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upworthy

A common ingredient in cosmetics is helping to lift rural women out of poverty.

This is shea butter. And you may not know it, but it's in a lot of products you use every day.

Left: Photo by gtknj/Flickr. Right: Altered photo by Kazuhiro Keino/Flickr.


Most people first encounter shea butter as a beauty cream, typically used for skin and hair products. But it's also a common ingredient in medicine, cooking oils, and even chocolate bars.

But perhaps one of shea butter's lesser known, but most important, qualities is this: It's helping to provide well-paying, consistent employment for women in West Africa.

While shea is a hot commodity, procuring it isn't easy.

Shea trees are plentiful in Western Africa, but they take decades to mature and produce fruit — anywhere from 15 to 40 years.

A grove of shea trees in Burkina Faso. Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

"There's a nut, with a very, very smoothy, shiny surface," Rosanah Fung, General Manager of SeKaf Ghana Limited, a social enterprise connected with the shea butter industry, told Upworthy. "Inside that nut is a very small kernel shaped like an almond. Inside that almond is how people make shea butter and shea oil."

A woman holds shea nuts in her hands. Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images.

And harvesting and processing shea butter is a skill many mothers in rural West Africa pass down to their daughters.

The women will harvest the fruit from shea trees in their villages and make small batches of shea butter using their own home-taught methods.

A woman processes shea kernels into shea butter. Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

But while the demand for shea butter — in and outside of Western Africa — is great, there are two problems: With each family using their own time-honored recipe and method, how do you make each batch consistent? And how do you keep up with global demand?

Enter Senyo Kpelly, a businessman from Southern Ghana who recognized the growing popularity of shea butter worldwide.

In 2003, he founded the commodity trading company SeKaf Ghana with his high school friend; at the time, it was mostly an import/export company. But the pair were having trouble setting themselves apart from the competition.

They realized shea butter was gaining popularity worldwide and decided to focus their energy on this growing commodity.

Because it's traditionally harvested and made by women, some call shea butter "women's gold." Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images.

To learn all he could about making shea butter, Kpelly traveled to Northern Ghana. He settled in Tamale, smack-dab in the middle of a Sub-Saharan belt that runs from Western Africa to Uganda. It's a poor area with limited resources, but plenty of shea.

What Kpelly saw in Tamale opened his eyes to an opportunity to bring an African-made product to the masses and uplift women and communities in the process.

In 2008, Kpelly created the SeKaf Shea Butter Village to process shea butter on a massive scale using local talent.

The SeKaf Shea Butter Village brings women together in Kasalgu, a small village about 3.75 miles away from Tamale, to harvest and process shea fruit into shea butter.

Women who work at SeKaf can bring their babies and children to work with them and socialize while they process shea butter using a more uniform, consistent method.

The village is now a model for other shea butter villages in Ghana and Nigeria. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

Not only did SeKaf Shea Butter Village improve the quality of the product, the village is now a model for others like it in other parts of Ghana and Nigeria.

It also provides stable employment for thousands of rural Ghanaian women at the SeKaf Shea Butter Village and beyond.

The best part? The women, representing 22 communities in Western Africa, run the shea butter processing from beginning to end.

There are currently 3,215 women registered as shea collectors, who manage the process from fruit to kernel, and just under 200 shea butter processors, who turn the kernels into shea butter.

SeKaf buys both the seeds and finished butter from the women, meaning they get paid for the harvest AND for their finished product.

SeKaf Shea Butter Village women using fuel efficient stoves for the boiling stage of the shea butter process. "These stoves require less firewood and the chimneys divert the smoke to improve women's health and safety issues," Fung told Upworthy. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

The women at SeKaf are also trained to be certified organic suppliers. Having an organic, sustainable supply chain is not only good for the environment, it's also good for the women.

"If you have organic premium quality shea butter, you can get even higher prices," Fung told Upworthy. "The higher prices will trickle down to the women. So by going organic, we are paying the women an average of 15% premium of the market price for their shea nuts."

