Subsistence and Opportunity

The witches’ jewelry has become so popular that they can hardly keep up with demand. Part of the problem is that the women have had to divide their time between the immediate demands of the harvest and the less-immediate but potentially more lucrative demands of jewelry making. The women can bring in a good return on their labor selling the jewelry here, but Melinda, the American jewelry designer who taught them, has offered to show their jewelry along with her own back in the States. There the necklaces, bracelets and earrings these women create can bring in a much larger profit. The problem is that Melinda needs the jewelry to show before Christmas, and the women are having trouble making enough jewelry to send her for the show.

The reason for the difficulty was evident on the day Carolyn (the Peace Corps volunteer who coordinated the jewelry-design project) and I went out to Gambaga with several of the medical volunteers who had taken the day off to help work with the women making jewelry. Getting to Gambaga without a car of your own (which none of us have here) requires walking to the other side of Nalerigu to the “station” where you can find a taxi to Gambaga. They usually fit six passengers, plus a driver and miscellaneous small children into a compact car. Once you arrive in Gambaga, you then walk through the village and a field to arrive at the office of the Outcast Women’s Home.

After making this trek, we arrived to discover that not a single woman had come to make the jewelry. They had all gone to farm. “But couldn’t five or six have stayed behind to make jewelry?” we asked. Apparently not. The minimum wage in Ghana (for people with jobs) is GH2.65, or about $1.86. I’m not sure they make that farming. A single bracelet brings in more than that, if it’s sold in Ghana. If they can make enough to send to the U.S., a bracelet could be worth a weeks’ wages.

For women who have lived hand to mouth their entire lives, their focus is on the immediate need (food) and the immediate solution (farming). And I agree that farming is important. A good crop will provide their basic dietary needs for the next year. The jewelry-making seems less important to them because the benefits are less concrete and will take longer to materialize. Jewelry can’t be shipped to America, sold, and the profits returned overnight. But a little foresight and advance planning could meet both their farming needs and their jewelry profit potential. Most of the women can go out and farm every day. But if a rotation of five women stayed behind to make jewelry each day, they could produce both plenty of food and plenty of jewelry.

We discussed these concepts with the lady who runs the home, and when Carolyn and I returned the next day, a contingent of women showed up, too, ready to make jewelry. They’ve been pretty steady workers ever since. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to send some jewelry to Melinda soon. Then the women should really begin to see the profit from their labors.

One Response to “Subsistence and Opportunity”

  1. Melinda says:

    We were able to take the 30 necklaces plus some bracelets and earrings and made $300.00 to send back to the Ladies. I wish I could be there to see their faces! That was the original investment that Carolyn received from her grant… God is so good.