Empower Marginalized Young Women in Ghana

by A Ban Against Neglect (ABAN)
Joyce and Christopher
Joyce and Christopher

Dear Friend,

ABAN has always prided itself on being an act of transformation. Transforming plastic waste into beautiful products. Transforming the lives of neglected young women into hopeful futures. Transforming the landscape of Ghana into empowered communities.

Forty-three women successfully graduated our women’s empowerment program! Some of those women went back to high school. Some are working in hotels. Some are pursuing a career in sewing or hair dressing. Some have dreams of becoming teachers! Thirty-seven babies came through the doors of our preschool and received a jump start on their education. All their mothers saved money while participating in our program to pay for their school fees.

Fourteen seamstresses and tailors in our community have been given employment through our sewing center. They recycled over half a million plastic bags into useful products sold in Ghana, the UK, and the United States! Ten of our surrounding communities now collect the plastic bags instead of discarding them on the street.

Now, we are facing our biggest transformation yet. We are shifting all managerial and programmatic decision making to our capable staff in Ghana. With that shift, comes the shutting down of ABAN’s US operations. We are confident and excited to see where our leadership in Ghana takes ABAN through this next transformation.

We could not have accomplished all that we did in the last five years without your support. We value the selfless contributions you have made to transforming the lives and communities in Ghana.  While our program activities are suspended, we will not accept donations in order to ensure the integrity of your gift. We hope you will be open to receiving program updates in the future!

Thanks for all your support!

Felicia and her son, Prince
Felicia and her son, Prince

During our recent graduation I was standing at the side of the stage listening to one of our young women, Felicia, talk about the impact that the ABAN Women’s Empowerment program has had on the students’ lives. Felicia’s talk was unscripted; she simply stood up to share her views, and she looked out over the sea of familiar faces of family and community members, and she told them “It is hard! We work hard.” I liked Felicia’s honesty.

Felicia’s name is often at the top of the list when we rank our graduates. Unlike most of our students, her story has more positive elements. At 22, Felicia came into ABAN with a higher level of education than her peers. She had the support of her family – both parents. Felicia even had a job in Tema once. And that’s where her story goes awry. Because that’s where she met a man who made promises, got her pregnant, and then deserted her. The premature birth of her son added to her predicament, having to meet his special needs.

Living in poverty and without prospects, Felicia felt a sense of hopelessness. But in her ABAN recruitment interview, we could see that beyond the hurt, the disappointment and the frustration, Felicia also had a resolute determination to make her life better, and to make sure that baby Prince could survive his first year.

After six months at ABAN, we could see a difference in Felicia’s life. Most important, little baby Prince began to recover and flourish. And Felicia was freed up to focus on learning. Sometimes we had to prompt her to push herself in class, to take on the more complex case studies, and to demand more of herself. But she showed herself to be a capable leader, helping the other young women around her to tackle their class assignments.

Felicia also thrived in our learn-to-earn initiatives. As soon as she found out that she would be paid to collect and wash sachet bags, Felicia enlisted the help of her family members who were unemployed back at home. While she studied, they helped gather sachets for her. In April alone she managed to earn over $100 – money that went back into supporting her parents and siblings.

It was therefore a logical choice for us to ask Felicia to join one of ABAN’s sales events. In May, we were invited to showcase our products and program at the TEDxSpintexWomen event that was being held at the British Council in Accra. To our mind, this represented a wonderful opportunity for Felicia to see a different side of life, to engage with other young women who have succeeded in business and the arts, who could potentially serve as role models.

On May 30th, just over a month from when I had watched Felicia on our graduation stage, I stood next to her at the TEDx event. We were outside the auditorium, looking through the windows as they set up the stage for a young speaker. I asked Felicia to come into the hall to listen to the TED talk. In that moment I noticed her awkwardness, her shyness… and I understood. It was the fear of that bigger unknown stage on which we are expected to perform in life. Felicia, who had boldly taken the stage at the ABAN event, felt uneasy to walk into the midst of other young women at this event who represented a higher level of achievement, a stage of greater success in society and in life.

I urged Felicia to join me, and she came and sat beside me quietly, and together we watched Amina Ismail Daru take the stage. Amina told her story. How she had escaped a forced marriage at the age of twelve, and how she had set up the Achievers Club to help other young girls like herself in the slums of Nima in Accra, to change their future through education.

At the end of the talk, I told Felicia, that’s the stage I want to see her on one day, where she is telling her story of how she has impacted the lives of other young women in our ABAN program. Because if there is one thing I believe firmly about Felicia, it’s that she has within her the resolve to overcome fear and to step out onto center stage when her time comes.

