Imagine a girl whose parents cannot afford high school anymore and is therefore forced to drop out. Now, a teenage girl who did not finish high school has to go and face "the real world" by herself. This is the story of Beatrice and many other women in the Volta region in Ghana. Beatrice, however, found support in a seamstress and a sewing machine. With the help and training she received from her mentor, she was able to start her business, and to this day, she mentors and hosts other apprentices who are just like her.
For Beatrice, Cinderella, and many other women in the Volta region in Africa, a sewing machine and a seamstress mentor have been an empowerment tool to lift them when they were young and had to drop out of school because of financial need. More than a job to earn money to survive, sewing means a source of independence, education, and a supporting network of women. It becomes a circle of receiving and giving back.
The story is not all roses. Even though there is potential and motivation, those women lack resources to provide the necessary training and support for themselves and the apprentice girls to reach their maximum potential and goals. The Volta project, developed by Hope Sews in partnership with the Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFAWI), aims to provide 30 women with holistic empowerment training and resources. The overarching goal is to give women the tools to start a business or grow an existing one. Through this means, the project seeks to improve their quality of life by achieving independence, staying healthy, and providing for their families and communities. The Volta project has four main aspects:
First Things First: Providing Resources
More than giving a tool they need, these women need access to capital to expand their business in the long term. Because of their limited financial resources and access to banks, their options are scarce. For that reason, the Volta project incorporates microfinancing loans to give women like Cinderella the opportunity to borrow seed capital to invest in resources (e.g. electric sewing machines) to increase their productivity.
Maximizing Resources Through Financial Literacy
Loans without financial education would not solve anything and would instead become an issue. With the Volta project, we also make sure that these women are provided with sufficient financial training and support to be able to administer their funds in the most efficient way. Beatrice, Cinderella, and the 28 other women in the program are assisted in the process of creating a savings account through the SUSU program (the local word for saving). They are encouraged to save while earning interest that, in the future, will help them achieve their financial independence.
A Wider Vision, A Holistic Approach
We believe that empowerment and support do not end at providing financial assistance. That's why we implement a holistic approach to create truly meaningful change. In addition to the financial training and resources, the Volta project also encompasses health workshops. We believe that to perform well in their businesses, these women need to feel well in all aspects. We found that 63% of the women in the project have children under 18. Thus, health and family sessions are essential to empower them and encourage them to improve their quality of life. In addition, 53% of the participants manifested interest in health related workshops. The health sessions touch on disease prevention and sanitization, reproductive health, management of medical expenses, among other essential topics. We hope these workshops can fill in the gaps in the understandings or misunderstandings they might have regarding their healthcare and that of their family.
Reducing the Gender Gap
The overarching goal of the workshops is to reduce the gender gap by providing the women in the program with enough resources and training that will help them become independent and rise above the poverty line. These women are already leaders in what they do, and with the workshops, we hope to boost that leadership even more. The gender sessions are centered around decision-making in the home and in communities, promoting healthy family relationships, and providing leadership skills for women to play larger roles in their communities, businesses, and homes.
A Positive Chain
The beauty of projects like this is that it has a chain of positive effects growing exponentially. For the 30 women in the program, the benefits of growing their business, connecting with other women, and learning from each other do not end with them. Being more financially independent also means their daughters will be more likely to have the resources to complete their education. For other teenage girls with similar stories to Beatrice or Cinderella’s, the Volta project means more opportunities to be the apprentice of an empowered role model, learning from them while building their own path to create their business and become leaders.
Those 30 women had mentors when they started. They later became mentors to other girls who, in the future, can further influence the lives of many other girls. The Volta project has the power to increase the influence of these women by providing them with training in more skills and resources to expand their reach.
It all starts with a mentor and an opportunity.