Large plumes of banana leaves provide shade over Christopher as he expertly scrapes his knife along a piece of wood, his head bowed in concentration.
“Since I took this loan, I've been able to increase [business], my sales have gone up tremendously”
The Ghananian artisan is carving one of his exquisite traditional African masks in the courtyard outside his workshop in the Ashongman Estate near the city of Accra, a newly-built area known for its bustling nightlife.
“During the day, the place is quiet, very quiet. You have your peace of mind to do your creativity,” says Christopher of the tranquil setting before the evening frolickers take over the town.
After he’s completed the carving, he or one of his apprentices will paint the mask with vibrant colors. Then it will be ready to post in the online store where Christopher sells masks, sculptures, and djembe drums made from raw materials he was able to purchase with a Kiva loan.
“Since I took this loan, I've been able to increase [business], my sales have gone up tremendously,” reports Christopher as he smoothes the wood. “This has affected the lives of my children and other people around me.”
From apprentice to master
“My craft has been a source of income to my assistants, who are now taking care of their homes and children.”
Christopher first took up woodcarving over 20 years ago when he was in elementary school and went to work in the studio of another renowned Ghananian artisan, Louis Botchway.
“In actual fact, I did not go there to learn officially. I was the errand boy,” he confesses with a small smile.
After two decades of carving, sanding, and painting, Christopher now teaches six assistants in his workshop, which is always open to “more beginners who are willing to learn.” His success as a journeyman has garnered him respect in the community and influenced non-artisans to seek out his advice on all kinds of subjects, a reputation he says is compounded by his last name, Nyansafo, which means “wise one” in Akan, a language native to Ghana.
"I mastered this craft by being willing to learn from my instructors, working hard, and being trustworthy,” he affirms. “My craft has been a source of income to my assistants, who are now taking care of their homes and children.”
Describing himself as a “quiet type,” Christopher usually wakes at four o’clock in the morning to perform his daily devotions before settling into his workday.
“I don't just wake up and paint. I have to seek the face of the Almighty to teach me what the people will like, what my client will like,” he says of the creative process that precedes his unique designs, adding that he is also “inspired by colors, the environment, and other artists.”
You can see Christopher’s artwork for sale in the Kiva store here.
Taking his art online
In 2015, Christopher began selling his work on the e-commerce platform NOVICA, which allows artisans to establish direct-to-consumer connections across the globe. The NOVICA online marketplace features a profile of each entrepreneur and photos of their work, facilitating their small businesses in Indonesia, the Andes, Mexico, Brazil, Central America, India, Thailand, and West Africa.
As a Kiva Field Partner, NOVICA also offers zero-interest microloans to its artisans to help them establish and grow their businesses. To further encourage their success, the repayment terms of the loan are dependent on the artisan’s revenue, meaning they can pay more or less each month as sales fluctuate, with the total repayment due at the end of the loan.
After Christopher posted a few samples of his work in his digital shop, he quickly saw the potential of making and selling even more items, if he only could make a bulk purchase of wood and paint. He decided to apply for an $800 USD loan, which was posted on Kiva.org in 2019.
“I realized that the loan [would] help me increase the number of my products online. With a different variety, you can have more clients,” he says.
“When I heard that my loan had been approved, I was full of joy because I had already planned what to do with the money before the news was given to me.”
A microloan meant more materials and a bigger business
"I was like, wow, so it's possible to have a loan within such a short time?”
Christopher had attempted to get a loan before through traditional financial institutions, but became dejected after waiting weeks to hear that he had been denied.
“I tried getting funding from one of the local banks but it didn't work. They normally do not support start-ups,” he says. “The experience was very bad because they will allow you to go through the process, and then at the end, they will tell you your loan has not been approved.”
His experience with Kiva, however, was that the loan application process went far more smoothly—and quickly.
“The duration was very short, and I was like, wow, so it's possible to have a loan within such a short time?” he recalls.
With a greater variety of art and instruments posted on the platform, sales increased multifold, giving Christopher the opportunity to hire apprentices and buy machinery to keep up with demand. The revenue boost also paid for his children’s college tuition—the eldest just completed a Masters degree—as well as completing the construction of his house.
Since repaying his loan, the “wise one” continues to adhere to his business strategy of carefully preparing to expand with a microloan and counsels others in similar circumstances to do the same:
“My advice to other artisans is to plan before taking the loan—plan it, take the loan, execute your plan and your sales will just go up.”
Planning a serene future
As his online business has grown, so has Christopher’s desire for peace and quiet. He is focusing now on purchasing property outside of Accra where he can plant various species of trees and establish a workshop and retreat center to host more apprentices interested in the art of woodcarving.
“My dream is to establish a farm which will be the main source of my raw materials,” he shares. “There will not be a need to go around, looking for wood. You have your forest there and people can come there [to] learn, sit there, read, and relax.”
He counts the time he has been working with Kiva and NOVICA as his “best years ever,” and looks forward to uninterrupted sessions in the shade with his woodworking tools and paints.
“My concentration is on the work because I want to do something that people admire,” says the contented artisan, a colorful array of wooden masks stacked behind him. “I will make people happy and to do that means you have to put yourself into it.”
Creating a business out of one’s creativity requires discipline—and often a bit of capital to get started. Kiva lenders support artisans around the world by funding small loans. Will you join us?