More than 30,000 young women and children roam the streets of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Fifteen thousand of these girls are under the age of 20 with babies. To survive many of the girls turn to begging, stealing, or worse, prostitution. With no shelter and no where to go, the children and young women live among filth and trash—much of it plastic water bags (about 60 tons) that are dumped daily.
As dire as the situation is on both the human and environmental level, co-founders Callie Brauel, Emmanuel Quarmyne, and Rebecca Brandt of ABAN (A Ban Against Neglect) came up with a solution to end the cycle of poverty by teaching the homeless women how to recycle the plastic water bags, combining them with hand-stamped and hand-dyed batik fabrics made by local artisans, and turning them into fashionable handbags and purses. Each of the purses come with jeweled accessory enclosure that are made from discarded bottles, which are turned into beads.
HAND/EYE’s online editor Rebeca Schiller recently interviewed Lucila Romero, marketing manager at ABAN, to learn more about the not-for-profit’s training programs and its plans for the future.
HAND/EYE: Tell me about the training programs ABAN offers.
Lucila Romero: Our ABAN program recruits young women from small communities in Ghana's eastern region for a six month social entrepreneurship training course. We target at-risk women in dire circumstances with little or no chance opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. Our goal is to teach the women they have value and unleash the potential they have inside. We begin by teaching confidence through life skills such as dressing professionally and eating nutritiously. We then have training modules taught by our staff for business practices such as setting up a bank account, learning to market a product, and proper savings techniques.
At the end of this six month course, 10 women are chosen to join our ACE vocational training program. This program is a two-year apprenticeship in sewing, a viable business opportunity for women in their communities. Others are given the opportunity and support to pursue micro-enterprises of their choice. Our goal is to train these women to affect change in their own communities and break the cycle of poverty.
H/E: Please explain what’s the creative and design process in developing the products?
LR: Our creative process involves two countries on two separate continents! Based on popular trends in the United States, our US staff creates a vision board for fabrics and designs for each product line. Our head tailor in Ghana then makes prototypes of all the products with different fabric options. Both US and Ghana staff decide which designs and fabrics they think will sell in US markets. A new product line is released every six months.
H/E: Where do you see ABAN in five years time?
LR: We bought six acres of land in our neighboring community and hope that in the next five years we will have completed a capital campaign to create an ABAN campus on this land. This will allow us to serve more girls on a yearly basis and to expand our vocation centers to include more than just apprenticeships in sewing. The goal is to be graduating 100 girls yearly within the next five years fully trained in the vocation of their choice. We hope to see visible change in the communities surrounding us as the women return home to break the cycle of poverty.
H/E: What will you be exhibiting at Artisan Resource?
LR: will be exhibiting our fall collection of products at Artisan Resource. This includes purses ranging from our large 'Gifty Tote' bag to our small 'Candi ID Case.' We have bags of all sizes to address all needs! Each of our purses combines Ghanaian fabrics with plastic bags recycled from the streets of Ghana! Every purchase is helping towards the restoration of the environment.
ABAN will be attending Artisan ®, at NY NOW® from August 16-19. To learn more about the organization and where to purchase its products, please visit www.ABAN.org.