NI volunteer joins project helping empower women in Ghana

UTV journalist Shauna McKeown spent several months in Sirigu in northern Ghana this summer volunteering to help support the local women in their livelihoods of traditional art and crafts.

She was there as part of a project ran by International Service, a UK-based charity which has embarked on a unique collaboration with an arts development NGO.

Mud houses dot the barren landscape of the remote village, where two thirds of families are living in poverty.

Villagers regularly have to make the long walk to the market to sell whatever they can to earn some money.

But hidden behind walls along a dusty road, stands a hidden gem which has supported hundreds of women since it was set up 20 years ago.

Helping them to survive, to buy food for their families and pay school tuition fees for their children, The Sirigu Women's Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) has been a lifeline for many in the community.

Francisca Akampoi, Head of Sales at Swopa, explains: “A lot of women would have remained behind; they wouldn't have known what to do to earn a living so I believe that without SWOPA most women would have remained backward."

SWOPA provides a platform for women to use their creativity whilst earning a living.

They weave baskets at a slow steady pace for days at a time, and can sell their creations at a much higher rate than they would otherwise get at the local market.

The organisation offers more than a support system though - it also provides a space where women can come together and learn the threads of history.

A local woman paints bold colours and designs of Sirigu onto some pottery.

They are cultural traditions, which at one time, were in danger of being lost.

The women make pots which are also delicately decorated in the bold colours and designs of Sirigu.

The patterns have been painted on the walls and houses of the village by women for generations.

Trying to make these traditions more economically viable in the face of poor access to global markets and a lack of donor funding is a challenge, but one SWOPA stands ready to meet.

Bridget Adongo, Director of SWOPA, said: "What we look forward now is to be able to sell outside, to get orders from outside the country so that the women can produce in large quantities and sell to those people. I think that will help us."

Better marketing of the work produced by these craftswomen could ensure that SWOPA is intertwined with Sirigu for generations to come.

  • WATCH: Shauna McKeown explains more about the project in Ghana: