Cato van Lieshout Humans of TU Delft
Cato van Lieshout: “If you’re born in the Netherlands, you are really lucky because everything is pretty fixed for you.” (Photo: personal collection)

How does buying a t-shirt in the Netherlands help improve the lives of women in Ghana? Bachelor’s student Cato van Lieshout will tell you.

“I study Industrial Design Engineering and now I’m doing a minor in the Faculty of Technology, Policy & Management about international entrepreneurship. It focusses on projects in the Global South, so it’s about making a social impact. That’s what inspired me to pursue it because I always wanted to help people. If you’re born in the Netherlands, you are really lucky because everything is pretty fixed for you. But that’s not the case in some places like Africa so it’s important to use your privilege to help people.

As part of this minor there are projects all over the Global South and you get placed on a diverse team to work on one of them. There are four of us working together on a project. Apart from me, one studies architecture at TU Delft, there is one who studies economics and business at Erasmus University College in Rotterdam and one studying International Development in Wageningen. So, we are a very diverse team.

We are working with Sommalife, which is a start-up by a woman in Ghana in cooperation with students at TU Delft. The core of what they do focusses on improving the lives of rural women and their children. They want to make sure that the women get a fair wage for the work they do picking nuts from shea trees and making shea butter from the nuts. Shea butter is used for making things like cosmetics and is a great alternative to palm oil. The company is also trying to help these women be more involved in making their own lives better. The profit they get from selling shea butter goes back into projects for these women for things like education for them and their children.

‘The women might have a contract but they don’t know what is stated’

Nowadays, just like in the cacao industry, the women get paid a really low wage but they don’t know better because they can’t read. They might have a contract but they really don’t know what is stated. We focus on keeping things simple so they know how to get a fair price for the work they offer. Our project for Sommalife focusses on a seedling programme. Right now, the trees the women pick the shea nuts from are being cut down to make charcoal or for making fires for cooking. It’s important to have more trees that we can plant on private land, so we can fight against the deforestation of the shea tree, and ensure the women can continue picking nuts in the future.

Right now, we are trying to raise money to set up a nursery for those trees because you can’t just put seeds in the ground. We need money to purchase the sand and all of the materials and build the nursery. In addition to crowdfunding, we thought that raising money by selling shirts was a nice idea because then people have something to wear and it also spreads the message about the company and what they are doing.

The t-shirts are being made by a sustainable company and will be screen printed so they are good quality. They are cotton t-shirts and unisex so they are for anyone. They will cost EUR 22.50. Of that, approximately  EUR 13 will go directly to the women and the rest will be used for producing the shirts. So, all of the profit is going to the project in Ghana. We have a deadline for pre-ordering the t-shirts which is 15 October. You can order via a Google form, so take your chance, help fight the deforestation and support the rural woman and their children.

We have a really high goal of raising EUR 5,000 but we know that’s hard to reach. We are also applying for funds, for example through Students4Sustainability, but we really want to get the most out of this shirt. My vision is to be walking around campus and see someone with a shirt on. I can talk with them and share stories and build a community around it. I know it’s a high goal, but it’s nice to start something. Can’t wait to see you all rocking this shirt!”

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