Having worked as a kayayo (head porter) in markets to support herself through her secondary school education, Teni Agana ’18 came to Ashesi in 2014 as a Mastercard Foundation scholar, earning a full scholarship to cover her education. In her senior year, Teni chose to focus her capstone research paper on creating awareness of the motivation and circumstances of kayayei like herself in Ghana. Her goal was to use her findings to develop intervention programs to mitigate the low-income circumstances that push many girls and women in her home region of the Upper East to become head porters as she did. Three years after graduating, Teni is bringing her vision to life through the Loozeele Initiative.
Loozeele, which means “there is hope”, trains and supports young women from the northern part of Ghana with vocational skills to enable them to create a source of income for themselves and their families. The goal is to help them do this without traveling into Ghana’s cities for work while also supporting them with their education and career goals. Started by Teni with two young women and her savings, Loozeele has now supported some 40 young women from the Upper East Region to create a livelihood for themselves and their families. The women make products like baskets, bags, smocks, and shea butter, and Loozeele connects them to buyers. Especially through the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns and economic slowdown, Loozeele was a critical support system for the women it is working with.
“I know first-hand why being a kayayei is considered the optimal solution for women in the North,” says Teni. Consequently, I am looking to provide evidence of ways to improve the economic conditions for kayayei at home to help the women create safer work and accomplish their dreams. I want them to know that they could not choose their circumstances or where they were born, but they have the power to determine who they want to be through resilience, hope, and a lot of hard work.”
Some products made by the Loozeele girls
Loozeele is currently working with a cohort of 25 girls who worked as kayayei in major markets across the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions of Ghana and are now back home in the Upper East region studying and also making a living with the skills they have acquired. After school, they make the items and send their finished products to Loozeele weekly for selling to customers. 5% of their revenue is contributed towards an annual educational fund, and Loozeele helps the young girls save 20% of their profit for school needs and other unforeseen circumstances.
Teni and the Loozeele team are also currently building their first center in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region to complement training and provide a space for the trainees to work more efficiently. With the girls currently working from home, the hope is that the center will increase their productivity and help them be more organized.
“We continue to work to raise the initial capital needed for Loozeele to grow,” says Teni. “We need to raise capital to buy more machines and tools that will help us make the products more efficiently. Our second challenge is to grow the market for the products made by the young women and get the products to buyers and suppliers. The third and perhaps the biggest challenge is shifting the young women’s mindsets and helping them reframe their circumstances. It is very difficult to convince a young girl working as a Kayayoo in Kumasi and Accra’s streets to pursue something else that may be better. She cannot believe that there is a better life back home when she has lived and become used to her current struggles. But we see signs that persistent support and patience can help them make the shift.”
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