Oyiza Orphanage Home sits in the middle of a mildly busy street in Ibadan, a historical city located in the southwest region of Nigeria. The burst of love I received caught me by surprise when I first entered the two-story sky blue colored building last August. Some of the 38 foster children rallied around me, clinging to my limbs. Soon after, 25 year-old Joy Idris, the matron at Oyiza welcomed me into her office. She wanted to know my intentions. She asked what inspired me to travel so far away from Brooklyn, New York to cover her story. When I heard about how she and her brother Ige Idris, 27, sacrificed their young adulthood to take care of over 30 children, as a Nigerian-American, I knew it was a story worth sharing with the world. Too often America is exposed to news about foreigners doing things to “save” Africans (KONY 2012 anyone?). Yet, here are two Nigerians making a difference in their homeland with limited means. They are not alone.
Joy’s story is part four of, Enter West Africa— a five part series I produced on Nigeria and Ghana— two of West Africa’s emerging economies. Nigeria and Ghana both have thriving film, music, fashion, and entertainment industries. There are also countless entrepreneurs and everyday citizens working to make progress as both countries continue to wrestle with old demons. My goal was to somehow capture that dichotomy in my reports.
In part one, I covered how Ghana’s local textile industry is collapsing due to cheap Chinese imported fabrics. Think designer knockoffs in Chinatown, New York—but in this case the country’s most coveted batik prints are being copied. I spoke to Abraham Koomson, the leader for Ghana’s textile’s workers union who works tirelessly to help solve the problem, though he admits the sector is doomed, and Ghanaians will continue to loose their livelihood a result. He also filled me in on how Ghana’s foreign used clothing trade has successfully killed off a large chunk of the local textile industry. I wanted to find out if the trade has been worth the burden, so for part two of the series, I ventured into Kantamanto, the largest foreign second-hand clothing market in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. There I recognized old worn-out t-shirts, book bags, jeans, socks and a host of other items Americans and Europeans donated to their local charities. Markets like Kantamano are where many of those items end up.
I later discovered that ancient beads are more precious than gold in Ghana. This became the subject of part three. Ghanaians have a long and rich history with the man-made gems dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. A tight knit group of bead designers and traders are working to preserve that history while ensuring the younger generation carries the traditions into the future with contemporary flair.
In part five, I profiled Taofick Okoya, a young entrepreneur in Nigeria who created a line of dolls when he noticed the lack of Black dolls being sold there. Little did he know, many of the little girls there prefer white dolls. His business venture has since evolved into a campaign to quash identity issues among Nigerian girls. It’s a work in progress, he said. Just like many issues Nigeria and Ghana faces, it’s a work in progress, but there are countless Africans doing the work.
Abi Ishola is a multi media journalist based in New York City. She’s currently a producer of CUNY TV’s Independent Sources, a half hour show covering New York’s ethnic media. Visit www.aishola.com/enterwestafrica or CUNY.TV to watch the entire Enter West Africa series.