It is said that life tells the best stories. The truth to this adage is proven by Jay and Nii: two entrepreneurs who gave up the personal dream of their own beach hotel for something great that has changed not only their lives, but the lives of dozens of young Ghanaians.
With a concentrated expression that tunes out the rattle of sewing machines, Jay holds finished gym bags in shiny colors into the air and gives the seams a critical look. She nods – the seams sit perfectly and the bags are ready to go. We are not in any old faceless textile plant or sweatshop, but in a small room in the outskirts of Accra.
To put it more precisely, we are in the district of Jamestown, a stone’s throw away from the local landmark of an imposing lighthouse. Offside the tourist paths, Jay and Nii, a married Ghanaian couple, fulfilled their dream, although quite differently from how it was originally planned.
It is the year 2006. Jay and Nii have come back from their temporary adopted country England to their home country Ghana. After several years of living in Brighton, they want to open a hotel in a prime location, directly at the beach of Accra, with the money they have been saving in England for years.
That’s why they bought a plot close to the beach in Accra’s oldest district, Jamestown, and started with the preparations for the construction soon after that – but during the actual construction phase everything changes. The countless children living on the streets that hang around at the construction site beg and try to sell water to car drivers, some of them start sleeping in the shell of the hotel at night in order to have a somewhat secure place to sleep, at least for a little while. Jay and Nii know they can’t look away.
They begin to give food to the children and to offer them places to sleep also officially. This kind of generosity of course gets around on the streets really fast and within a very short period of time the couple is taking care of over 50 street kids.
In Ghana such street children are not unusual, especially in big cities. These kids are not necessarily orphans; many may still have living family members. However, they have often lost their parents, and other relatives, such as uncles and aunts, simply don’t have the money to care for other children apart from their own.
The money the kids might get from close or far relatives from time to time is neither enough for sufficient nutrition nor for accommodation, much less for school money. That’s why they need to provide for themselves. By selling small items – selling water bottles to car drivers, for example –, begging, stealing or collecting trash, the street children more or less manage to maintain themselves. Often, they are not even 10 years old. There is no thinking about a good and safe future for these kids, and few of them receive an education.
But for 50 of them things have changed – their home is the JayNii Streetwise Foundation now. Still during the construction phase, Jay and Nii made a momentous decision: The hotel should never be opened. Although they finished the majestic house, they then turned it into a street children hostel.
And that decision has extensive and marvellous consequences for many roaming kids in Accra: Some of them can live in the foundation’s house, others come during the day and profit from the numerous offers. They are given a nutritious meal, learn to read and write and experience affection – they simply get to have some sort of a home.
Our founder, Hendrik, got to know and appreciate Jay, Nii and their big hearts on one of his trips to Accra and immediately became enthusiastic about their project. That’s why we from fairafric have collected money for the JayNii Streetwise Foundation in our first crowdfunding campaign.
But since we’re convinced of the sustainable concept of helping people help themselves and have made the experience of this working the best if prevailing structures are changed, we had an idea Jay indirectly gave us through her adroit sewing skills.
Jay is a talented seamstress; Hendrik has used her custom-made grocery bags every time he went shopping for two years. The pleasant memory brought him the idea to support the foundation through the purchase of gym bags.
Currently (February 2019), we are still selling gym bags in combination with our super-fair chocolates in our online shop and towards the end of last year, the same product has been one of the top sellers during our 2018 Kickstarter campaign.
The special thing about it: We give the whole price for the bag to Ghana, almost 7€. That’s a lot of money on-site as the materials cost only a small percentage of that on the market.
Since these are also produced in Ghana, others profit from it, too.
Jay has already been able to train two former street girls to be seamstresses, who now produce the unique pieces together with her. The story of Jay, Nii and their organization is one of the kind of stories that life just couldn’t have authored better. And it is way too beautiful not to be shared with you!
And it continues: A couple of days ago, Nii told us about another success that couldn’t be more impressive: The first one of Jay-Nii’s former street children successfully graduated from university.
This is how formerly-illiterate street kids become university graduates and hotel constructions become street children hostels.