Animata Brown first started traveling to West Africa when she was 19 years old. Growing up African American in California, she wanted to experience African cultures in a real, authentic way. Over the years, Animata lived in Senegal and Ghana, and she kept returning, for West Africa immediately became a part of her heart and her life.
Eight years ago, Animata began a women's collective in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. One day, while shopping in one of the capital's market places, she was inspired by load carriers — the young girls and women who migrate to Accra from smaller, more rural parts of the country in order to find work carrying loads (fruit, vegetables and packages of all sorts) upon their heads. When Animata began talking to these young women, she learned that, given the chance to do one thing to improve their lives, they would learn to sew.
From this desire came Baba Blankets — a social enterprise whose mission is to create inspiring cultural works that provide sustainable income and well-deserved development opportunities for African women and girls. The women in Baba Blankets learn to sew beautiful duvet covers, wall hangings, pillow cases, and textiles of all sorts. Baba Blankets also works with other women's collectives in Ghana that produce hand-made baskets colored with vibrant natural dyes. The income from this work, along with the skills learned, enable these women to change the quality of their lives and break the cycle of poverty.
Baba Blankets has also started a sister scholar program, in which they sponsor girls to stay in school longer rather than joining the workforce too early. In this way, Baba Blankets is empowering women in Ghana to take care of their children and other young women through their own efforts. All the dollars spent on Baba Blankets products go directly towards the girls and women involved in the program.
But what does this have to do with New Orleans?
In 2007, Animata made her first trip to New Orleans as a guest artist in Jazz Fest's Congo Square. Immediately, she fell in love with New Orleans. In at least one important way, it reminded her of what she loves most about Africa: it's a place where people come first.
A year and a half later, Animata has made New Orleans her home, and she's also made it the American home of Baba Blankets.
You can see the beautiful creations made by the women of Baba Blankets at their new store at 1330 Prytania Street (at Thalia Street), or shop on-line at www.babablanket.com.