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The Handicraft Girls: Creative Industry Unlocking Gambia’s Deep-Rooted Jobless Crisis

Aja and Nani (L-R)

With youth unemployment pegged at 41.5 percent, as per the Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) 2018 Survey, young Gambian women are unlocking opportunities through creative art works called handicraft. 

Nini and Aja are both secondary school graduates who pursued an AAT and International Procurement courses respectively. They cut their programs short and pursued other skills after realizing that white-collar jobs may not be easy to get in a country that has a deep-seated unemployment problem to deal with. 

Nani Founder of Ninzil

Nini founded ‘Ninzil – Home of Handicraft, describes her work as a hobby she has done for a long time. She makes crafted products like shoes, bags and accessories just for home use before realizing that her products are worth commercializing.  

“I have a lot of specialization when it comes to crochet beading, macramé and embroidery. These are my areas of specialization and my products are made from the crafts. I make crochet bags; I make crochet purses and also make shoes.”

Realizing the prospect of her business , Nini decided to engage in a partnership with friends – Muhammed, Maisa and Neneh and called their joint entity M&N.

M & N shoes

“We realized that it’s not always about the ‘I’ factor, but the ‘We’ factor if you want to make something big and productive together. I would say it’s probably the best experience I have had, even more than my personal entity Ninzil. This is because I am learning from their experiences and there has been a lot of progress,” she told The Chronicle.

Their joint endeavor recently won an innovative pitching competition organized by Gambia Investment and Promotion Export Agency (GIEPA). 

“That’s already an achievement for us to be part of the winners. There is a lot of viability in the business and it will continue to be a great venture.”

Nini describes their products to be of excellent quality and within  international standards. However, she mentioned some challenges which they face as access to credit/funds to be able to expand their venture in order to be more effective and efficient. The other challenge is the challenge in accessing raw materials that are required for their products. 

“When I finished my senior secondary school, I studied AAT course at Management Development Institute (MDI). I believe in skills work and if I have the opportunity to learn further, I will do skills studies,” she said.   

Like Nini, Aja Fanta Baba, proprietress of African Imagination, was also interested in an office job and was preparing for the next step towards that before she decided to quit due to lack of passion. Her original aspiration was to become a procurement officer, having studied at both MDI and Gambia Public Procurement Institute (GPPI), she told The Chronicle that she believes in self-employment. 

“I was not still satisfied. I don’t want to work for anyone. Whenever people ask me to look for a job, I am always like, I don’t like working for people.”

Aja is a handicraft worker who makes beaded bags, tissue boxes and customers are happily buying the products including corporate companies. 

“We use quality beads for that matter because we get our beads from China and Ghana. We also do customized beaded tissue boxes for companies by using beads to write their company names and colors on it.”

According to her, companies normally buy many products from her and that has boosted her earning power. 

Her opportunity was unlocked by a friend who attended a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) training in Ghana and also connected her to some similar businesses there. According to her, she got in touch with the person who also gave him a direct contact in China where she gets her beads. She gets the beads from those countries through DHL service. 

Explaining how she got into the beading, she told The Chronicle that there was a day she was going home from school and saw a Nigerian woman beading and she fell in love with the concept. From there, she started buying beads from the woman and started testing her skills. According to her, after her first trial, the family couldn’t believe that those products were made by her and she had to make another one in their presence to be able to convince them.

“This is something that has changed my life. Right now I am training five girls because in The Gambia, we do not have enough people who have beading skills. Some people always ask whether I use machines to make my products like bags but the whole work is by my two hands.”

In terms of market, she is impressed by the way people respond to her ad on her social media, saying it is working well. 

“It’s something that is working because whenever I post my finished products on social media, I always get positive feedback from customers. I get customers every day and I am making money.”

Aja

She hopes there will be a time  when The Gambia will have quality bead raw materials so no one will have to order from Ghana and China through DHL services which is expensive. 

Both Nini and Aja are currently undergoing a packaging training organized by Gambia Youth Chamber of Commerce (GYCC) in Kanifing. 

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