Inspiration….through the eyes of a young traveler

On our trip to Ghana the summer of 2011, one of our travelers was an amazing young photographer and budding philanthropist, Adam Ottke. The journey was personally transformational for all of us: visiting cocoa cooperatives, organizations fighting child trafficking, projects in mobile health, and enterprise development.

Just one of many highlights was our day in Gushie to visit a then start-up organization, Just Shea. Adam was so moved by the experience that he has decided to put a handful of his beautiful photographs up for sale and give 40% of the net proceeds to Just Shea. [PHOTO SALE]

Here is just one photograph and his colorful narrative which provides many insights into daily village life and the economic situation of families in Northern Ghana.

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Magazea Hands with Rings


The magazia is the most respected female elder in the rural, northern Ghanaian township of Gushie [goo-shay]. The only person in a higher position is the chief — traditionally a male position — but this hierarchy does not diminish the power that the magazia’s words have within Gushie, where hundreds of women gather shea nuts, recently fallen from their parent trees.

The tall grasses in this region are home to scorpions and both black and green mambas — some of the most venomous snakes in the world. Unfortunately, these women are often bitten and stung. Because of Gushie’s rural location with no access to a clinic nearby, women would often succumb to the deadly effects of the venom before getting medical treatment. (The only more common cause of death for women was difficult childbirth.)

When Danielle Warren witnessed this, she decided something had to change. And from that moment forward, getting the women of Gushie protective boots, gloves and coats to wear became a top priority.

Along her journey, Danielle came across other obstacles. She had to find a way to make the gear affordable — getting donations would take time and might not cover a growing need within Gushie. But part of the reason the people of Gushie could not afford this gear on their own was because they were not receiving fair prices for their shea nuts.

During the picking seasons, harvesters save what they can to provide for their families in the several months during which shea nuts will not fall. When the off-season comes, they use these savings for basic living expenses.

But by the time the picking season returns, they are desperate to refill their dwindling savings. At this point, middlemen come into the town and bid farmers against each other for the lowest price possible on the newly fallen nuts, preying on whomever has the most need for money quickly. By the time they come back, the next farmers in line are ready to pay a lower price, keeping the price for shea nuts extremely low, despite their high value for export for use in countless beauty products such as lotions, facial creams, lip balms, and  shampoos that all use shea butter.

Building a silo to store the shea nuts was as obvious of a solution as it was simple. Such a building could allow harvesters to wait to sell until the end of the season, when the lack of supply drives up demand and, subsequently, drives up prices in Europe for shea nuts. If the entire town of Gushie could agree to use such a silo, they would also have an incredible amount of selling power simply because of the quantity of what would be stored and, presumably, sold together. However, building a silo meant not only raising funds for the project, but also meant waiting an entire season without making money.

Getting the magazia to understand the project and its potential for Gushie was essential to getting the entire village on board. The harvesters wouldn’t have the selling power they needed with only half of them agreeing to use the silo. Eventually, she and the chief agreed that this was the way to go, as Danielle had proven herself with an initial delivery of safety gear and convinced them this would make them more self-sufficient than ever before.

Once Danielle raised funds for the project, she was able to set up a loan program whereby villagers could borrow the money they needed to get them through the year until they could sell their cache of shea nuts in the off-season. The additional income garnered by selling shea nuts at a premium would eventually be enough, in the coming years, to support the harvesters’ families throughout the year and pay off any loans.

The Magazia in front of the silo.

The Magazia in front of the silo.

Danielle still needed to get back to raising funds for protective gear for the women of Gushie. Eventually, she decided the best way to do this was to build a for-profit sister arm of this program that would do one thing: sell its own line of skin creams using the shea nuts from Gushie around the world under the name, Just Shea. Just Shea is now sold directly through its company website and also indirectly through various online retailers and stores in New York City.

The magazia – still in Gushie – and other female elders of the town advise their township on a daily basis. Her hands – stained red from the daily application of an herbal ointment that is believed by the elders to have health benefits – are riddled with wrinkles that hint at her age. But no one — not even the magazia herself — knows her exact age. All she knows is that the giant tree that now serves as the town center was about her height when she was younger.

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Here are some additional photos of Adam, Danielle and the villagers of Gushie.   (Photos taken by Maryann Fernandez)

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Would you like to own a copy of The Magazia’s Hands? Adam Ottke is offering a handful of his beautiful photographs for sale, including a personal narrative for each. Professionally printed in various sizes and finishes. 40% of the net proceeds will benefit Just Shea – helping to scale their program by purchasing more protective gear for women. For photos and pricelist, visit ADAM OTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY

justsheahands, cropped2

About Just Shea: Just Shea is a social business created to increase the leverage, income and safety of the 600,000 women in Ghana who participate in the global shea trade. Just Shea is a project of One Village Planet-Women’s Development Initiative, a non-profit that helps women support their families through sustainable agriculture.

Read our interview with Just Shea Founder, Danielle Grace Warren!


~ by Maryann Fernandez on May 29, 2013.

2 Responses to “Inspiration….through the eyes of a young traveler”

  1. SO proud to be a part of all of this. It is wonderful that folks make investments in the lives of others to such a deep degree. Here’s to a smaller more connected world!

  2. We’re where we’ve been as a result of our mental attitude.
    AndOf course yes many of us will likely continue being fixed unless we all make up our minds about trying issues differently purely because if all of us carry
    on trying similar things exactly the same way,
    we will essentially end up backward

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