It took an act of perseverance and visionary leadership from Miss Melanie Kasise to discover the potential and creativity of many poor women in Sirigu, a farming community in the Kassena Nankana West district of the Upper East region.
Today, these women, through the pottery and arts industry, have gained international recognition that has transformed their lives from abject poverty to prosperity.
Some of the female interns at SWOPA
How SWOPA started
It all started in 1997 when Ms. Kasise conceived the idea of â€‹â€‹creating the Sirigu Women’s Organization for Pottery and the Arts (SWOPA) at a time when many young women left the Sirigu community to find employment elsewhere.
Faced with declining agricultural yields, it has become not only important to revive the traditional arts of the women of Sirigu but also to make it an important source of income for women for the maintenance of their families.
Many children owe their education and health care to the income generated by crafts and traditional arts produced by the women of Sirigu. This has been Ms. Kasise’s lifelong dream and ambition.
SWOPA started with just 54 women. Currently, more than 400 women have been trained by the organization to date. They are made up of 50 basket makers, 100 potters, 50 canvas painters, 25 mat weavers, 20 batik tie and dye makers, 25 wall decorators and 80 small traders among others.
SWOPA has now opened a visitor center, gallery, workshop and guesthouse complex where visitors can view and purchase functional pottery and baskets.
Located about 36 kilometers north of Bolgatanga, the regional capital, the Sirigu community is a fascinating example of local women taking action to preserve their arts and culture.
This community, across SWOPA, is home to beautiful pottery and basketry, interesting architecture and decorative murals.
The women of Sirigu have a particular style of painting that can be seen on the walls of their buildings. Their style of painting using red, black and white strokes has been passed down from generation to generation.
Their paintings also tell stories of their ancestors, their beliefs and their daily activities. Among the murals, the painting of a bird with a human head is remarkable. There are other murals that symbolize a lot of things.
Ms. Melanie Kasise, 85, painting her bedroom
The drawing of a cow for example on the wall is a symbol of wealth while a bird symbolizes hope for the future. A fish symbol shows a happy home while a basket represents caring for one another. The symbols of birds and lizards also show friendship.
Through its tourism activities such as arts and culture, SWOPA has been able to create self-employment jobs for some of the women in the community.
Currently, the community, due to the positive impact of SWOPA over the years, is one of the highest tourist arrivals sites in the region, with 1,064 registered tourist arrivals for the region in 2019.
So it came as no surprise when SWOPA was subsequently named the top tourist spot of 2019 in the Upper East region by the Ghana Tourism Authority.
Internationally, in 2015, SWOPA received a Communication Award from the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission (EU) in Brussels.
SWOPA’s achievement was rated the best in West and Central Africa and the fourth in the world after the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC) presented the organization’s success to the European Union (EU ), one of its development partners.
The BUSAC Fund facilitated the extension of electricity to SWOPA, which had a positive impact on the fortunes of the organization by increasing the production and sale of handicrafts and works of art by around 40%.
During the EU’s development year, a number of EU-sponsored projects around the world were tasked with submitting their achievements for recognition, which the BUSAC Fund did.
SWOPA also counts among its august visitors the late former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, in 2004.
SWOPA management hopes to train at least 10 young people in canvas painting and basketry, drill a borehole to support women in their artistic production, seek more outlets to boost sales of its products and launch its cultural festival on the first Saturday in December of each year.
Ms. Kasise said that â€œWe provide a unique opportunity for women to come together to share and find solutions to common challenges, strengthen social bonds, improve our negotiating powers, improve our skills in producing quality canvas paintings, basketry, pottery and art, and thus improve our income. “