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Ghana: Women work as spray painters to support their families

This story is part of a series called Stars in the Field, produced as part of the Young Women in TVET project. Through this series, we will profile women working in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector in Ghana. While not a typical “Farmer story,” we think these profiles can inspire your listeners and start a conversation about traditional and non-traditional jobs for men and women in your community.

It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon and Vivian Ama Abeka is busy applying a filler to an old Toyota Corolla. The 53-year-old woman is preparing to spray paint on the customer’s vehicle. 

She says: “Barely three months after completing school, I had already convinced my parents about my strong desire to pursue spray painting as my career. At that time, my parents registered me as an apprentice with the experienced sprayer, master Agyapong, for me to learn.”

Ms. Abeka is a well-known sprayer in Kokompe town in Takoradi city in the western region of Ghana. She has been spray painting for more than 25 years. She explains, “I do all kinds of spray painting work, for all types of vehicles, metals, and woodwork.”

Her passion to pursue a career in spray painting started when she was about to complete elementary school, locally called “form four,” at Nana Bedi Bonso Middle School in New Takoradi.

With just two Ghanaian Cedis (US $0.31), and a bottle of schnapps as per tradition, Ms. Abeka started her apprenticeship with her new master in November, 1985. At the time, she faced resistance and discouragement from many people around her.

Ms. Abeka says the only person who supported and motivated her to pursue a career in spray painting was her mother. She recalls, “Some people told me that as a woman I could not complete my apprenticeship. Others tried to convince my master not to waste his time training me.”

But she never listened to negative comments. She says, “I told myself never to be distracted by anyone about my future career. I made a decision that I will achieve what I wanted to do in my life.”

Ms. Abeka says she is happy and proud of her accomplishments despite the negative comments from her peers. Each day, after finishing work as an apprentice, Ms. Abeka kept wearing her work clothes to show that she was happy with spray painting.

She explains, “I was walking to and from my apprenticeship in my working gear with pride. I never regretted my decision to become a spray painter.”

Ms. Abeka completed three years of intensive training with master Agyapong in 1988. After one year spray painting, she got married. Her husband supported her career. 

Later, Ms. Abeka rented shops to provide spray painting services to the general public. Eventually, with her husband’s help, Ms. Abeka saved enough money to acquire land where she built her own shop. 

Ms. Abeka has trained 25 apprentices in spray painting, eight of whom are women. She explains, “Although most of the women were unable to continue learning spray painting work after getting married, I am still happy because I managed to inspire some of the women.” 

She says that many women find it difficult to balance home life and their careers, as cultural expectations in Ghana dictate that women are the primary caregivers 

Ms. Abeka feels lucky to have been supported in her career, even while having children. She says: “When I started having children, I already had a lot of apprentices that were supporting me. I also spaced out my children by a couple of years each. This allowed me to have enough time for my work.” 

She adds: “Youth should not be forced to pursue technical and trade careers, but rather [we should] encourage those with the passion. When they excel, they will serve as an attraction for many other youths to join the field.”

Ms. Abeka encourages people in her community to learn any TVET-related skill. She says, “Having a TVET-related skill is the best way for youth and women because it makes them economically independent.”

She adds, “I am able to feed myself and my family. I do not ask for help elsewhere and I feel gratified. I also support my extended family.”

This resource was produced as part of the Innovation in Non-traditional Vocational Education and Skills Training Project, INVEST, implemented by WUSC with funding from Global Affairs Canada.

Photo: Vivian Ama Abeka stands proudly beside a car that she spray painted. Credit: Linda Godji.