For Leyla Alexander-Genculu, a senior fashion merchandising major from Atlanta, studying abroad in Ghana this summer meant more than learning about Ghanaian markets and textiles—it was about life lessons.
“I learned to appreciate the little things,” she said. “We focus so much on having a fast-paced lifestyle. . . stressing out when things don’t go right and a lot of people in Ghana are just happy where they are. They make the best of it.”
Alexander-Genculu, who learned how to hand stamp colorful batik fabrics and even received a Ghanaian name, was one of 14 students in this year’s Interdisciplinary Ghana Study-Abroad Program that visited the West African country in May. Led by Tony Lowe, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, the program teaches students about Ghana’s culture and has sections in social work and fashion merchandising.
Life lessons are exactly the point of the trip according to Emily Blalock, a College of Family and Consumer Sciences lecturer in textiles, merchandising and interiors. She taught a retail analysis course to half the students on the trip.
“I like for my students to have the opportunity to realize that life is bigger than what they see here at UGA or even their hometown,” Blalock said.
This year the trip’s emphasis was on service-learning.
She said the goal was for the students to do more than just listen to lectures and interact with local residents. The faculty really wanted the group to give back.
And they did, delivering 315 cards handmade by UGA students to children in the Kumasi Children’s Home. They also cleaned and repainted a Ghanian playground and donated school uniforms, shoes and books to the children of Torgame village.
Blalock’s group also collaborated with the Lifeline Girls Street Project, where young women rescued from human trafficking are rehabilitated and taught a trade. The UGA students taught women learning to become seamstresses a new entrepreneurial skill, how to make fabric flowers.
Blalock’s ongoing effort, though, is the Ghana Community Trade Program. Seven UGA students partnered with seven Athens businesses to buy handmade fair trade merchandise from women entrepreneurs in Ghana to bring back and sell in Athens. A reception for the trade program with an art installation featuring photographs from the trip will be held Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. at Whole: Mind. Body. Art, 127 North Jackson St. Ghanaian goods will go on sale to the public at beginning Aug. 17.
AGORA, Avid Bookshop, Cheeky Peach, Flirt Fashions, Frontier, Native American Gallery and Whole Mind. Body. Art.
Since returning to campus, the students have been working to promote their products—necklaces, books, fabric dolls, leather and fabric purses and clothing the students designed themselves.
“It’s an opportunity for my students to make a difference in Athens,” Blalock said. “They went to Ghana. They experienced it. They worked hard. They found all of these products. Now they have to get them in stores, price them and then work with the retailers.”
“They’re learning about entrepreneurship and being a small business owner from these women,” she added. “Students are learning, Athens businesses are profiting, and it’s supporting African families.”