Abena Sara, “Batiks,” Batiks for Life, and Ghana

Batiks for life has come a long way, what does “Batiks” mean and where did the name of the company originate from?

Batik is a process of creating a print on cotton fabric, by applying wax to form a design, then dyeing the cloth, then removing the wax.  It’s a traditional way of making beautiful fabrics in many parts of the world and in Ghana, there’s a particular way of making batik that’s been handed down from generation to generation that’s specific to this country.  One way of making batik in Ghana involves using stamps with symbols known as “Adinkra” – it’s a centuries-old system of symbology with meanings attached to each symbol, kind of like a proverb in a way.  So, for instance, you could tell a story through the Adinkra symbols stamped on your batik!  I love these symbols, which tell the story of life in all its nuances.  The name “Batiks for Life” is partly about the Adinkra symbols used in batik, but also about the intention that sales of our products will support life – from the people in Ghana who make the products, to the customer.  Our batik medical scrubs are one of a kind, and bring colour and liveliness into often depressing environments.  We have several repeat customers who remark on how their patients enjoy the batik scrubs they’re wearing!  Additionally, our mission is to use a portion of our income to support life-giving medical projects here in Ghana.  This has been a goal of mine since the beginning of the business, but I never expected to be able to realize this dream so soon.  I’ll say more about this below.

The process of batik requires several steps. Wax is applied to the white cotton fabric, either as a stamped pattern, or painted on in a free form design. The fabric is dyed; only the parts free of wax take the dye. After drying, the wax is boiled off.

What is the difference between fair trade products and other products?

First off, I want to be clear that Batiks for Life products have not yet been certified as Fair Trade – this is a lengthy process which we will undertake once we are more established.  But we do incorporate fair trade business practices – meaning the people who create our products are paid a living wage and work in safe conditions.  Actually, they set their own prices and work out of their own small businesses.  So there is no concern that they’re being exploited or forced to work in unsafe factories like often happens when sewn products are mass produced in China or other countries.

You contribute to a website on wildlife conservation in the continent of Africa. What is its importance as a website or resource, and the salience of larger efforts to preserve wildlife in Africa?

The website is www.safaritalk.net and is a community of people who support wildlife conservation efforts in Africa.  Some people own safari lodges, others are visitors to Africa, and some live on the continent.  There’s always interesting discussion about wildlife topics, amazing photography, and reports on places all over Africa.  One of the issues that continually comes up is that most of the problems facing wildlife here are economy-driven.  When people don’t have another source of income, they will be more likely to poach wildlife.  We all know about the plight of rhinos and elephants, but it continues down to the smallest of animals.  Poaching here in Ghana is a huge problem because people love bushmeat.  Bushmeat can be anything from grasscutter (a large rodent that lives in sugar cane fields), to antelope, to monkey, etc.  Anything that moves can be consumed, pretty much.  Combined with habitat loss, this has decimated the local wildlife.  But, if people have a reason to keep the animals alive, by and large they’ll protect them.  Again, it’s economy-driven.  So some communities have started wildlife sanctuaries which are tourist destinations and bring money into the community.  Ghana isn’t known for wildlife as are East and South Africa, so through my writing for Safaritalk, I hope that more people will see that we too have wildlife (you just have to know where to look!), which will bring in more tourism, and keep these local wildlife sanctuaries, preserves, and national parks alive.

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What is the importance of the companies and organizations such as Trusted Clothes and Batiks for Life to you?

I think that people are in a conundrum when it comes to their clothing.  We all know that most of what we get at the department store is produced by people who work in a form of slavery – these clothing companies make a huge profit on the backs of impoverished people in the “third world”.  Yet while someone may feel bad about supporting these businesses through their buying choices, they don’t know their options.  We’re here to show them the options, and to convince people that it’s worth a little extra money to buy something unique and lasting.  I value my connection with Trusted Clothes because it reminds me that on top of all the other reasons I’m here in Ghana pursuing this crazy idea of mine, I’m also contributing to a healthier world through promoting sustainable clothing options.  Kind of like the cherry on top!

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion? 

I wanted to back up and say a bit more about the healthcare initiative I mentioned above.  Godfried is from a little village in the southeastern corner of Ghana.  I interviewed the two nurses who run the clinic – I also write for a nursing website, HireNurses.com – and I’m doing a series on healthcare in Ghana.  In doing this interview it became clear that they’re doing the best they can, but are really hampered in their ability to provide healthcare for the village for a lot of reasons.  I saw the opportunity to do something to help.  It was an initial goal of mine that Batiks for Life would give back to the community through giving a portion of income to health related projects, but I never expected it to happen so soon in the life of the business.  For Godfried, it’s also a dream come true because his great-great-grandfather founded the village and so he’s in the lineage of chiefs and very concerned about the welfare of the village.  He’s also had an idea in his mind for a long time about leading medical mission trips throughout the country.  Well, almost immediately we started getting offers of help that were most unexpected!  We’re pursuing these offers and trying to wrap our heads around the possibilities!  It’s really exciting and we hope to make our ambitions to help under served communities with their healthcare a reality.

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Source: Good Men Project
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