About five years ago, Peter Dramani, who calls himself Dagando, was living on the streets of Ghana, Africa. He didn’t know where his next meal would come from.
Today, thanks to his woodcarving skills, he is able to afford his own apartment and workshop and even send family members to school.
Dagando’s is one of many success stories that have come about through Ayindisa, a fair-trade import and export business that just opened a store on Prospect Street. It’s in the former location of Nature’s Temptations, which moved up the block.
Ayindisa was founded by Newtown resident Chris Gay, 33, in 2006 and until now did business only through its Web site and at trade shows and flea markets in Connecticut and New York state.
Gay’s brother, Kyle, 19, a freshman at Elon University in North Carolina who is Ayindisa’s marketing and sales manager, still runs the online operation.
The idea for Ayindisa, which means “God is in everything you do,” was born in 2002, while Chris Gay, who spent four years in Ghana, was doing humanitarian work in a remote village, helping to make home repairs and bring AIDS education to people “the world seemed to have forgotten,” he said.
“Due to the lack of medical care in the area, people were walking around with conditions such as tuberculosis, worms, gangrene and elephantiatis. I made a promise to God and myself to never forget what I had experienced.”
All products sold in the Ayindisa store are handmade by about 60 artisans in Ghana. They include baskets woven from natural grasses, tribal masks made by the members of the Ashanti tribe, and a quilt made from more than 120 different fabrics.
Some of the skills required have been passed down from generation to generation, while others are learned through apprenticeship programs.
There is a wallet made from recycled water bags, and metal animals made from recycled automobile parts. There are also jewelry, drums, beauty supplies, clothing and cards. Prices range from $10 for a purse to $580 for a quilt and $1,500 for a Buddhist painting.
Chris Gay travels to Ghana several times a year and places orders for the products he’s interested in. He pays the artisans half the cost of the items up front to cover materials and labor.
When they have finished the order, he mails them the balance of their money and the items are shipped to his store. Ayindisa profits from a percentage of the merchandise sold at retail, which goes to shipping fees and overhead costs.
Much merchandise in the store is displayed with a photograph of the person who created it, and each of those people has a story.
According to Kyle Gay, the artisans benefit from socially responsible businesses.
“Through Ayindisa, we offer them a steady annual flow of income so they can get job security and further themselves in life,” Chris Gay added.
The money they earn provides them and their families with food, medical attention, education and home repairs.
Ridgefield resident Susie Manheimer, 29, recently purchased a copper-colored mirror made from tweneboa wood at the store. “It’s so eye-catching and beautiful. It’s such a nice feeling to know that the money I spent for it goes directly to help the people who made it.”
“Creating this business has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Chris Gay said. “It combines my passion for art, music and humanitarian service work.”
Ayindisa, 18 Prospect St., will have its free grand opening Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. Traditional African foods will be served, along with refreshments donated by local restaurants.
Ghanaian master drummers Lucas Kumah and Isaac Hirt-Manheimer will perform, and a paramount chief from Ghana’s Volta region will be on hand to answer questions. There will be many discounted items for sale throughout the store.
Source: The News Times