Our path led us to Ghana. We - author Meelis Süld and , director/cameraman Kalle Käesel - heard that there is a village named Kongo in the Upper East Region of Ghana which has tight contacts with Estonia. Quite many Estonian volunteers have been helping the village with their knowledge and one of the strategies has been to „give them a hook not a fish“. After a couple of meetings with social entrepreneurship expert of NGO Mondo Diana Tamm and listening her stories of Ghana we decided to go next time together to Kongo village and shoot a documentary film there.
Shea butter has been called “women's gold”. Ghana’s land seems to be full both „men’s and women’s gold“. Ghanaian women in the village have the experience how to make shea butter in small quantities for their own use or sell it on local market. Those who don’t know what is shea butter need to study Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shea_butter. I am not big expert in cosmetics and eco products but I have understood that it’s an appreciated component of different creams and can be used naturally as a cream too. Local women use the shea butter also for cooking and nowadays it becomes an alternative for cocoa butter. In fact shea nuts smell like cocoa.
|The process of making shea butter|
We went to the village to see how this shea butter is produced. Estonians are helping to set up a small shea butter factory there. It is owned by the community and would give casual work for women, especially for widows who are the economically and socially very vulnerable in the village. They need some machines to make the work easier, they need some tips how to make the process cleaner so that it meets international standards and the factory needs to acquire export certificate.
|The shea butter is ready|
While women collect shea nuts, crush, roast, grind, wash and boil the “women’s gold” out of shea nuts, men go digging for real gold. They risk with their lives going to old abandoned mines, they risk also by making their own unregistered gold mines with insufficient safety measures. They risk also breaking the laws as gold digging without the license is illegal. Boys and young men stop attending school because the money from gold digging seems to be better foundation to future life.
I was surprised that the machines that men use for crushing and grinding gold-containing stones are very similar to those which women use for making shea butter or vice versa. And I was shocked to see how young men use mercury in gold processing without any gas mask. It seemed that the illegal gold digging and processing is not too strictly controlled. Perhaps because it gives some extra money for the people in the village and the authorities understand that taking away this possibility would cause many other problems.
|The open air kitchen by the street|
The second project with village widowed women is about making the baskets. The tradition is not really from Kongo village but there are living some women from other areas who pass on this knowledge. Some Estonian designers have been helping to use colors, patterns and basket shapes which would be more attractive to Nordic customers and now local women sell their handcraft to Estonia and get twice more money than they would get from local market, often paid too poorly by the people who buy up at the end of the market day.
|The child sleeps while mother is making shea butter|
Goat as a deposit
One way of supporting women in the village is to give them a goat. It means that they can start their small farm, though the animals are free range and run around the village among pigs, chicken, calfs, dogs etc. In the beginning one goat is given to three women, and then its baby goats will be given to 2nd and 3rd woman. We also bought a goat on the market place and gave it to three widows. Hope they will multiply soon. Women can sell the goat when needed and have some extra money.
I was surprised how much can be done for the village people with a reasonable amount of efforts and donations. A goat cost 20 euros and this donation improves the economical situation of 3 families for upcoming years. There’s another program by NGO Mondo to support the studies of an African child with 40 euros a year – this donation means that probably the child will not go to gold mines because he has enough money for his or her books and cloths to attend school and stay focused on studies. We can make the world better little by little if we want.
/The author - Meelis Süld/