His dreadlocks are held tightly by a home-made red, green and gold headband — matching the flag of his beloved country. As he polishes the newly sculptured wooden doll that attracted my attention, his 11-year-old daughter is using beads and strings to sew my favorite doll’s dress.
Thierry Benissan Tete is a Togolese artisan living in Agbodrafo, approximately 30 kilometers east of Lomé. His gifted hands and unmatched creativity form a recipe for highly marketable artworks. From the workshop, he ushers me to his community’s mini crafts market.
There is a story behind each item in his stall. Some of them are designed to create awareness on issues that need to be addressed. Through art, Thierry is changing lives.
We discuss a variety of topics, including the beauty of African women. "Black is beautiful." He tells me while making fun of black women who apply poisonous concoctions to change the color of their skins, comparing their heads to empty coconuts. This comparison is harsh but we need to be brutally honest sometimes.
Some of Thierry’s products are crafted to celebrate the beauty of our women while encouraging them to grab every opportunity to study and thrive for the pursuit of knowledge. He is a strong proponent of education and an active cultivator of the culture of reading. Through his work, the soft-spoken West African is encouraging girls to fall in love with books and avoid having empty coconuts above their shoulders.
Thierry would love to see every tender-aged girl in his community incorporating reading into her daily routine. He calls upon stakeholders to invest in community libraries and put books at our children’s disposal. Making reading cool again is key in the process of empowering the future generation of Africans.
The empowerment of women is a prerequisite for the socio-economic transformation of societies. When enabled, women are capable of improving the welfare of not only their communities but also their countries and the entire continent.
Before I bid goodbye to Thierry, I peep into his messy workshop one more time. Pieces of raw materials, about to be transformed into precious souvenirs, are stuffed therein. There is more to these artifacts than simply mementos and gifts. By purchasing them, tourists leave Togo with a lifetime of inspirations.