Project Kayayei: Reversing Rural Urban Migration

Business Administration graduate, AVI fellow and the founder of Loozeele Initiative, Teni Agana is a source of inspiration for many.  She worked to put herself through school and despite numerous setbacks, ultimately earned a scholarship to Ashesi University, where she went from almost failing out to graduating with the highest honour: The Presidential Award. 

The fellow describes herself as a “visionary” and a “determined and hard-working person” who focuses “on the long run” while managing to “navigate  through life’s challenges in the short run.” 

In her own words, “I believe we can’t choose who we are born to or where we come from but through hard work and determination, we can all achieve dreams.”

Teni’s social venture, the Loozeele Initiative, was created to mitigate the problems of unemployment and reduce rural-urban migration in the Northern regions of Ghana by helping its youth create a source of income to support themselves while they live and stay in the north. In addition to reducing rural-urban migration, the Loozeele Initiative also seeks to empower women and girls, especially kayayei (female head potters) by helping them to create a livelihood for themselves and plan for a better life. With a focus on building a sense of community, the organisation works to achieve their goal by joining forces with local facilitators, trainers and partners. Collaboration has led to the setting up of a factory to train girls in underserved communities. 20% of every sale of the (environmentally friendly) products made by the girls goes towards sustaining and supporting more girls.

She shares the story of her adolescent years and a few of her motivations below: 

“I 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 future. Most of my classmates including myself, dropped out of school to work as kayayei. 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 for 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 Northern regions of Ghana. Consequently, I have envisioned and devised alternative livelihoods for people living in the North to help reduce the migration of kayayei and to enable them to work to accomplish their dreams. 

I believe that a leader is someone who makes a conscious effort to improve the lives of the people they lead.  By using local raw materials for our projects (e.g. weaving bags, baskets, smock and making shea butter), the Loozeele Initiative will help Kayayei and women from the North to gain a source of income by putting to work the skills that they already possess in addition to skills that they will learn along the way. Through entrepreneurship, I can help solve rural urban migration and also provide decent work for the girls and women in the Northern region.”

The Loozele Initiative has managed to relocate 35 girls who were working as kayayei in Madina, in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana and Bantama, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana back to the Upper East Region. There, they are currently making a living with the skills they already possess. The initiative also has ten other participants. Residing in the north as part of the program, they make smocks and baskets after school and send their finished products in on a weekly basis. The products are then sold, with 10% of profits being used for the venture’s annual educational program. 

“Some of the girls that we are working with confirmed that they make more working with Loozeele than working in 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 have to pay for water.”

Because of this, their cost of living reduces significantly, allowing them to save more money. For instance, Aminata highlighted that through “working as a kayayei, she was able to make 250 cedis a week and spend about 120 cedis on food and other expenses for the week. However, working with Loozeele she makes 220 a week and spends 60 cedis and saves the rest”.

Teni emphasised that “there are tens of thousands kayayei girls out there” that her organisation “need to work hard to help”.

The young entrepreneur’s vision for the future is simple:

“By 2023, Loozeele initiative is going to be an educational institution that helps the youth to identify opportunities in their community, stay, work and support themselves in the north, rather than migrating to the south. Another vision we have is to partner with other entrepreneurs who will employ some of the girls ensuring that they work under good conditions and are paid well. We envision a future where no girls will have to migrate to work as kayayei in order to take care of themselves or achieve their dreams or have to sleep on the street. By 2030, I see Loozeele helping thousands of girls to get a source of income through our entrepreneurship program.”

Teni is currently working closely with her mentor Akosua Koranteng Adayi, as part of the AVI mentorship programme. Akosua is an experienced business executive and nonprofit strategist with 10+ years experience in higher education management, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility and international and customer relations. She is also a youth and entrepreneurship training consultant who according to Teni gives “a  lot of different perspectives” when it comes to approaching business. 

“There were things that after research I thought should be done in a certain way, but Akosua’s experience in the industry provides the chance for learning a lot from her.“ Teni confessed.

Their time together has been deemed a “learning experience” by the fellow and though they are ‘’both busy”, they “find time to talk”. When the pair first met, Akosua helped Teni “reset” her goals, “not just for the AVI” but also her “long term goals”. The fellow had initially thought that the research she had completed “at Ashesi” in addition to her “personal experiences would be enough” but by “discussing” her “long term goal with” her mentor, Teni realised that she could “find a place or a Centre in Accra where Loozeele can provide the girls with skill training and get organizations to employ them”. 

When asked in an interview, Akosua confided that her work with Teni has been an “eye opener” for her and that they “quickly got into” a “groove”. 

“Usually when we have mentees, the mindset is that, the mentor will be the only source of support but I have been able to use my network to assist my mentee in working on her projects. She has been an inspiration for me to grow more.

The journey so far has been great.”

Akosua’s main focus “has always been” providing a “support system for up and coming students and entrepreneurs”. I.e the support system that she never had access to all those years ago” And she is glad to be able to do this “through the AVI programme.” 

“The AVI is quite different from other mentorship programs because apart from affording the mentees the opportunity to meet other people to ‘sharpen’ their skills, it’s more of an open book process. Mentees and mentors have the confidence and the backing of the programme” in other ways.