Gonzales businessman uses proceeds to help Ghanaians
Feb. 8, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.
GONZALES - Giving back to his homeland of Ghana is a top priority for Gonzales resident Dr. James Quartey.
In fact, it is the sole reason why he started Afrika Mba, a primarily Internet-based African import business.
"I just want to help make a difference in one way or another," said Quartey, as he sat in his living room gathering up products to fill a recent order. "It's not just about business. It's about making a difference in Africa."
Quartey, 49, started Afrika Mba, which translates to children of Africa in the Ghanaian tribal language of Akan, in 2005 with hopes of using the proceeds to provide solar lanterns to villages in Ghana that are without electricity.
"If those people do not have electricity now, they will not have it for at least another 20 to 25 years," said Quartey, who is a dentist in Gonzales. "Instead of waiting on the government to provide them with electricity, this is a way to get them light now."
Quartey plans to provide the lanterns through his foundation, "Light a Village," which he hopes to launch in March.
Afrika Mba specializes in popular African import products ranging from Adinkra wall fixtures to scented and unscented shea butter.
"Most people have heard about shea butter, but most people haven't seen 100 percent shea butter. They've mostly seen it mixed with something else like lotion," he said. "I tell people most of the time those products only have about 10 percent shea butter or less."
Black soap, otherwise known as Alata Samina or Anago Samina, is Afrika Mba's other big seller.
Traditionally, black soap is used to bathe, shampoo hair, clear blemishes and relieve acne, eczema, oily skin and various other skin issues.
Gonzales nurse Patrick Caldwell experienced first-hand the healing properties of black soap when she sought help to cure her and her son's acne problems in 2006.
"We'd tried all the products. We'd been using Proactiv for about six months and still weren't getting any results," said Caldwell. "Within four weeks of using (black soap), I saw an improvement."
After having such success with the soap, Caldwell said she does not hesitate to recommend it to others.
"I prescribe it to all my clients," said Caldwell. "I recommend they use the soap rather than taking antibiotics to treat acne and risk becoming resistant to them."
Although his products are well-received outside of Africa, Quartey said they are often an afterthought when it comes to use in their native continent.
"A lot of the times, Africans don't use the products because they'd rather buy Western products than use the local ones," said Quartey. "Until they get a problem, then mom, aunt, grandma will suggest the local products, and then they'll use it."
A product that Quartey said he sells for sentimental reasons more so than business reasons is pure African sand from the beach outside the Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, West Africa.
"The beach on the back of this and many similar castles and forts on the West Coast of Africa was the place where our ancestors set foot on the African continent for the last time. The men, women and children who had been enslaved, shackled and kept in the dungeons of the castle went through the door of no return and walked on these beaches to ships that will bring them to the Americas," said Quartey. "Over 10 million people were taken from their homeland to the Americas."
He continued, "I want people who buy this to not forget where they came from. For African-Americans, this is their history. They were taken from Africa and bought to the Americas."
While Afrika Mba does get many orders from people in Texas, Quartey said the majority of its orders come from outside the United States.
Averaging around 30 orders each month, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Canada are among his business's top selling countries, said Quartey.
Quartey said he is looking to increase his orders this year, providing more money to purchase the solar lanterns.
"With the solar lanterns, kids can study later, women can cook a little later and people can charge their cell phones. It increases productivity and changes the style of living," said Quartey. "They also cut out kerosene lanterns that can be dangerous and troublesome when it comes to replacing the kerosene."
He added, "It's a greener way to provide them with lights."
Quartey's future plans include establishing deals to sell his African sand displays in the bookstores of museums and Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide.
He also hopes to persuade more entrepreneurs to go into the African import business.
"My goal is to get as many people as I can to go and buy directly from the women in Ghana in large quantities," said Quartey. "The more income these women have, the more they can improve themselves."
Until he can recruit more business owners, however, Quartey said he will continue doing his part to help.
"It's a labor of love, but I enjoy doing it," he said. "I know it's going to make a difference in somebody's life."