After a lot of endless hours, I am finally ready to share my photos and video for The By Grace Foundation in Ghana.
The By Grace Foundation is a female founded 501(c)(3) that sponsors the training and education of women in impoverished communities.
The By Grace Foundation operates a vocational training facility in Tamale, Ghana. In Ghana, becoming a seamstress is a highly esteemed profession, but is only available to women with capital. By Grace sponsors the education fees and sewing machine so that underprivileged women have the opportunity to make an income.
One thing I love about working with different non-profits like The By Grace Foundation, is sharing in the experience. From killing spiders with duck-tape and laughing over Africa moments, to watching the women open up.
I have also had the honor of documenting The By Grace Foundation’s work in India and on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
We had flown into Accra and from there took a small plane to Tamale, one of the larger cities in Northern Ghana. It was such a small plane I had to check my larger camera equipment bag and was informed it would arrive the following day. I had a bit of a panic attack, but the gear all arrived as promised.
TAMALE - NORTHERN GHANA
We hit the ground running on day one and started meeting so many faces. The most important being, The By Grace women!
My time in Tamale was focused on doing interviews with the women and hearing their powerful stories. Along with capturing the process behind the clutches the women are learning to create through The By Grace Foundation.
GIRL IN MARKETS
Young girls are used in Ghana as head porters, also known as kayayoo. They will carry heavy loads for shoppers and traders on their heads, sometime very long distances in the hot sun. She is likely not in school and is working to help support her family or her baby. She will be vulnerable to sexual abuse and unplanned pregnancy.
The By Grace Foundation is fighting these issues by teaching the women new skills they can use to generate an income!
Women working in the local market in Tamale.
I brought large diffusion sheets and spent the morning figuring out how to soften the African sun. We had so many women to interview and it was going to take all afternoon. Which meant we needed to shoot during the brightest time of the day.
Pictured above is the women's main seamstress. She helps educate the women on how to sew.
Rafia, she was shy in her interview, but warmed up each time we saw her. She was giggling and laughing by our last day with her.
I focused the video on Rebecca, because I loved her favorite African proverb:
“Small, small things make an elephant.”
Translates: “Sometimes people place limitations on themselves, but no matter how small you start, you can get where you need to be.” - Rebecca
"My name is Magdaline and I'm 14 years old. I want to learn to sew, so I can help my family."
This was a young girl I asked to photograph.
This is reality for young girls trying to support their families. They will often end up not going to school and carrying heavy loads back and fourth to the market.
"Hi, my name is Azara and I do not know my age." - Azara, age unknown
"If I can sew well, then I can support myself in the future."
Favorite African Proverb: "If a town is far, there is another town further."
Translation: "There is always something ahead of you, or somebody always knows more."
- Fatima, 17
"When I am short money, I can use sewing." - Zilfa, 16
Favorite African Proverb: "The dry branch will bud and surprise those who gather sticks." Translation: "Nobody expects a dry branch to bud when a tree is cut down and dry. So for a branch to bud is a surprise. I love that proverb because expectations of me are low, so I want to surprise people by exceeding their expectations."
- FEROUZA, 20
Favorite African Proverb: "Small, small, catches the monkey's tail."
Translation: "Little, by little, you can get where you want to be."
Another huge part of this trip was The By Grace Foundation’s new building for the women. An afternoon was spent celebrating and giving certificates to the women.
After our time in Tamale, we headed further North to Sandema. It was bringing back so many memories from my time in Malawi and the simplicity of village life.
Emily lived in Ghana for most of her childhood and getting to see her reunions was fun. I felt at home as we stayed in one of her old houses and got to settle in a bit.
One of my favorite nights was when we rode in the back of a pick up to one of her childhood friends home. We filled the small home with people and laugher as we ate the local dish, groundnut stew.
I spent my evenings in Sandema walking around during the African harmaton glow, capturing village life.
I joked I was bullied at the watering hole because some kids asked me 21 questions and didn’t seem satisfied with any of my answers. I think I redeemed myself a few nights later, when a few of the same boys let me jump in their very serious volleyball match. (pictured above)
After Sandema, time seemed to fly by. We spent one day relaxing at Zaina Lodge midway through the trip and it was the best decision EVER! After that we returned back to Tamale to get ready to leave and I wanted one more evening with the By Grace Women.
Only a few of the women were available, but I used a cloth I’d bought at the local market to create a backdrop. This would be our last night in Ghana, so after the photos we said good-bye to the women.
One misconception about this photography work, is that it’s all exotic and glamorous. Instead, absolute exhaustion mixed with uncomfortable situations is more accurate. All while trying to execute a creative vision.
With that being said, you either love it, or hate it…and I love it!
So many more powerful stories are coming in 2018 and I can't wait to share them. Leave your feedback, questions, or love below!