Janine presenting to ABAN
Janine presenting to ABAN

Dear Friends,

Once our Business 101 course began, it became clear that interesting business ideas are taking shape in a small group of young women on a dusty compound in the rural communities of Ghana’s Eastern Region.

On the first day of the course, I realized it was going to be a challenge. One of the young women said to me, “Madam Janine, you are speaking big English to us. Please can you speak small English?” Luckily, I have an amazing team of ABAN trainers and volunteers – Gabriel, Doris and Joshua – and they put unreserved passion and energy into making these “big English” business concepts accessible to our students.

On Day One, we learned how business works. Instead of the proverbial lemonade stand, we had Vida and Augustina set up a mock pineapple juice stand. The women learned words like products, expenses, profits, employees and salaries.

On Day Two, we brought the concepts to life. Augustina brought some huge pineapples from her family farm, and we made our first batch of Happy Pineapple Juice. The women learned about equipment and what happens when your juicer breaks! Mercy brought in her own product, mixing passion fruit with pineapple juice. Then the class discussed her supply chain, because Mercy only knows one person who grows passion fruit.

We also discussed how the women currently earn money. Patience said she could sell cabbages next to the road and make about $5 – on a good day. She spoke about being tired for class and how her body ached from fetching produce to sell at market. When I asked whether she wants her daughter to grow up to earn money the same way, her response was a very strong “No!”

Eunice described how she would take her cloth to market and everyone would tell her to make her prices cheaper and cheaper. When she got home, she often found she had not made money at all. So we ended up talking about bargaining and pricing strategies, and the students learned about the profit/loss equation. Complex topics, but each day these words and concepts became clearer to the students.  

All of this was inspiring, but the best was yet to come. By late Friday, the students were beginning to come up with more business ideas of their own. This in itself was profound. When we started our program in October, the women thought of their futures in limited terms: become a seamstress, sell things by the roadside or work on a farm. Now we could see their minds working. We could sense a change in the questions they asked, and we could witness their inspiration as we talked about angel investment and incubating good business ideas.

Eunice was the most eager. She kept jumping up and asking us to let her try to explain. She gave great examples that showed she understood. My favorite moment was at one point where she was bouncing up and down eagerly, talking in Twi, and I asked Gaby what she was saying. And what he said blew me way. “Eunice is saying her brain is on fire!”

If there was ever proof that we are igniting even the smallest of sparks in the minds of these young women, then this is it. Their heads are starting to burst with activity and ideas. Maybe that should be our new name for our course – not Business 101, but Brains on Fire!

Doris, with Candy and Alice, two other ABAN staff
Doris, with Candy and Alice, two other ABAN staff

Dear Friends,

Recently, our Programs Manager, Doris, wrote an amazing blog post about the impact she wants to have on her community in Ghana through ABAN. We thought it encompassed our mission beautifully and wanted to share it with you. When donating to ABAN, you are helping to achieve this vision of an empowered Ghana!

"I grew up in a community that understood the quantity little: little houses, little education, little food, and little opportunities. I never travelled much; I didn’t understand how the world operated. It was a community of about a hundred people; we all shared a community TV, drunk water from the same borehole when the tap ceased to flow for months, and the only fun things we did were going to church or community gatherings, and being a part of a community of Christians or sports. For a long time, I didn’t think there was any place bigger than the community I came from. I thought Accra (the capital city of Ghana) was on a different continent. Girls as old as 18 were not allowed to have boyfriends, and getting pregnant before marriage was taboo because it would bring shame to the community and to the girl’s family.

Life was all about the community and families and never about individual struggles. We could not talk to our parents about personal things because we viewed them as disciplinarians. Yet there were no others we could confide in, no counselors to help guide us. It was a scary time for every growing young person and more so every growing young woman. During this time, the life of girls was one that was governed by laws that made one more fearful than empowered. We were taught to respect men, to fear our parents, to be ‘nice’ to elderly men (unfortunately, this is where most girls tend to be abused), and to never talk back, to take it all in, to endure and be around when you are needed. There was no internet and telephones, only small TVs, so people did not know they had a choice to make life better for themselves and that decision was theirs to make. This was life 28 years ago.

Since that time, the change that has come to us is plenty and almost unreal: the kind of change that serves humanity and brings order into the world. Laws on human rights have been improved, educational and other life changing opportunities are all around us, there is access to quality services, and help can be sought from a lot of places.

Yet this change has not affected all parts of Ghana. The kind of life I dreaded living 28 years ago is being lived today in many of the communities around me. The generation that believed in ostracizing girls who got pregnant, giving girls out in early marriages, and forcing girls into abusive relationships are still with us today. They call it ‘culture.’ There are communities that still believe girls are only good when they have men by their sides and will never shine by themselves. As such, there are a lot of girls and women who are wasting away untapped potential in themselves that they may never know they have.

