BaBa Blankets, a sewing collective in Accra, Ghana, has led 75 women to self-sufficiency. Their hand-dyed textiles are sold online and in stores; earnings help support SISTAWorks, a nonprofit that sends village girls to school and helps area women become entrepreneurs.
Brown, 40, spent her junior year of college in Accra. Later, she worked there as a management consultant. In a bustling marketplace, she befriended Aisha, a young woman who had fled rural poverty and was doing backbreaking work as a load carrier in the market. “She introduced me to amazing young women like her. I asked them, ‘If you could do one thing to change your life, what would it be?’ When they said they wanted to learn to sew, a lightbulb went on.”
Brown and her dad, a financial adviser, had planned to open an Internet café in Accra. Instead, Brown says, “we used the funds to start BaBa Blankets”—baba is an African term of affection and respect—and she helped the women market internationally. Eventually Brown bought industrial sewing machines, and BaBa moved to a bigger work space.
Paying it forward
Education is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty, but villagers can’t afford boarding school, the only option for adolescents in remote areas. In 2007, Brown and the women of BaBa launched the SISTA Scholars Program, which sends girls to school via a fund consisting of grants, donations and a portion of BaBa’s proceeds. “We started with six girls; now we have 60,” says Brown.
The U.S. connection
In 2008, Brown moved to New Orleans and opened BaBa Blankets’ first retail store. She’s now collaborating with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative: Its members are using cloth dyed by the BaBa women to make quilts and table linens that will be sold at high-end U.S. retail outlets—producing income for women in both countries.
“Last year I built support by taking 23 American women to Ghana, where each was matched with a SISTA scholar. I’m taking more groups next year.”
“The best part is having close relationships with the women—and seeing other people recognize their talents,” says Brown.
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