Thursday 10 May 2012

Jibunoh’s akwa-ocha dream for Anioma rural women, youths

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published on Tuesday, 10 August 2010)
As misery, rather than fortune, of being an oil producing state is a confronting the people of Delta State, an art and craft initiative, which has its birth in Lagos may offer succour.

Courtesy of Didi Museum, Delta State, the effort, Didi Skills Indigenous Centre aimed at empowering the youth and women of the rural areas of the state have found its strength in native hand-woven cloth, akwa-ocha. It is also offering skill for participants in painting, beadwork and sculpture. 

The local fabric, akwa-ocha is popular among the Anioma people of Delta State.

The local fabric, akwa-ocha on display at Didi Museum, Lagos.
Motivated by the regular demand for customised hand-woven clothing such as aso-oke in Lagos, particularly during ceremonial occasions, the founder of the skill acquisition initiative, Chief (Mrs) Elizabeth Jibunoh had started a loom at the Didi museum, Victoria Island, Lagos five years ago.

Worried by what she described as “hopelessness for the youth and women, particularly the girl child in Delta State, “ Jibunoh set up the skill centre last year. And in collaboration with Ijedi Women Association in Ogbe-Ani Akwukwu igbo of the state, the three-day workshop which starts tomorrow ends with a lecture and exhibition of the works from the skill program at the centre in Ogbe-Obi on Friday, August 13, 2010. The lecture, which is on girl-child education and empowerment will be delivered by Mr Dan Osifo.

“It is a comprehensive project planned to change the psyche of rural people away from dependence on government and despondency.” The Centre, she explained, has designed various training programmes that would tap into the creativity of the rural people to turn around their lives, commercially, in combating poverty.

Chief (Mrs) Elizabeth Jibunoh
Jibunoh stressed: “It is worrisome that we have lost the tradition of cloth weaving, whereas in Europe and America, there is a strong demand.”

She argued that art and craft are the easiest ways of alleviating poverty in the rural areas, particularly empowering the girl child. In weaving the akwa-ocha cloth, for example, an average weaver could earn as much as N40, 000 in a week. Noting that the poverty alleviation or eradication programmes of the federal government, for the Niger Delta, is well intended, the implementation, she argued, is carried out in a manner that leaves little or no funding to the grassroots. Dearth of ideas, she added, is the bane of such programmes.

Secretary of Ijedi Women, Mrs Ijeoma Atagbuzia noted that the Didi Skills Indigenous Centre align very well with the 6-3-3-4 structure of education as it offers alternative education and hope for secondary school students who are not able to advance after the Juniour West Africa School Certificate Examination (WASCE).
In a country that is in need of industrialisation, is it not more logical to mechanise the making of akwa-ocha for mass employment? Retaining the customised flavour, Jibunoh said is crucial and perhaps more immediate to the focus of the initiative. 

Attempt at mechanization, she explained was made few years ago by the government, but “it is now abandoned,” perhaps due to lack of articulation.

And there is an effort to ensure that the native fabric is truly produced without synthetic wool, Atagbuzia said. This challenge, Jibunoh assured is being confronted as “the centre is also getting the rural people to grow cotton trees, then harvest the cotton wool, thread it and set them up in looms for weaving.”

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