Have you ever thought about starting your own non-profit organization?
Callie Brauel and Becca Brandt, two recent college graduates, did just that. In fall 2008, Callie and Becca met each other in a college study abroad program in Accra, Ghana. Within two years, they became co-founders of the international non-profit organization, ABAN, A Ban Against Neglect. NEXT had the opportunity to interview both Callie, a graduate from the University of North Carolina, and Becca, a graduate from Concordia University in California.
Q: What is ABAN?
A: ABAN is a non-profit organization in Accra, Ghana, that seeks to empower street girls in the transition from a life in the streets to a respectable standing in society, while helping clean the environment of Ghana. We recognize that each girl is an individual with unique dreams, and we provide the necessary personal assistance to help them achieve these goals.
Q: How did ABAN start?
A: ABAN began as a model non-profit business concept in an NGO management class, and we realized that this could actually be successful.
Q: What was your inspiration for ABAN?
A: “We wanted to address the issues that need to be supported in a vulnerable community,” Becca said.
Q: What is the culture like in Ghana?
A: Ghana is a male-dominated society – it is both challenging and difficult to be a woman there – and this was the most pressing and evident issue. With ABAN, we wanted to focus on young women 15-19 years old in order to overcome this gender-based discrimination, lack of family support and financial instability. “We want to help Ghana women make the transition off the streets and into careers and society,” Callie said.
Q: What is ABAN’s mission?
A: We work to fight the neglect of young mothers and to clean-up the environment of Ghana. For the girls, we provide food, housing, English and life skills education, business training, healthcare, and daycare for their children – a combination of education and employment. Through seamstress training, the girls are able to sew together and market the recycled sachet bags in order to promote sustainability and to contribute to the growth of their society.
Q: What inspired your handmade ABAN products?
A: In Ghana, the main source of clean drinking water is sachet bags – sandwich-sized plastic bags filled with water. Because there is no formal waste collection, over 40 tons of these bags are thrown into the streets every day – the same streets where 30,000 children sleep every night. “They don’t want to discuss the trash or the street children,” Callie said. “It’s taboo,” Becca added. We wanted to involve the girls in the product making.
Q: What is your vision for ABAN?
A: The unity of West African women and women empowerment. We would really like to see ABAN expand into other countries.
Q: What have you learned during this process?
A: While we didn’t necessarily have the skills set, we had the surrounding resources and we had a passion. We started by working closely with our professor, local students, and two Ghanaian non-governmental organizations: Catholic Action for Street Children (CAS) and Street Girls Aid (S.Aid). CAS provides support to children living on the street of Accra, Ashaiman and Tema Metropolis, while S.Aid assists girls and young mothers living on the streets of Accra. With their support, we were able to expand internationally. Here, in the United States, we partnered with Nourish International to reach out to universities, who have helped fundraise and sell our ABAN products. We knew we had a willing community, and we took advantage of that.
Q: What would you recommend to young, aspiring female non-profit entrepreneurs?
A: Starting a non-profit can happen. Two years ago, we didn’t see ourselves as the co-founders of an expanding organization. Now, this is our life.
It has only been two years since Callie and Becca met each other in Ghana. Since, they have become college graduates, entrepreneurs, business co-founders and more importantly, women who are passionate about the work that they do. With each new project and fundraiser, their success story continues to grow. Support them, and ABAN, at aban.org