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Abas Koanda

Abas Koanda is an artisan who works with leather and is also President of Tigoung Nonma.

Abas grew up in the village of Tenkodogo. When he was 6 or 7 years old, a missionary, Yviy Calgo, from Mauritania moved to the village and opened a centre for disabled people, right across from his home. As he understands it, this centre was the first of its kind to exist in Burkina Faso, and possibly the first in the whole of West Africa too, with Calgo later opening further centres across the region. Initially, the centre was focussed on rehabilitation and operations, but then it became more geared to giving disabled people skills that would allow them to work.

Abas’ parents took him to the centre and he lived there throughout his teenage years. At this time, the centre provided facilities for craft-making, rehabilitation and mobility aids. Crafts did well at the centre in those years, as they worked on orders received from Europe. It was thanks to the centre that Abas gained the initial skills needed to become an artisan, especially as he was given the opportunity to go to Niger and train in leatherwork for 3 months, which was later to become his profession.

After Calgo’s departure, he helped run the centre along with a committee from his village, but the craft-making activities suffered at this time. Abas thus left the centre, when he was then 20 years old, and started out as an artisan on his own. After working at home for two years, a disabled colleague of his asked him to come to Ouagadougou with him. Taking up this opportunity, he moved to the city and worked at the colleague’s workshop for 2 years. This period was especially challenging, as he worked very hard every day but made hardly any money, with his colleague only paying him tiny amounts, of 200 or 500 CFA (30-60 pence), every now and then.  He was in a difficult position as he was reliant on the colleague for the workshop space. The partnership eventually fell apart, so he set out alone, working at an artisan boutique in one of Ouagadougou’s stadiums for a year, before finally moving to his own workshop. This was also difficult as at first Abas had to live and work in the workshop until he could find a house.

Abas has been working at this same workshop for 20 years, and is now very well-known in the area for his work over the years. He says that many people come to him to fix their leather items and that, when events take place in Ouagadougou, lots of customers come to him to make leather goods because of the high standard of his work.

He believes that Burkinabe artisans in general face many problems, but that these are much worse for disabled artisans. He says that one major problem is that, unlike himself, around 90% of disabled artisans work in associations because they cannot afford their own workshops. Even having a workshop isn’t easy for him, as he has to pay 15,000 CFA (£30) per month in rent for his workshop, and some months he struggles to make enough money. He also finds it hard to exhibit his work, because of the expense. His workshop is tiny and even setting up any kind of display there is too expensive.

Abas has been with TN since its creation in 2005, and has been president ever since the first year of its existence. He says TN has had a great impact on his life, because it has increased his revenue through orders he gets through TN, as well as helping make his work more visible through TN-funded expositions.