“Most of my classmates including myself, dropped out of school to work as Kayeyei. Some of the girls who came to work for the same reasons gave up along the way, for various reasons. Just think about it, you work so hard to make money, but you cannot buy nice clothes or get nice things like other kayayei. Instead, you must use it to pay for school which is not even a fun place to be. It’s just another place of hard work. The easiest option will be to just quit and focus on the business of making money which could mitigate and alleviate all your problems.” – Agana Teni (28yrs), Founder Loozele Initiative Ghana.
“Loozeele means “Hope” in Frafra, we are basically saying that there is hope in the north and that if we work hard enough in the north, we can all achieve our dreams and be safe.”- Teni adds.
Located in the Upper East Region of Ghana, Loozeele Initiative was birthed from Agana Teni’s Thesis projects so, after her graduation, she was very excited to start the journey. Agana Teni attended her university at Ashesi University College, Berekuso Ghana. In an interview with her, she shares her journey, and the impact her Initiative is having towards other Kayayei and the Upper East Region of Ghana.
How did you come up with the idea of starting, and what do you do at Loozele Initiative?
Having worked as a Kayayoo (head porter) to support myself through my secondary school education, I started this initiative to help girls like ‘myself’ have a better future. Most of my classmates including myself, dropped out of school to work as kayayei. Some of the girls who came to work for the same reasons gave up along the way, for various reasons. Just think about it, you work so hard to make money, but you cannot buy nice clothes or get nice things like other kayayei. Instead, you must use it to pay for school which is not even a fun place to be. It’s just another place of hard work. The easiest option will be to just quit and focus on the business of making money which could mitigate and alleviate all your problems.
At Loozeele, I train and support young females from the north and Kayayei with Entrepreneurship skills to enable them to create a source of income in the north for themselves and others and for some, to still work towards their education and career goals.
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 others I don’t know their whereabouts. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to stop being a kayayei in order to further my education. I have spent years studying and have come to understand why being a kayayei is considered the optimal solution for women in the North. Consequently, I have envisioned and devised ways we could improve the North to help the kayayei stay and work to accomplish their dreams. This is what has really given birth to the Loozeele Initiative which means there is hope. Our motivation to be social entrepreneurs comes from the above existing problem. 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.
What are some of the challenges, and how have you been able to overcome them?
- One of our biggest challenges has been finances. Loozeele Initiative was birth from my Thesis projects, after my graduation I was very excited to start this journey. I wanted to start it immediately to help support the girls but there was no money to help me to start this dream of mine. However, I believe that everything is possible if you are willing to work and fight for it. So, I worked for a year and saved enough to start Loozeele with just two girls. We need money to buy simple machines that will help us to produce efficiently and effectively. For now, we are doing what we can with what we must to make space better than it was, to help support our girls.
- The second challenge is getting the market for the products we sell. It is very difficult for the girls to get a source of income to support themselves and their families if the product they made is not sold. Currently, that has been one of the challenges, if we get a bigger market to support our girls, then more girls can be included.
The third and by far the biggest challenge is ‘mindset change’. It is very difficult to convince a young girl working as a Kayayoo in the streets of Kumasi and Accra that she should go home and that there is a better life for her back home. When she had lived that life and knows that life back home is a struggle.
What are some of the achievements your business has had ever since you showed up?
We have seen the impact made on our girls as well as their families. Currently, twenty-five (25) 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 5% 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. We are working hard to support these girls to be successful.
What setbacks are you faced with during this pandemic and global lockdown season?
With the sales aspect, most people order our product and we have not been able to deliver it to them. However, our girls are still making the products since they work from home. Because of the virus, most kayayei girls have returned home and we are working on helping them get a source of income. One thing that we are going to do is to produce our product so that we can sell it later.
What keeps you going day by day, how do you manage to cope despite the challenges as a business owner?
I am motivated when a young girl returns home and is able to support themselves and their families from the product, they make at Loozeele. I am even motivated to work harder by the youth in my community who believed that they can only make it when they migrate to the southern part to work in order to make ends meet and they face social, economic and health issues associated with the work, which makes the situation more dangerous. 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.
Ten years from now, Agana envisions Loozeele Initiative as a household name that supports over a thousand young persons and produces different products from agricultural to lifestyle. “Loozeele will be making a greater impact on girls and women in the northern part of Ghana; providing scholarships and other career aspirations to young people in Ghana.” She says
What advice would you give to other youths out there?
For those who want to start a business, I will advise them to take a bold step and start it. When you don’t start it, it will look as if it is a lot of work to deal with, but when you start, you will learn along the way and improve your business. For those who are not starting a business, I will ask them to support those who are, we need to support each other to make an impact.