SeKaf is also piloting a financial literacy program to help their employees manage their income, save for the future, and gain autonomy.

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

The shea season runs about four months out of the year, so making shea butter is a part-time job, but the team at SeKaf wanted to ensure that the women have sustainable income year-round.

"If they need money, they have to ask their husbands, they have to ask their relatives," Fung said. "They don't really have any financial independence. So when you don't really have financial independence. You don't really have any power or agency, because you're always depending on someone else. You're indebted to someone else."

In two communities, the company is piloting Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) initiatives through their SeKaf Success to Sustainable Livelihood program.

Women count their earnings at the VSLA share-out event in June. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

There are no banks or credit unions in many of the rural communities, but through VSLA, the women can pool their money together where it can accrue interest. They also have weekly meetings and training on how to save and why it's important. An assigned record keeper helps them keep track of their funds, and the women can provide loans to each other for starting side businesses or sending their children to school.

"They haven't had opportunities for any literacy, let alone financial literacy," Fung explained. "...just because they don't have formal education, doesn't mean they're not smart. They're amazing."

And the women have been able to save a lot of money already! In the first year of the program, around 60 women were able to save 8,500 Ghanaian cedis (around $2,200). That's an especially impressive figure considering minimum wage in Ghana is seven Ghanaian cedis (around $1.80) a day.

The VSLA share-out event. Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

SeKaf will continue to provide jobs for women in West Africa for many years to come.

Though he's helped revolutionize the shea butter industry in Africa, Senyo Kpelly's work is never done. These days, he's focusing his efforts on the environment and the sustainability of the business, particularly the decades it takes to grow a viable shea tree.

"[SeKaf Ghana and Global Shea Alliance] are working with many research institutes in West Africa, and we are working with the world agroforesty center," he told Upworthy. "So together, we hope to address the issue of the long gestation period."

Recently, Kpelly also launched Tama cosmetics, a high-end line of soaps, lotions, and body oils made with the SeKaf shea butter. The products are available in a few countries in Western Africa, as well as Saudi Arabia, the U.K., and Vietnam — and is currently testing in a small market in the U.S..

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

But even with the company's success, Kpelly's proudest moments still come from supporting and uplifting the women of his home country.

"I think my happiest moment is last month," he said. "The women said they are no [longer] poor."

Photo by SeKaf Ghana, used with permission.

And to think ... it all started with a kernel.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

89Stocker and cottonbro studios|Canva

Mom makes case for getting life insurance on child's other parent

Nobody wants to think about what happens if their child's other parent dies unexpectedly. It's not a pleasant topic but unfortunately it is something that happens sometimes and parents have to do their best to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss. One mom, had the unfortunate experience of living through this tragedy and she took to social media to explain the steps she took to prepare for this day.

Kelsey Pumel, a multi-hyphenate TikTok creator recently had to help her young daughter process the unexpected loss of her biological father. Pumel and Kobe's father were never married and had broken up years prior but she admits to carrying a life insurance policy on him. The topic was brought up when her viewers informed her that she should file for social security death benefits to assist with the financial responsibility of caring for Kobe.

That's when the mom of five revealed that she took out a life insurance policy on Kobe's father when she was pregnant for multiple reasons.


"I have gotten many rude comments about the life insurance and some wild accusations made but I'm going to say this and I need y'all to hear me. If you have a child with somebody, you should have life insurance one that person, period," Pumel says. "If something were to happen, you're going to get that kickback of money to help you either raise your kids or to make up for the income that is now missing."

In a follow up video she clarifies that you do need the other person's consent in order to take out the policy. Pumel also answers the question on what she's doing with the insurance money after the death of her child's father.

"When I first got the money, I did take a chunk of it and I paid off all of my student loans, now stick with me. Why did I do that? Well, I had about $95K worth of student loans, my interest was over $6K a year. I wasn't even cutting any of it down trying to pay it with that type of interest." She reveals after talking it over with her dad who was helping pay the loans.

