Empowering young women in my community
To mark International Women’s Day, International Development MSc student and Mastercard Scholar, Teni Agana, shares her learnings from her work empowering 40 women and girls in her community in Northern Ghana.
Content warning: mention of sexual assault
My name is Teni Agana, but my friends call me Tenacious Teni, I am the founder and managing director of Loozeele Initiative. I graduated from Ashesi University in Ghana in 2018 and I am currently doing my master’s in International Development at the University of Edinburgh as a Mastercard Scholar. I am interested in women’s empowerment and I believe my course of study will provide me with more information, knowledge, and skills in this field. Most importantly, I will get to learn what has worked and what did not work in the development sector. My aspiration in life is to support and empower young women and girls to create opportunities for themselves and others as well as become financially stable in life.
I want to ensure that underprivileged children, especially girls with backgrounds like mine, have a support system to keep them from veering from their goal. I have been in those shoes and understand all too well how easy it is to get sidetracked. I am passionate about minimizing the increasing number of girls from northern Ghana who migrate to the streets of southern Ghana due to poverty by helping them receive a source of income.
I want them to know that they could not choose who they are born to or where they came from, but they have the power to determine who they want to be, through resilience, hope and a lot of hard work.
I worked as a Kayayoo (a head porter, transporting goods to and from markets) to support myself through my secondary school education. I started the Loozeele Initiative to help girls like myself have a future. Most of my classmates including myself, dropped out of school to work as kayayei (a female porter). I vividly remember how we used to sleep on the street with our legs tied together to protect ourselves. Some of my friends were raped, ended up pregnant and I do not know the whereabouts of others. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to stop being a kayayei to further my education through the Mastercard Foundation.
I have spent years studying and have come to understand why being a kayayei is considered the optimal solution for women in the north of Ghana. Consequently, I have envisioned and devised ways we could improve the North to help the kayayei stay and work to accomplish their dreams. This has given birth to the Loozeele Initiative.
Loozeele train and support young women from the north and Kayayei with entrepreneurship skills to enable them to create a source of income and still work towards their education and career goals. We have supported 40 kayayei girls and women from the Upper East region to create a livelihood for themselves and their family while they live and stay in the north. We also help them to sell the products that they make to reduce the risks involved in finding a market for the products they produce.
We have seen the impacts on our girls as well as their families. Currently, forty girls who were working as kayayei in Madina, in the Greater Accra and Bantama in the Ashanti Region of Ghana are back to the Upper East region. They are currently making a living in the Upper East region of Ghana with the skills they have in making baskets, bags, smocks, and shea butter.
After school, they make smocks and baskets and send their finished products to us on a weekly basis. We sell it and 10% of the revenue is contributed towards our annual educational program. 20% of their profit is saved for school needs and other unforeseen circumstances. Some of the girls that we are working with confirmed that they even make more in working with Loozeele than working in the Accra as kayayei, taking into consideration their cost of living. For example, in Accra or Kumasi, they must buy water to bath, pay to bath, and buy water to drink. However, in the north they do not pay for water. With this, they spend less to live.
I was angry and hurt when I went home in my third year at college and saw some of my friends whom I was working with as a Kayayoo still doing it. I was fortunate to have had a Mastercard scholarship to Ashesi, but how do we create opportunities for ourselves as a community? What can we do to help them earn a living while planning for a better future? I am motivated by the youth in my community who believe that they can only find independence when they migrate to the southern part of Ghana to work to make ends meet. Here they face social, economic and health issues associated with the work and endanger themselves.
I am motived to give them hope, let them know that everything is possible if they are ready and willing to work for it. I want them to know that they could not choose who they are born to or where they came from, but they have the power to determine who they want to be, through resilience, hope and a lot of hard work.
We are inspired to help these vulnerable girls become the great women they dream to be. We are following our dream to bring development to northern Ghana whilst reducing poverty and promoting education.