There is an Akan proverb which when translated says: ‘Until the day is over, don’t blame God’. It simply means do not lose hope even if all your expectations are not yet fulfilled, as something good may be on the way coming.
A young lady called Teni found herself in such a quandry, but her determination to change the narrative paid off. She moved from being a head-porter (‘Kayeyei’) to become one of Ashesi best students and is now a social entrepreneur who is now lifting others from poverty. This week’s B&FT Inspiring Start-ups has more.
Teni Agana is a native of the Bolgatanga, Upper East region and comes from a very humble background. Both her grandmother and mother were kayayei in Kumasi, Bantama market. It was with this job that they took care of her basic education. And as the eldest daughter, she felt a strong urge to support in funding her education and that of her younger siblings. So, for about seven years, she joined the kayeyei business.
She later gained admission to Bolgatanga Girls’ Senior High School. Teni would come back to Kumasi during vacations and continue with the head-porter business to save some money for school. She did this until she completed her secondary education.
But unlike others who she did the business with, she had a vision. Her vision was to continue her education to the highest level she could. But kayayei business would not be enough to bring that vision to reality. Well, this is where the proverb at the outset becomes real.
One day, her mother was terribly sick and she took her to hospital. In that hospital she found out someone else was in dire need of blood to save the life of her daughter. Being empathetic and offering practical help are part of Teni’s DNA. As kind as she is, she voluntarily donated the blood.
That simple act of kindness became her breakthrough. Through the lady, she was introduced to Mastercard Scholarship and gained administration at the Ashesi University where she studied Business Administration. Currently, she is studying MS. in International Development at the University of Edinburgh.
The birth of Loozeele Intiative
As common among tertiary students, project work is a must before graduation. As someone who intended changing the narrative for other young ladies who are Kayayeis, she did a one-year research on how to address their situation and why various initiatives instituted by government and other institutions have failed.
Through her research, she realised a gap which revealed that not enough thought was given to what the girls want to do after going back to the north. Some are given sewing machines and other material when they don’t even have an interest in that.
So Teni thought it wise to develop an initiative that could better serve the girls’ needs, especially for them to leverage their skills to get some income to support themselves and their schooling for those who wished to continue their education.
Teni seeks to ensure that underprivileged children, especially girls with backgrounds like hers, have a support system to keep them from veering off their goals.
She is passionate about minimising the increasing number of girls from Northern Ghana who migrate to streets of the south due to poverty, by helping them get a source of income in the north. She also believes that it is very critical for children to have a stronger foundation irrespective of who they are or where they come from.
Loozeele, she says, means ‘There is Hope’ – and the initiative is meant to reverse rural-urban migration, targetted at the youth in the northern parts of Ghana. It comprises a literacy module, entrepreneurship module, a reproductive health module and youth empowerment module.
Loozeele Initiative empowers, trains and supports young Kayayei as well as girls in the northern part of Ghana with entrepreneurship skills, and offers training in basketry, fabric weaving, baking and shea butter making.
“These products made by the girls are of high quality and ensure longevity. Loozeele empowers these girls, reducing teenage pregnancy and the negative impact it causes. Overall, Loozeele improves the youths’ lives and reduces the rate of urban migration in Ghana. Our main aim is to help the youth identify opportunities that will help them gain a source of income in the north and also plan for a better future. We also create a ready market for their products.
“They also get to learn basic speaking, reading, writing skills; computer literacy and how to identify entrepreneurial opportunities that empower them to be leaders; as well as educate them on the various available career opportunities while mitigating teenage pregnancies and their negative impact. Overall, Loozeele hopes to improve lives of the youth, empower them and – even better – reduce the rate of urban migration
These women do not only gain employment, but they also make profit from the products they craft. Some of the products they make include shea butter, smock fabrics, woven bags and sandals, kimonos. We use technology to market the products they make, and use social media to sell products to customers,” she told the B&FT Inspiring Start-ups.
SDG 8 and 1
Loozeele’s activities are targetted toward Sustainable Development Goal eight, which is ‘ensuring decent work and economic growth’ and SDG one, ‘ending poverty in all forms’.
According to Teni, the vision for the next five years is to increase the number of centres around the Northern, Upper West, Savannah Regions to be able to train more girls and allow them have a source of income while they pursue their dreams or further their education. This vision is in line with the quest to reduce rural-urban migration.
One major challenge of the Loozeele Initiative is getting a ready market for products the girls make. She also said it is difficult getting funding to support the girls.
“After the behavioural change module, we take the girls home; and we need funding to take them through the process and the materials they need to train needs to be provided. Usually, we read about how some organisations train many girls; but we at Loozeele looks beyond that – we want to be able to provide them with the needed materials to work with. When this happens, the impact will be assured.
“Also it is difficult changing the mindset of the girls and some community members who usually encourage the girls to go to Accra,” she said.
We are open to donations of needed materials, and more importantly funding for the ladies. Since we are promoting reproductive health, we are open to funding.
How government can help
Teni believes that while government advocates for the youth’s involvement in entrepreneurship, it should ensure that its policies are not hindering progress of their activities. She said this while citing how the e- levy will likely affect their sales and purchases, especially those operating online.
Also, specifically in the Northern Region, government must create incubators and support young businesses.
Advice for the youths
Teni advises young people to invest in themselves to learn, and employ more effort to see the expected result they want. For her, being determined, zealous, hopeful and trusting in the process of one’s journey is key.
Facebook: Loozeele initiative
Instagram: Loozeele Initiative
LinkedIn: Loozeele Initiative
LinkedIn: Teni Agana