"So we came up with a payment plan that pays the entire $95K plus interest back to Kobe, paying it monthly into a 529 Plan, which is a college fund for her. So all that money will go into that plan for her. If she doesn't go to college or doesn't use all of it, it will be kicked over in an investment account that she will be able to pull at retirement age."

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @bossyasf83 Correct me if im wrong about SS benefits but thats what I was told. But Kobe is going to be alright! I promise you I am getting her the brightest future possible set up! ♥️🫶🏼 #lifeinsurance

Not only is Pumel making sure Kobe has money to retire with, she's taking some of the money and putting it into a high yield account for her daughter. She also plans to buy a real estate property that will go to the little girl when she turns 18. Really, Pumel has thought of everything she could to make sure her daughter is set up to be financially secure her entire life.

While no one wishes for their children to experience the death of a parent before their time, this mom proves that having a life insurance policy on a coparent is simply a smart choice. Parents in the comments are applauding her for talking about this so openly.

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @ohitsamber84 There are so many ways to set up an financial future for your children without big chunks of money! I strongly recommend talking with a financial advisor if you have kids and seeing what options you may have to ensure them a strong future. ♥️🫶🏼

"And BOOM that is how generational wealth is made baby! Good for you mama," one person says.

"Girl your daughter may not understand now. But when she gets older she will thank you immensely," another writes.

"That's perfect! Exactly what she'll need! Car, college, house...set her up to have no debt," someone else proclaims.

A tourist visiting Italy. (Representative image)

Americans pride themselves on living in the “best country in the world.” However, the American way of life isn’t for everyone and some prefer the more laid-back approach to life that people enjoy in Europe.

Four years ago, a writer named Roze left her tiny apartment in Los Angeles, booked a one-way flight to Turn, Italy and never looked back. Now, she documents her new life in Europe on TikTok to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Recently, she posted a video in which she counts down 5 things that she’ll never do now that she lives in Italy. These are examples of the relief some Americans feel when they move to Europe and settle into their new, stress-free lifestyle.


1. Rush

"One of the first things that attracted me to Italian culture is the fact that people don't seem to be in a rush. There are no drive-thrus. People don't walk and eat. If you need a coffee, you sit down and drink a cup of coffee. There's always time for that."

2. Own a car

"I don't plan on ever living in a place where you need a car to get around. I don’t like the expense of a car and it’s just bad for the environment.”

3. Live for work

“I’ll never obsess about work as much as I used to do in the U.S. Now, I'm not saying that people don't work here. People work very hard, but there's not as many people who make working hard their whole personality."

@rozeinitaly

A few ways my perspective has changed since moving abroad, maybe some other American immigrants can relate? #fivethingschallenge #5thingsiwouldneverdo #5thingschallenge #americanimmigrant #movingabroadtips #expatsinitaly #italylifestyle #lifeinitaly🇮🇹

4. Trust the internet for business hours

"If you look it up on Google Maps, it says that it's open from 10 am to, I think, 7 or 7:30 pm. Does that mean I can go there at like 2:30 3 o'clock? No. What is not listed on there is that they are closed from 1 to 4 for lunch."

5. Worry about medical bills

“I just don’t plan on living anywhere where there is not some kind of universal healthcare.”

@inspiringbelfast/TikTok

Maybe this dose of wholesome humanity brighten your day.

Imagine walking down the street, minding your own business, when a complete stranger unfurls a red carpet at your feet. What do you do? Awkwardly avoid it and continue along your route? Tell the person off for not respecting boundaries? Or do you wholeheartedly accept the impromptu invitation and strut your best stuff?

For the passersby of Belfast, option three was the only choice.

Alan Wallace, who routinely posts uplifting videos that “share the warmth” of his hometown over on TikTok, recently added a video of himself going up to random folks on the street and giving them a moment to shine. And let’s just say, they nailed it.


