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In a small unsuspecting room set among the historic Elmina castle, a former slave trading post, is a group of fiery and determined young women, students of the first skills training class in collaboration with both the local NGO, Action for Compassion, and GVI. These women come together four times a week to learn sewing skills, and how to practically apply these with bag making, with the guidance of their dedicated teacher, Emmanuel. This particular skills training initiative was created with the intention to empower these women through increased skills training and economic opportunity.

Emmanuel is formally trained and skilled in designing and making bags, and is the dedicated teacher of all these women, passing on his skills and expertise in the form of various kinds of bags.

GVI centres its projects on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were set in 2015, and outline 17 global goals, which act as a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity, and are to be met by 2030. Here in these women’s empowerment classes in Elmina (where GVI was based in Ghana in 2018), the focus is on SDG 5 – gender equality, and interrelated goals such as 8 – decent work and economic growth, and SDG 10 – reduced inequalities.

It is apparent for anyone that visits these classes, that these women are determined to make the most out of these free classes, and have built strong relationships with one another in the process. There is never a dull moment, from the constant laughing and dancing, combined with the colourful pieces of fabric being transformed into practical and very sellable bags, to lunch time where food and stories are eagerly shared. That is if they can hear one another over the local Ghanaian music being blared from their phones.

Since initiating these classes, the first recruitment of 6 local women, have been trained in the fundamentals of sewing (counting, measuring, cutting etc.) and have been guided through making handbags, school bags, and travel bags. It has been amazing to see how refined their work is becoming, and always rewarding to hear that people in the community have noticed their handiwork, and have offered to pay money for such pieces. Practical work aside, GVI has also incorporated small business skills training, IT and marketing skills, and workshops on gender equality as part of the curriculum.

Through the success of this programme, the aim is to see many more women in the community receive training, and to see the current students go on to become economically empowered, perhaps through starting their own small businesses in future. This will in turn lead to a stronger economy as a result, and the realisation of the importance of gender equality in improving the quality of life for women, men, families, and communities.

Ellen, one of our women enrolled in the skills training classes, is working on her latest bag and is always eager to learn and improve on her skills wherever she can. When asked what she hopes to achieve, she laughed and replied “I want to be a fashion designer one day.”

A strong sense of community is felt in these classes, as the women assist one another, having formed strong friendships as a result.

Left: A sample bag made by one of the women. Right: Emmanuel measuring fabric for one of the bags.

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