A West African Super Mom Tells All

Ernestina Oppong Asante has been with NOVICA since the beginning.  As one of our first artisans, we’ve seen both her woodcarving business and family grow and thrive in the last 10 years.  Her story is the purest embodiment of the NOVICA mission – empowering artisans to succeed, and providing them with a means to support their families.

We caught up with Ernestina for an update on her household, and got a rare insight on life as an artisan mother in Ghana, West Africa.

Female african artist

How many children do you have, and what are their ages?

I have 7 children. Their ages are 30, 24, 22,18,16,14 and 11

That’s quite a sizable clan, are they all your biological children?

No they’re not my own children, but I’ve been able to raise all of them with care, affection and love. The joy in seeing these children grow up is something that words cannot explain. I always thank God for giving me this wonderful experience.

How did you come to be a mother to so many?

They are children from my husband’s previous marriage, and some are nieces and nephews from my own siblings.  They live in the countryside, so they have sent them to live with me in the city so I can help provide a formal education for them.

A big west african family

Are you the sole economic provider for your family?

No, I’m not the sole provider for my family. My husband and I share this responsibility.

How do you combine your responsibilities as a mother and your work as an artisan?

When I received my children they were very young and I had to pay attention to them as well as my carving business. I worked from home initially,  so I could keep an eye on them.  I was also able to employ workers who assisted me with the business. This helped me to speed up the production. As the older children grew up they were then able to help provide care for the younger ones. This gave me more time to concentrate on the carving.

Do you share your art with your children? 

All of the older children can handle some aspect of the carving, and it’s my eldest child who has decided to stay in the carving business as his main profession. I have tried to give all the children a formal education, so in the weekends and school holidays they come to my workshop to help out when they can.  Sandpapering the products is where they begin their learning process, and if they show keen interest I’m always happy to teach them more.

Were there any times that being a working mother proved to be particularly hard?

In Nov, 2011, one of my sons passed away at the age of 23 after complications following surgery for a hernia.

 Right around the same time,  I was completing a big order for Novica. It was a really difficult moment for me.  I needed time to get over this loss… but also I did not want to put my business on hold, especially as we had funeral costs to cover.  Luckily my workshop assistants were able to help me a lot… they would work hard to prepare the pieces, and I would perform the final quality control.  This allowed me the time I needed to organize the burial ceremony.

What was your son like?

He was very interested in the art business and had learnt how to create and design drums – he was very good at it.  He also expressed an interest in welding, so we sent him on a short course in Accra.  We all miss him very much.

How has being with NOVICA made a difference in your life?

I really want to thank Novica for working with me all these years – I was one of the first artisans to be promoted by Novica, and since then my life has seen many changes.  I recently took out an interest free artisan loan, which helped me restock my workshop with my best selling carvings.

Wooden Djembe Drum, ‘Good Energy’

Wood djembe drum

What has it been like to receive loans from NOVICA customers?

About 2 weeks before my son passed away, one of Novica’s international team was visiting our region.  During his visit, I discussed with him the repayment plan for my Artisan Loan.   Sales are not always consistent, so I needed to extend the repayment period.  He arranged for the repayments to be put on hold until our stock had time to sell on the website.  This was a great relief.  I would definitely consider more loans in the future.

What lessons of life do you think you have come to learn from being a mother artisan that you would like to share with NOVICA customers?

I let God lead me in all that I do, and I try to be truthful to myself and to others. One key to handling children is patience. All my children behave differently and react to situations in their own ways – and you need patience to be able to treat them all well. Patience helps to create a peaceful home and a loving family. And if there is no peace at home, it will affect your business, and your happiness.

If you want to support Ernestina and her large family, please take a look at her wonderful collection of masks and traditional drums

You can also support other artisans like Ernestina with a microcredit loan

Have you been the lucky recipient of a piece of art from Ernestina?  Are you a busy mother who stuggles to balance raising a family with running a business?  If you feel connected to Ernestina through similar circumstances, please tell us your story in the comments below!

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