It’s in the northern outskirts of Ouagadougou, in Tampouy, that we met up with Elisabeth Delma, founder of the Adaja Centre. Despite her discretion and modesty when speaking about her work, Delma; a woman well into her sixties, is a key figure in the development and promotion of Faso Dan Fani (attire from traditional handwoven cotton cloth).
It was over forty years ago that this mother of seven children decided to use her knowledge as a weaver to serve her community, and above all its most vulnerable population: women from impoverished households.
“At the beginning, I used to weave alone, and the little that I earned, I shared with women in need from my neighbourhood. And then one day I said to myself, ‘Why not teach this craft to these women in need, so that they too can make a bit of money?’.”
That’s how the Adaja (‘embroidered life’ in Hebrew) Centre was born. But it wasn’t easy, as Delma explained. “The idea was met with reluctance at first and I had to be very patient in order to convince the first female apprentices to take the plunge in learning how to weave.” It was when the first learners started to make some money from their products that suddenly the idea took hold and began to attract other women from the neighborhood.
Since that moment, Delma’s workshop has never been empty. She now trains a group of around 20 women every three years. She doesn’t know exactly how many women have been trained at her workshops over all these years, at no cost to them. The Adaja Centre’s founder remembers that at the time of the 1984 Revolution in Burkina Faso, during which traditional Faso Dan Fani attire was made official, she trained several hundred apprentices.
In addition to teaching these women a trade, she has also helped some of them to set up their own businesses. During the training period, the women are given an allowance (between 700 and 2,500 FCFA, or one and four euros) for each strip of cloth, and part of the profit from their work is put aside to be used to help them set up at the end of the training period. Delma is so proud of these women, who are now autonomous: “Thanks to this craft, many of the women have been able to buy a plot of land, send their children to school and branch out into other types of work that bring in an income. I did all this because we must love our neighbours, and above all help them to build a better life for themselves when we can. Forty years ago, where this centre now stands, there was only scrubland. There was very little salaried work for the men, and agriculture only offered seasonal work. There was a need for other means of survival, to help the women.”
While the outlook seemed bleak, Delma had within her the potential to become a formidable manager. It was essential to find a way to continue helping these women. The centre receives orders from businesses and couturiers. The weavers, who have been taught at her school, make the products, and Delma helps them to put their woven cloth on the market. According to Elienai Diendéré, the founder’s daughter and manager of the centre, around forty other women who are independent weavers receive orders from the centre, which “provides them with raw materials (and often the material itself) so that they don’t have to pay out large sums of money upfront”. The strips of cotton cloth that they weave are bought by the centre for between 2,500 and 5,000 FCFA, (four and eight euros).
During our visit, only a few women were at work. They were working on a new weaving technique, producing very fine cloth that resembles factory-made fabric. It’s a model that’s a far cry from Burkina Faso’s traditional woven cotton cloth, known by all. The centre adapts to market demand. In fact, the centre adapts in every way. Under the guidance of Elienai Delma, the Adaja Centre is getting ready to change its face, as well as its organisation. But it will continue to uphold its original objective: to improve the economic and social condition of women.
The demand for the centre’s woven cloth is growing, and technical demands are becoming more challenging. The centre is preparing to launch a collection of around fifty Faso Dan Fani cloths; a collection of accessories made from Faso Dan Fani, notably bags, purses, headdresses and jewelry, and if possible to complete its range of fabric.
But above all, “the centre wants to expand its dyeing workshop so that it can produce large quantities of colored cotton thread, which currently cannot be found in Burkina Faso”. Delma’s new ambition: to make Adaja both a training centre and a Faso Dan Fani production and commercial business that is renowned in West Africa for the quality and originality of its creations.
With this goal in mind, three investment plans are underway, each with the aim of boosting the social and economic impact of the centre’s activities. The first is to build and lay out a new production space. This space would have the capacity to host 20 weavers, a storeroom and an exhibition room where the products could be displayed. The second plan is to set up a dyeing workshop at the heart of the centre and the final one is to buy the most innovative manual weaving looms available. All of these projects need to be financed, and some goodwill wouldn’t go amiss to help continue and expand the work of this lady who, throughout her whole life, has tirelessly sought new ways to help others.
Elienai tells the story of her mother
“At the beginning, she taught women in her home and she covered all their costs.
When her first apprentices started to make an income from their products, other local women began to take an interest and came to ask for training. As my mother was no longer able to welcome all these women into her home, she moved here and built these workshops. It’s now the centre’s headquarters. As well as the workshops, there is accommodation here so that those women who don’t have a fixed abode have a place to stay during the training period.
Over time, she’s had to diversify and adapt to the different needs of the women. Which is why she introduced lessons on how to dry fruits, such as tomato and mango, into the training she offers. As for the weaving, she doesn’t know how many women have been trained. What we’re sure of, is that at least 200 women have stayed in contact with the centre and work with the centre when we receive orders.”