The state of mind of the people in these communities and the lack of skilled persons and resources to support them has made it difficult for such communities to develop. What you will usually find is a city blossoming and the villages around them diminishing because when these resources and help are finally here, it’s just the city folks that benefit. Many of the people in the villages that would want to access this help are unable because of financial constraints. Even if some are able to break through and make it, there is little incentive to go back into their communities and help it develop. This means the community remains underdeveloped, the mindsets of the local people never change, and the abuse of girls continues.

So what if help could be sent to the young women in these villages, to be empowered and trained to lead the next generation of children to sustainable community building?

If women were empowered, as an adage goes in Ghana, the whole nation will develop. We as a nation understand the role women play in national growth but do not have the knowledge to make women the tool for our nation’s development. A culture that places much importance on men as the head and final authority in every aspect of a woman’s life is only doomed to fail. If women remain marginalized, as has been for a very long time in Ghana, and if they are not encouraged and support to use their God given talents and skills, we as a nation will remain developing and never become a developed nation. And so as it is now, the nation is struggling and I believe that is in large part to women not being recognized.

Appropriately resourced, I want to lead these poor and underprivileged women and girls in these communities to find within themselves potentials that could help them become the change their communities need. I want to provide opportunity in the midst of poverty. This means linking women to matched resources that are easily accessible to them and which can help them develop their skills and encourage their growth. For most of these women, all they need is someone to be there and be available, to listen and to lead them through the process. Someone to encourage and applaud their little efforts that when seen together, could transform their community.

With my background growing from a rural setting, I believe I have a better understanding of what opportunity means and I have been through the poverty cycle to have a fair idea of what needs to be done to get women to be the change and force we know them to be."

Thank you so much for your continued support! As you can see, our vision for Ghana is great and our mission is strong! It's thanks to you we're able to achieve this dream. 

Doris speaking to a group of young women
Doris speaking to a group of young women

This October, 22 women entered our campus gates for the first time.

They come from small communities with little opportunity. They bring babies with them, looking for provision where there is little to be had. They come with few dreams, but determination to transform their circumstances.

One of the questions we get asked most often is how we find the women for our programs! There are a couple steps to our recruitment process that the women go through when applying to be part of ABAN’s programs.

The first step is approaching the community as a whole. Our programs coordinator meets with community leaders first to get a sense of the people living in each town. She asks about their population, main occupations, school system, opportunities for women, and challenges they face as a whole. Next she introduces ABAN to the leaders and describes the programs we offer. She asks if the leaders know any women in the town that would be good candidates for our programs and asks to hold an information session.

The next step in our recruitment is the information session. This session is held at a communal place in town and welcome for anyone to attend. Our programs coordinator does a presentation on ABAN’s programs, then opens it up for a question and answer session. At the end of this session, women who meet our primary criteria (single mothers, aged 18-24) can sign up with their name and phone number to receive our application. Women who do not meet the criteria can still give us a phone number to reach them at in case we have other opportunities for them.

We have an open application process for a few weeks. All the women who signed up receive a phone call that applications are ready to be picked up. The woman must go to the ABAN campus and pick up the form herself, or arrange for it to be picked up. This along with the 10 GHC fee shows the woman’s dedication to being part of the program. (Of course there are always exceptions, but we really look to this as being an indicator of commitment from the start.)

There are three parts to the application: the paper forms, an individual interview, and a group interview. The paper forms ask basic questions about the woman, her age, her children, and her past education. Thirty women who meet our criteria at this stage are invited for individual interviews. During individual interviews, the women meet with our programs coordinator and training manager and are asked questions about their personality and work ethic. This is to get a sense of who each woman is as a person and what she wants out of life. Twenty-five women from this group are invited to a group interview. This interview demonstrates how she acts in a group setting and how she works with a team.

Twenty to twenty-five women are then invited to be part of our six-month program. However, no woman is turned away with no other resources. If she is a strong candidate, she will be put on the waiting list for the next six-month cycle. If she is outside of the age range, she is referred to other programs or invited to training sessions. We keep records of all women we interact with so that we can contact them if we hear of any resources that would match their ambitions!

This first six-month class is comprised of 22 wonderful women and their children. Stay connected to grow with the women and support them along their journey to empowerment through ABAN.


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Organization Information

A Ban Against Neglect (ABAN)

Location: Carrboro, North Carolina - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.aban.org
Project Leader:
Lindsay Sebastian
Chapel Hill, North Carolina United States

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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