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We know that changing cultural norms is no easy task. While more than three-fourths of survey respondents in our impact assessment said they thought trafficking in Winneba has declined in the last five years, we know that it is still happening. One of the bigger cultural norms that we are looking to change is the use of corporal punishment in schools.

The good news is that the use of corporal punishment in schools has already been outlawed by the government and earlier this year the Ghana Education Service has said that they will not support or protect teachers who use it. These are some big steps forward in protecting children’s right to be free from violence. However, just because something is a policy doesn’t mean that it is always followed.

Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah presenting at a student success conference hosted by Peace Corps volunteers for students and teachers from across Ghana.

Over the past school year, our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah has been working the the teachers at Friends International Academy (formerly Challenging Heights School) to help strengthen their understanding and implementation of the anti-corporal punishment policy there. In the recent weeks she’s taken her message and workshop beyond our sister organisations and to teachers from other schools in Winneba and from across Ghana.

Modifying the workshop that she participated in that was hosted by UNICEF, Akua uses a participatory and Socratic method so that the participants can come to their own conclusion of what constitutes a safe school and how they can make their own schools safer.

Many of the teachers are hesitant at first to rethink their own positions but in the words of one of the workshop participants, “I remembered what it was like when I was getting caned as a student – how it didn’t change my behaviour and only made me resent my teacher. This can completely changed my mind.”

We’re excited about this work and looking forward to how it goes in the future. If you think your community in Ghana might benefit from our workshop, let us know by sending us an email.

Last year was an important year for us at Challenging Heights. We took a hard look at what services we provide, what services we want to provide and what goals we aim to achieve through those services. That assessment resulted in our new strategic plan and goal, to end trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry in five years and slavery in 10.

However, throughout that assessment we continued to rescue children, provide care at our rehabilitation shelter, reintegrate children with their families, champion children’s rights, facilitate education and support the livelihoods of women and youth in the source communities.

We proud of the work that we have done and we invite you to read more about it in our 2016 Annual Report. We’re looking forward to what the rest of 2017 brings and we hope that you’ll join our efforts with a donation.

We at Challenging Heights spent much of last year assessing the state of trafficking in Ghana and thinking big. This lead to our new strategic plan, launched at the beginning of the year, with the goal of ending trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry in five years and slavery in 10. We’re excited to see that the government is joining us in this ambitious goal with their new National Plan of Action for the Elimination of Human Trafficking.

A few weeks ago, our President and Director joined more than 50 other stakeholders, including ministers, members of parliament, non-governmental organisations and others to contribute to this new NPA.

This new plan addresses four main themes: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. These focus areas largely overlap with the three focus areas that we have outlined, prevention, rescue & recovery and advocacy, as well as address some of the calls to action that we have made to the government.

Some of the aspects where we expect to work in tandem with others, that address both our own strategic plan as well as actions listed in the NPA, include raising awareness among the public, addressing the root cause poverty, reintegration support for children and families, and partnering with other agencies and organisations in order to effectively work together.

We’re particularly pleased to see that the government is prioritising actions that fall under their domain and focusing them on how they can address trafficking. For example, by increasing efforts to register births and foster children, expanding the Livelihoods Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme into source communities, ensuring a budget for the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and ensuring that the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) has adequate and required resources.

We’re looking forward to the official launch of this National Plan of Action for the Elimination of Human Trafficking and subsequently finding how we can best partner with other stakeholders to achieve the mutual goals of our strategic plan and the NPA.

Challenging Heights, in partnership with Abolish Slavery Now, an Abolitionist organization based out of Ventura, California, rescued 17 more trafficked children from the Lake Volta. The 4 girls and 13 boys, ages 4 to 17 years-old, tops off the total 1,600 children the organization has rescued since inception. The rescue was accomplished in partnership with Abolish Slavery Now, an abolitionist organization based out of Ventura, California. Many of the 17 recently-rescued children had worked for nearly twelve years in servitude under incredibly deplorable conditions.

In an interview with the media, the President of Challenging Heights, James Kofi Annan, called for urgent government action to address the situation. He praised the Ministry of Gender for working towards the establishment of the Human Trafficking National Action Plan, but expressed disappointment that the government is failing to resource the various institutions such as the Ghana Police Service, and the Human Trafficking Secretariat, both of which are key if the country is to see an end to the problem.

Child trafficking in the fishing industry has been a problem for the Ghanaian government for several decades. It is estimated that there are over 21,000 working children on Lake Volta alone, and there are several thousands more going through various forms of abuse.

