Mary Oakes, Deputy CEO of Opportunity International, reflects on her recent visit to Ghana with Programme Manager, Melissa Bell. She shares the inspirational story of young women who are pushing past challenging barriers such as lack of education, early child marriage and poverty to find job opportunities and transform their lives.
Kayayei (pronounced 'kay-ay-eh') is a Ghanaian term that refers to a female head porter or bearer who carry goods stacked on top of their heads. The Kayayei project was set up in 2019 to provide vocational training and life skills to some of the women working as head-porters in the markets of Accra. It provides them with skills to develop alternative means of income generation so they can build a more secure, safe and sustainable livelihood. In my recent trip, l was keen to meet some of our partners in-country, to better understand the work, and to visit the Kayayei project.
It is estimated that up to 20,000 women are working as Kayayei in Ghana. This is gruelling work in difficult conditions.
Many of the women and girls who end up as Kayayei come from the rural areas of northern Ghana, taking the long trip south to Accra hoping to earn some money. Often they start at 4am and work through until 6pm, carrying heavy loads on their heads in large metal bowls; up and down through the markets taking shopping to the cars of wealthy shoppers. We heard how they face daily stigma and discrimination, sometimes not paid, bitten, hit and even raped.
Opportunity International’s active generosity
Opportunity International partner Mohamed, Founder of the Kayayei Youth Association of Ghana, works tirelessly to protect and provide for the Kayayei. Based on his local knowledge Mohammed identifies the women and girls who can benefit from the vocational training offered by our project.
The four-week course is residential, a chance for the participants to escape their current reality and to develop a support network with the other women. I visited the current cohort of 35 women who are being trained in three areas of enterprise considered to provide the best business opportunities: baking, beaded jewellery making (a staple of Ghanaian culture), as well as making soap. In addition, they had learnt financial literacy skills and vital life skills to keep them safe and build their resilience and self-confidence.
'Women of Hope'
A key aspect of our trip was to attend the Kayayei Graduation Ceremony, where they collected their certificates and took home a starter kit for their selected enterprise.
As I listened to them I decided that I would give them a new name as they stepped out into their new careers, shedding the labels which had been given to them and learning to flourish as entrepreneurs: ‘Women of Hope’.
Opportunity International has trained over 140 women and girls in the last four years. This is a critical project, making a real difference to the lives of very vulnerable women. We heard time and time again that what is really needed is for the training to take place in the northern regions of Ghana, to prevent the women having to come to Accra in the first place. This is challenging, logistically and financially, but one of my Opportunity International colleagues said they are committed to doing whatever is necessary to halt the train of young women travelling south to be Kayayei.
Who is Opportunity International?
Opportunity International was founded in 1971 by two visionary leaders who were inspired to take action by their experiences with people living in extreme poverty. Today, it is a network of organisations giving a hand up out of poverty to millions of families in over 20 countries around the world. Opportunity International goes where others won’t, providing marginalised people and their communities with access to business loans, savings accounts, financial training, and community support—all of which empower these entrepreneurs to work their way out of poverty and build a new sustainable future for themselves and their families.
You can help Opportunity International to empower more women through projects like the Kayayei project, either through their website or by giving to their general funds with Stewardship.
Read more stories of how Opportunity International is enriching lives and helping to build vibrant communities globally.
Please pray for God's provision for Opportunity International to continue impacting lives and responding to Jesus Christ’s call to love and serve the poor through the Kayayei project and beyond.
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