Small beginnings: Stories of two Ghanaian entrepreneurs
Every child in Ghana has the right for equal education in public primary schools. However, families living in poverty rarely have the possibility to pay for school uniforms, books or lunch fees.
Speaking of Ghanaian schools, private or public, the cost of school fees doesn’t seem to really define the quality of education (this statement is based on our own experiences on Ghanaian schools).
Girls have an equal chance to study as boys, but the risk for girls quitting is way higher for example due to teen-age pregnancies and lack of proper sanitation facilities in schools (challenges with menstruation).
Women in Ghana get often employed in traditional female-dominated fields i.e. in tailoring, cooking, customer service, vending, nursing and teaching. Self-employment is common but demands start-up capital and/or education. Some of these women working long hours and taking care of their kids and homes are such heroines!
A woman without basic education represents the most vulnerable position in the society. Exclusion from society can in the worst case lead to criminal activities, prostitution or drugs. Families and communities hardly accept such behavior from their members and one might easily end up living alone on the streets. (One could say that being rejected by family or community is worse punishment than going to jail!)
Highly educated Ghanaian women run successful businesses, work in executive positions and are experts in politics, finance, education.. you name it. Powerful, fearless women! Sadly, these opportunities don't always come all that easy.
How I got my first ever manicure ..in Ghana!
This year January I was passing along a dusty side road in Accra, framed by inventively built, characterful houses. I stopped to buy some water and my attention got caught by a sticker promoting manicure services on container building glass door. Out of curiosity I popped in. (Usually I wouldn’t care less about such services, but something just got me interested!)
It was very small, just a few square meters' container room. And in that moment I was in a completely different reality. Inside there was a young, beautiful and stylish woman making gel nails for a customer. The space was beautifully decorated, and deliciously colored nail polishes were put on display. I was amazed and so was the woman. It certainly wasn’t common to see foreign visitors passing through that area! I apologized for interrupting her work and booked an appointment! (Oh yes! - my reservation was written down in a calendar - a practice that hardly happens in Ghana!)
Few days later I found myself sitting in her salon, under a fan, getting my nails done. She told me how she had started from scratch; spending long days along streets and shores selling mani-pedis, while carrying her first born on her back and treatment tools on her head. She saved every cedi so she could educate herself more. Her dream was to run a salon that wasn’t too far away from home and made it possible for her children to visit her after school. In Ghana it's normal to see children spending time at their entrepreneur parents' workplaces - first on the back, then playing around with their siblings and finally helping with the business.
Now the manicure lady has her own salon close to her home and innovative and bold thoughts for the future. Her appointment calendar is filled from Monday to Saturday for weeks ahead.
"She's happy and feels extremely proud of making
enough money to educate her children.."
The sweetest oranges are made of tears
In 2013, I met a deaf man at Ring Road, Accra. He was selling sweets and chewing gum on his head among the traffic (in Ghana you can buy almost anything from sellers along the streets and among the traffic). The man spent hours after hours on daily basis walking on the streets and putting his life at risk, just to get something sold to passers-by before the other vendors. And we are now talking about a man who doesn't have a common language with most of the population.
"But he had a dream: Some day he would have his own shop."
About a year after I first met him, he had changed his sweets to oranges and was still wandering the streets selling them. I encouraged him to keep believing in his dreams he had trusted me with (in Ghana deaf people often keep explaining to me how they don’t want to tell their personal matters to other deaf people because the community is so small and everybody is gossiping. It might’ve been easier for him to talk to someone out of that circle..)
Sometimes I bought all his oranges and gave them to street children. We used to brainstorm how to get regular buyers fro him.
In 2015 fall, we met again by accident. And guess what!? He really did have his own boutique with bananas, roasted peanuts and oranges. This man wouldn’t accept any bad left-over fruits but only the best were put up for sale. "Because the customers deserved only the best." The happiness was literally radiating from him! He finally had his own small shop and a business that made a living. Using his own words: “The job was what kept me sane.”
"I'’ve never witnessed anyone peeling an orange as carefully and accurately as he did."
More and more customers were rushing in all the time. He was so proud of his boutique located by a busy street. And I was proud of him too.
Last spring he had expanded his selection to a wide set of seasonal fruit. He had succeeded to build a regular customer base and there were many people who wanted to buy their fruits only from him.
"Tears in my eyes I watched his customers buy their daily fruit
by using just body language with this brave man,
who had decided to employ himself no matter what it took from him."
Dreaming - it's a Ghana-thing
In Ghana, as well as anywhere else, one must believe in dreams and just keep pushing to pursue them. One has to have the courage to take risks, otherwise change is never possible. After all change is the possibility. These two young people inspire me with their burning desire to work with pride. In general, I think Ghana is very inspiring environment for creative thinking as well as in giving space for dreams.
Some time ago the lady from the manicure salon called me to ask how I'd been. She wanted to know if I had taken care of my nails the way she had guided me to do. I looked down at my nails feeling embarrassed and thought to myself how Ghana makes even my nails look way better! ;)