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"I used to visit my grandfather's workshop on my way back from school to watch him carve and he was willing to teach me as long as I was interested."
"My name is Divine Agbenorwu and I was born in the Volta Region of Ghana. I come from a family of carvers, especially on my mother's side. I used to visit my grandfather's workshop on my way back from school to watch him carve and he was willing to teach me as long as I was interested. I was interested in learning, but at that age I didn't take it so seriously. He used to say that learning this skill could one day be of great benefit to me along with my formal education.
"I was told my paternal grandfather was a soldier who served on a peace keeping mission in Cambodia. One day, the armor car he was using got hit by a bomb; he didn't die on the spot but was brought home for treatment. He died the same day I was born. When some of his friends came over to visit my father and on hearing his wife had just given birth, they were so astonished to see the resemblance between my grandfather and me, and so they nicknamed me Cambodia. As I was growing up, that is the name most people used to call me. Their reason for the nickname was to remember their friend who had passed on. To this day, older folks who are still alive still refer to me by my Cambodia nickname, and will often tell me stories about my grandfather.
"My desires to make it in life have lead me to add the word 'Top' and so I refer myself as Top Cambodia. I am frank, hardworking, kind and relate well with people regardless of who they are or where they come from.
"When I completed secondary school, due to financial constraints, I couldn't further my education but I was given the opportunity to choose a trade to pursue. Since I love color mixing, I thought spray-painting (on metal, on cars, etc) would be my field. I was encouraged to pursue the 4-year course, but when I finished there was no money to set up on my own, even though this was a lucrative business.
"I went back into carving to improve on my skills, and now I want to become one of the best carvers in the world.
"Whiles at the village, some relatives living in Accra would come with foreign clients to buy our carved items from us to sell directly to their clients in our presence. I noticed they were asking for a much higher amount than our asking price, and even so, they would not pay us outright.
"I decided to make my way to Accra and work with them for some years. At a point, I realized I could not always be depending on them for everything and needed to move on in life as I was growing. I wanted to set up on my own to carve and sell my own items, but this didn't go down well with them and so I had to move back to the village.
"Back home I worked hard with some other relatives who had dropped out of school and were into carving to produce more items. When I had made enough, I came back to Accra to survey the terrain. I met some people who were willing to give me space to sell my items. I brought in my work from the village to sell. God being so good, I met customers who also introduced me to other customers and gradually I was making good sales. I was determined to satisfy my customers by producing quality items so they would return again for more works. This attitude paid of very well.
"I also made sure my relatives back home were also paid very well for the carved items they produced. This encourages them to continue working and now I have managed to bring a few of them to Accra to work with me. At the moment we’ve set up so that I make the designs, they carve them, and I finish them. My experience as a carver helps me judge when a piece has been properly carved, so I also do quality control."
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