Last year the American government gave a warning to the Government of Ghana that if steps are not taken to address this issue of child trafficking, Ghana risk losing a lot of the aid money that comes from the American people.

Challenging Heights works in several communities across Ghana, to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate children who have been affected by worst forms of child labor, including trafficking. The organization recently launched its aggressive 5-year strategic plan to end child trafficking in this industry by 2022.

Akua Boatemaa Dua
(Advocacy Officer)
0204 020392
0244 515761

After we conduct a rescue and the children are brought to the Challenging Heights Hovde House rehabilitation shelter, they are interviewed about their experiences while working on Lake Volta. Nearly all of them report having been physically and verbally abused, with many of them bearing scars on their bodies as testaments to the beatings they endured. Indeed, corporal punishment at home and in schools is widespread throughout Ghana.

Because of these experiences and the behaviour modelled to them, the children often come to us having learned a number of anti-social behaviours. Fighting, insulting others, quarrelling and general disrespect are how many of the boys and girls have learned how to interact with each other and with adults. We know that these experiences are a part of the greater trauma that the children experienced, and that in order to help assist and facilitate their healing, we must not repeat this treatment of them. Additionally, through our modelling, we’re able to help them to learn acceptable and appropriate behaviours.

At the shelter, the shelter team observes the children and completes a weekly behaviour chart. Good behaviours, such as doing their chores, maintaining self-control when experiencing conflict with others, following instructions, helping others and behaving well in class receive points. Negative behaviours, like lying, cursing and insulting, teasing, fighting, damaging property or stealing all result in deducted points. The total possible number of points each week is 20, and if the child receives 15 points or more, they receive an award at the weekly award ceremony.

In the exit interviews of children who are ready for reintegration, nearly all of them comment that one of the most important things they learned in their time at the shelter was how to behave well. Many of them remark that when the arrived, they used to insult others and not listen to adults, that they had a quick temper and would fight easily. Receiving the weekly awards is a highlight for many of the children in the shelter, and their growth in their time here is a testament not only to the staff at the shelter, but to the anti-corporal punishment policy in place.

Today, 8 March, is marked every year as International Women’s Day. We at Challenging Heights know and understand what it means for a community, country and the world when women are economically empowered and financially stable. For us in particular, we know that it means a lower risk of children being trafficked. This is why we focus much of our livelihoods support both in the community and among the families of reintegrated children on women. We thought we’d mark today by showing off the amazing women that we work with and who we consider partners in the fight to end child trafficking and modern slavery.

The majority of the children working on Lake Volta are 10 years old or younger, and this is reflected in the demographics of the children we rescue and rehabilitate at our shelter. However, there are a number of children who are teenagers, who were trafficked at a very young age and have never been to school. While they are at the Challenging Heights Hovde House, they are enrolled in school to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills, however it is often a struggle for them to catch up academically. This is why the older children, upon reintegration, are given the option to choose an apprenticeship rather than enrolling in school.

There are a variety of trades and jobs in Ghana that are taught by a master to an apprentice, but the two most common that our children choose are mechanic and tailor. We’re very luck to have strong relationships with an excellent master mechanic and master tailor. These men are extremely understanding of the lives these children have led and the difficulties they face in returning to their communities; they have each taken on a number of our reintegrated children as apprentices and under their tutelage, the children have excelled.

Kwame works on the engine of a taxi at his apprenticeship.

Our reintegration officers spent this week paying the fees for the apprentices and providing the necessary supplies and materials. The taxi was loaded up with sewing machines, thread, needles, scissors and tool sets to ensure that the boys and girls are prepared to put their best foot forward in their new learning environments.

We also checked in with the masters to find out how the children were performing, and they only had good things to report about their progress. We’re looking forward to the days where we can get our cars repaired and clothes made by these young people, and knowing that we are contributing to their continued success.

Perpetual Bondzie, 25, was working as a seamstress our of her house. However, her business was small because it was difficult to attract new customers and she lacked the confidence needed to grow her business.

She decided to enrol in our Youth Empowerment Programme and started the course in May of last year. What really attracted her was being able to connect to the internet and learn how to access it and how it could help her. For four months she learned not only about accessing the internet, but also graphic design, Microsoft Excel, databases and CorelDraw. Additionally there was a Leadership Training module as a part of the course.

Perpetual said that the graphic design, CorelDraw and leadership training were the most beneficial aspects of the course. “The leadership training taught us how to be mature, so I can have my own shop and manage it properly,” she said. “With that, I was able to get established and be self-employed, and not have to work for someone else. It also helped me to know how to talk with my customers.”

