped up and offered to make desks and chairs for the women. The community offered an empty building for the women to learn. Enliven Mama Africa is a project the community of Besease is excited about. This compounds my excitement, because I know there are people throughout rural Ghana interested in the cause of single mother employment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Power of Community (Thank You ICCES!)

Meeting between ICCES, the Besease Community, and the Women

Since I left Ghana in July, the real work of Enliven Mama Africa has been occurring. No longer is Enliven Mama Africa about an obruni (white) girl and a Kumasi man talking to random single mothers in Besease.

Enliven Mama Africa is about the community of Besease. Enliven Mama Africa is about the wider community of Atwima, the district due west of Kumasi.

I lived in the Atwima District for a year, in the town of Boko. However much I write about Besease, Kumasi-town, and Nkawie, Boko is my home. Between Boko and Besease, there is a town called Twedie. Twedie is the home of a school called the Integrated Community Center for Employable Skills (ICCES).

Rosina Kwateng and her son, Christian
ICCES has offered Enliven Mama Africa their services. Five days a week, a teacher will travel from Twedie to Besease to teach 14 single mothers seamstress skills. ICCES is also providing chairs for the women to use during lessons. The benefits of ICCES are many: they will offer the women an official certificate, they are well-established in the Atwima District, and they teach five days a week, with school-time vacations.

I am astounded by the generosity of ICCES and their desire to partner with us. Because of ICCES, these women have the opportunity to receive a formal trade education.

We Will Not Stop

Elizabeth Osei and her daughter

The question I get almost daily about our efforts in Ghana is this: "West Africa, huh? What about Ebola?"

What about Ebola indeed? The virus has not been reported in Ghana to date. Research states that Ghana is at a high risk for Ebola. A few volunteer programs have already  cancelled their program trips to Ghana because of the threat.

I understand volunteers not wanting to travel during this time, but I grieve for the work that will be lost because of it. Even more than that, I grieve for the people who lose the opportunity to visit Ghana, a country that has changed the hearts of many.

As there has been no reported case of Ebola in Ghana, the Global Leaders trip is still on. If there is a case, the trip will be cancelled. I will be disappointed that this piece of Enliven Mama Africa's work cannot go through.

But if the virus comes, if the trip is cancelled, it won't stop the fact that 14 single mothers will be enrolled in trade school. It won't stop the supportive efforts the Integrated Community Center for Employable Skills and the Besease community have shown to the women striving to better

Ebola has caused much suffering in Liberia, Sierra Leon, and Guinea. If the virus were to come to Ghana, efforts to make communities stronger, efforts like Enliven Mama Africa, would be needed more than ever.

We will not stop. 14 single mothers are eager to be enrolled in trade education. An entire community is coming together to provide a room, tables, and chairs for their young women to be educated.

We will not stop. 14 single mothers are prepared to invest time into their future and the future of their families.

We will not stop. Enliven Mama Africa is strengthening Besease, whether I am there physically or not.
Besease Community Members

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Joyous Meeting

Besease Community Meeting
October 2014

In mid-October, Maxwell (EMA director in Ghana) organized a meeting in Besease, the village where we are piloting Enliven Mama Africa. Those who joined included fourteen single mothers, the village chief and his elders, teachers from the Integrated Community Center for Employable Trade, and much of the Besease community at large. Eleven of those single mothers came to me every time I visited Besease in July 2014. These eleven will be studying on the Enliven Mama Africa budget raised in March of 2014. The three new women have been added to our program thanks to a generous donation from the Rotary Club in the UK. All fourteen women will begin learning in early November. The Besease community, including the chief, is excited about the opportunity Enliven Mama Africa presents to these mothers. Best of all, Enliven Mama Africa has made the decision to partner with the Integrated Community Center for Employable Trade, located in nearby Twedie. A certified seamstress teacher will travel to Besease and teach the fourteen women every weekday.

Sarah, Elizabeth, Ruth, Perpetual, Martha, and Mary
July 2014
To make this possible, the community donated an unused building. Maxwell and the community are now working to renovate the building. All fourteen mothers have received their school uniforms. When the building is complete, Enliven Mama Africa will purchase sewing machines, and our first cycle of mothers will be in place!

This is a great achievement, but the renovation of the building and the teacher's daily transportation cost are unforeseen expenses. Enliven Mama Africa welcomes any continued donations.

Thank you for reading. Enliven Mama Africa is coming alive.

-Sarah Bibbey, EMA director, USA