At the Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US) we are working to ensure that all young people have access to a quality education. Before I joined GCE-US as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I worked with a women’s group in Nyngali Community, Karaga Distric, in Northern Ghana for three years. One of the main purposes of the project in Ghana was to build capacity among the community’s women to produce income through Shea Butter processing. Unlike Accra, the capital city of Ghana, and other parts of Ghana, poverty rates in the three northern regions are two to three times higher than the national average. Needless to say, while Ghana’s overall literacy rates have shown upward strides in recent decades, rates in the poorest regions in the north still remain far lower than other regions.
Even in the Nyngali Community, whose population is around 700, there are only two women who have finished secondary school. One of them represents the community as an assembly women and the other is the only lady who can speak English in the community. Not surprisingly only 37% of the population in Karaga district can speak and read both English and their local Ghanaian language, despite English being the official language in Ghana.
As I worked with the women’s group in Nyngali, I was constantly amazed how women can manage a 24 hour day efficiently without any minute wasted. Women in Nyngali, like other rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, start the day as early as possible–around 4 am to go the bush to pick shea nuts. In addition to this new livelihood, preparing meals for extended families, cleaning and repairing their homes and compounds, taking care of elders and kids, farming staple crops such as yams and maize are all part of women’s duties.
Shea butter, which is processed by hand in village households, has long been used for everything from cooking oil to moisturizing cream and even as a medicinal treatment for cuts and bruises. Shea butter is now providing a new and stable livelihood and brighter future for many poor rural women in Ghana.
Money from shea generally goes directly to women and is one of the very few sources of income for them. With the money the women get from selling the shea nuts or the processed butter, they usually buy food, clothes or pay school fees and medical care.
Whenever I ask women in the village, “What would you do if you were to have more money?”
The more than 100 women in the Nyngali community responded the same “With the extra money from shea butter processing, I could pay for schooling for my children or for family medicines.”
Although Women can’t read English or local languages, Mothers know how important, more than material goods, appliances or possessions, education is for their children and how much they want to support their children.