Soul of Somanya
Prior to Soul of Somanya’s formation in 2009, jewelry instructor and designer Melody MacDuffee, who was known for her wirework, participated in the annual Bead & Button show. When her original earring design was featured in the June 2007 issue of Bead and Button Magazine, the opportunity of a lifetime was right around the corner. She received an email invite from Beadworks asking to teach a group of Krobo artisans jewelry making skills. Her journey in Ghana began 6 months later.
Here’s what Ms. MacDuffee had to share about her nonprofit organization and teaching experience over in West Africa:
Q: Besides the email invite, did you ever think about the possibility of teaching over in Ghana?
It’s funny because the day prior to receiving the email, I was out to dinner with a friend celebrating my 55th birthday. Somewhere along the conversation, I was asked to name one thing I wish I had done earlier in life and my response was to join Peace Corps. After the outing, I thought nothing about the statement until I read the email, which I thought was a scam at first until I got a second email pretty much saying the same thing as the first one. I was in Mobile, Alabama at the time and in six months, I had raised funds to spend 5 weeks in Ghana. I was just amazed at the support I received, from local supply shops to town newspapers.
Q: How was it being in Ghana for the first time?
Of course, it is an adjustment between the two countries. I lived as Africans do, culture and all. We were presented with a host family, that warmly welcomed us and I was given a village name (yes, there was a ceremony). The queen mothers gave their blessings on the project. We met with beadmakers as well. Melody MacDuffee’s blog post about her first trip to West Africa can be found here:
Q: What stood out about the students in Ghana?
One thing I remember the most is how alert they were, paying attention to detail, and pretty fast learners. The fact that they were used to working with their hands, made instruction easier. Also, they are artistically satisfied with the resources that are available to them. I guess that is because unlike here in the States where there is a choice for almost everything, they don’t have that privilege. Artisans aren’t stressed over things they don’t have and they create at their own pace. Seeing how different they are, made me re-evaluate things in terms of happiness, values, and living a simplified life instead of being in bondage to material possessions.
Q: How is it doing business in West Africa?
As with anything, you don’t know what you don’t know. I struggled with marketing and improved through trial and error. Before starting the legal process of forming a nonprofit, one thing I didn’t want to do was force the artisans to conform to the Western way of doing things. Instead of meeting them halfway, I met them 75% of the way because after all the natives know their wants and needs more than I do.
I learned very quickly that delivery time isn’t guaranteed, inventory comes in small quantities and there’s product inconsistency due to lack of available resources at their disposal. Our first batch of beads took four months. When it comes to business terms, it’s best to use English words. Since the artisans in Ghana are used to making and selling items, the concept of placing orders is foreign to them. One advice I have for people who want to do business globally is to know the customs and get to know the natives.
Q: The name Soul of Somanya. How did the formation and name come about?
Somanya is actually the name of the town in Ghana. Bernard, a native of Ghana and I talked about the concept for SoS and we started plans to take it from concept to reality. We did our first hiring in 2008 and in 2009, our 501(c)3 was granted. Due to legality, we had to form two separate entities: Soul of Somanya Ghana and Soul of Somanya International, LLC.
Q: Can you share an overview of Soul of Somanya programs?
Artisans are able to make beads using recycled glass beads, as a way to earn an income. Since high school is considered private education in Ghana, children between ages 12-18 are often a burden to their families because the legal age to be employed is 18. We employ teens 18-24 months so that they can go to high school and help their families. There’s also an apprenticeship program. We allow employees to make their own schedule (usually 5 ½ hour workday), be part of the decision making, and they also receive paid training (above minimum wage). Both genders are welcome.
Spacer Beads from Soul of Somanya
Q: Does Soul of Somanya have a success story?
Yes, there’s one girl name Rose and she’s an example of a self-esteem transformation. When she first started the program, she was extremely bashful, sat slouched in her seat, and totally unconfident. In less than a year, she started making eye contact with whomever she was speaking to, her posture drastically improved, and her confidence boosted.
Q: Any future plans for SoS?
I plan to spend more time in Ghana teaching and designing. Once the organizations grows, I plan to step down as director. Also, I plan to do more craft projects such as textile and sewing.
In addition to running Soul of Somanya, Melody travels to participate in trunk shows, educating others about the organization, teaching and touring.
To learn more about Ms. MacDuffee’s experience, visit http://www.soulofsomanya.net