Perpetual graduated from the course in September and spent the rest of 2016 saving up her money so that she could open up her own container store last month. Since then, her business and income have been growing, thanks to the skills she learned through YEP.

Three years ago Kofi*, then 13, had completed his time at the Challenging Heights Hovde House. He was ready to go home and continue on his path to recovery with his mom and dad in Winneba. Now at 16, Kofi has excelled in school and is nearly at the top of his class.

Kofi had previously been forced to work as a fisherboy on Lake Volta and had never attended school. After spending time in our rehabilitation shelter, our teachers determined he was able to enter into primary class three (P.3). “When I first arrived at the shelter, I felt like maybe my opportunities were limited because the school was so small. I didn’t know that they were preparing me. When I came to the mainstream school, I saw my opportunities open up, especially since I like a bit of competition with the other students,” Kofi said.

He started schooling in P.3 at Challenging Heights School (now Friends International Academy). After the first exam, his teacher and the headmaster looked at his scores and promoted him to P.4. During this time, Challenging Heights was helping to support his mother with livelihoods support and provided him with school supplies which decreased the financial burden on his parents as they gained better financial footing.

The next school year, Kofi transferred schools. The teachers gave him the placement test for P.5, the class he was supposed to enter, and he passed with flying colours. So, they gave him the next test for P.6, which he again passed with ease. It was decided that Kofi would start the school year in Junior High School form 1 (JHS1).

While mathematics is where Kofi excels, his favourite subject is social studies. He really enjoys learning about current affairsand like using his own opinion to answer questions. This past year was particularly special for his social studies class as they followed Ghana’s election. One area that he struggles in is Fante class, partly because his native language is Effutu. However, he doesn’t let his struggles hold him back. He has worked with his Fante teacher to develop some strategies to improve, such as focusing on the phonetics of the words rather than just the spelling, which sometimes are different. With all of this, at the end of JHS1, he was 3rd in his class out of 62 students.

At home, Kofi is happy and comfortable. Most days he helps his aunt sell things in her shop, but he can also be found playing with his siblings and neighbourhood friends. However, he enjoys doing his homework the most.

“My vision in life is to succeed,” Kofi said. “I want to prove to the world that kids who were on the Lake [Volta] can succeed if given the opportunity.”

Kofi’s plans for the future involve passing his BECE at the end of JHS3 and continuing onto Senior High School (SHS). He hopes to get a scholarship so that he can go onto university, where he plans to study medicine and become a doctor. If medical school doesn’t work out, Kofi has a back-up plan: he’ll continue to university and then enter the police force.

When he was working on Lake Volta, Kofi didn’t have any idea of what the future might be, other than fishing. Now, he sees his future as very bright. “I want everyone to know that through Challenging Heights, children can succeed and that there are other children out there that need help.”

Last month, Challenging Heights and their partner Mercy Project reintegrated 30 children with their families after they completed the recovery care programme at the Challenging Heights Hovde House.

The children spent an average of six months at the rehabilitation shelter, where they received therapy, counselling, basic literacy and numeracy education, health care and nutritional care. A number of the children came to the shelter with health problems ranging from bilharzia to wounds from being beaten to malnutrition. With support from the local hospital, all of the children were in excellent health and enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme on reintegration day.

Nearly all of the children had spent multiple years on Lake Volta, where they were forced to cast and drag large fishing nets, dive to untangle them, scoop water from the boats and perform domestic chores. For many, their days lasted nearly 18 hours, every day of the week and they survived on a single meal for the day, often just enough to get by. All of them experienced some kind of abuse, typically verbal abuse and often physical abuse.

Prior to reintegration day, our reintegration team spent months tracing the families of the children and preparing them for when the children would return home. The week before reintegration, our recovery team met with the caregivers to share with them information about how children experience trauma and how it can affect family ties. They also talked about financial planning strategies to save money for the future. All the the caregivers were asked what kind of livelihoods support they would like to receive in the form of in-kind goods to sell and our team got to work to procure the goods for them.

On reintegration day, our bus was loaded up with the children who would be returning to Winneba and the surrounding communities and their belongings. We set out and made our rounds to each of the children’s homes where they were greeted by their families with smiles, hugs, handshakes and shouts of joy.

In the coming weeks, our reintegration team will be back at the children’s houses, helping to enrol them in school and apprenticeships and providing them with the necessary materials for them to be successful. We’ll also follow up to provide advice and support in the coming years to make the transition as smooth as we can.

We’re excited to watch as these young people grow and and succeed in their new, free lives.