Folks from all walks of life—including a construction worker that could be Michael Sheen’s doppelgänger—lit up at the opportunity to catwalk, skateboard, cartwheel and even do the worm down the crimson strip.

In a mere matter of seconds, we see all that humanity has to offer—humor, free expression, joy, inclusivity, connection. Such powerful stuff shown in the simplest way.

Even if the moment wasn’t quite as spontaneous as the video makes it appear (Wallace likely asked for permission before rolling the carpet out each time) these people still agreed to play. And that’s what’s magical about it.

“Everyone understood the assignment, from young to old, it was perfect,” one viewer wrote.

@inspiringbelfast Red carpet for strangers in Belfast #inspiringbelfast #belfastcity #belfast #heartwarming ♬ Beautiful Things (Sped Up) - Benson Boone

It’s natural for most people to not want to interact with strangers. And of course there are legitimate safety reasons influencing this instinct. But a lot of the time our avoidance comes from expecting things to be unenjoyable. And yet, research shows not only that people are often pleasantly surprised by how much connection, kindness, belonging and optimism they end up experiencing.

So maybe we don’t need a red carpet to simply enjoy saying hi to someone we meet on the street and reaping the benefits. But hey, it certainly helps.

Representative Image from Canva

Every parent should know about this game. Many have experienced it as kids.

Nurse and mom Jinny Schmidt wants parents to be aware of a game that’s circulating amongst tweens right now, because it’s not a game at all.

In a PSA posted to her TikTok, Schmidt shared that her daughter informed her that boys in her class were beginning to play what she called “The Firetruck Game.”

As Schmidt begins to describe what the “game” entails, it’s easy to see why she’s concerned. All parents should be.


Here’s how the game works: a boy puts his hand on a girl’s lower thigh. And he tells her “my hand is a firetruck” as he slowly moves it up her leg. When the girl gets uncomfortable, she is supposed to say “red light.” Except for when the girl says “red light,” the boy responds with “sorry, firetrucks don’t stop for red lights.” And so they run their hand all the way up the girl’s leg, Schmidt explains, and sometimes they “touch the girl’s crotch.” Yikes.

Many viewers noted growing up with the Firetruck Game, or a version called “The Nervous Game,” or “Red Light Green Light.” Suddenly The “Squid Game” version of “Red Light Green Light” doesn’t seem so bad.

No matter what it’s called, though, it’s touching without consent, and is inappropriate on so many levels, not least of which being that it’s an excuse for sexual assault. Hence Schmidt’s alarm.

“I know that kids will be kids and kids will do some stupid shit, But we’ve got to do better teaching our boys to keep their hands off of other people and teaching our girls that it’s okay to have boundaries,” she says, before asking parents to “be aware” if they hear their kids talking about it.
@the.funny.nurse Y’all gonna see me on the 6 O’clock news. #jrhigh #kids #tween #preteen #parents #moms #momsoftiktok #dads #dadsoftiktok #teacher #teachersoftiktok #publicschool #school #firetruck #firetruckgame #firetruckgameawareness #girls #boys #game ♬ original sound - Jin-Jin

And she is, of course, absolutely right. Folks who watched her video wholeheartedly agreed that the behavior should not be tolerated, and many shared some pretty intense, although warranted, reactions to it.

“We’d be playing a game called Ambulance next,” one person wrote.

“Press charges,” said another.

“We have a game also. It’s called ‘oops I broke your finger,’” a third added.

But many also chimed in to say that they would be talking to their kids immediately about it, which is probably the best route overall. That way kids can protect themselves, and others around them.

Middle school years in general are pretty rough. They can be just as difficult to navigate for parents as they can be for the kids going through it. It’s painful to watch your still baby-faced child go through many of the same awful pains that you did, many of which are unavoidable. But some things, like terrible and abusive games, can be avoided. So make sure to have those important conversations when you can.