Archives For Advocacy

Its Family Time!

The family visit day is one of the key events on the Challenging Heights Hovde House’s calendar. The day is always met with so much excitement, anxiety and a bittersweet feeling as the children get to see their immediate families. Some of these family members of which were in a way responsible for the ordeal, after quite a significant amount of years in slavery. Organizing such an event is therefore important as it usually becomes the first step on a journey to reconciliation as well as reunification. Prior to the event, the children are counselled and helped as much as possible to deal with the pain or bitterness they feel towards any of their relatives.

Once the relatives reached the Hovde House, they are informed by the reintegration officers, the importance of making the children feel as secured and loved as much as possible. They are first taking through a period of training with the staff at the facility, on the progress, needs and concerns of the children who are going to be reintegrated. They are then given some bit of guidelines on what to talk about with the kids once they finally get interactive with them. This is done to ensure that they do not speak about issues that could trigger the reoccurrence of any trauma or put the child in a bad mood after the relatives have left.

The most recent of this event was held on the 26th of July, when the Challenging Heights bus conveyed the families of the children expected to be reintegrated later this month to the Hovde House. The relatives were mostly from Winneba and Senya, two of the most notable source communities of trafficked children. The parents were taking through the routine prepping as the expectant children tried to keep their eyes in the classroom and hide their visible excitement. The usual issues such as the dangers of trafficking, the activities and the progress of the yet to be reintegrated children were talked about by the various staff at the centre.

Opanyin Kojo, a fisherman all the way from Yeji, shared a confession after the opportunity was given for the visiting families make contributions and ask questions. “Honestly, I just decided to represent the family of one of the kids here because I wanted to know exactly what Challenging Heights does, since I see them almost every year coming to rescue some of the children we work with on the lake. I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised and would do well to spread the good news when I go back to Yeji.” The other relatives also shared similar views of gratitude to the organization for giving their children the chance at life again.

The opportunity the children had been waiting for all day came when they closed after school. The hugs, smiles, surprises and even some occasional tears of joy glittered every area of the Hovde House. To some, it felt like a long journey finally reaching its stopping point while to others, it was the day they had a family once again. The children ended their day by having a photoshoot with their respective families before they headed back home. With waves and smiles, the kids waved the bus as it took its gentle steps out of the house, knowing that somewhere in their original homes, they have a family longing and yearning to receive them when the time comes.

Written By Intern: Kofi Agyei-Poku

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.

Throughout the years that we’ve been rescuing and rehabilitating survivors of modern slavery on Lake Volta, we’ve heard stories and accusations of forced marriage and child marriage occurring in the fishing communities on Lake Volta. Last year, we received funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives to take a closer look at this issue and use our findings to educate the communities about what we learned.

To better understand the issue of child marriage and how it related to trafficking, it helps to start with understanding child marriage in a global context. An estimated 700 million women were married as children plus 22 million girls who are married. An estimated 280 million girls are at risk of being married before they are 18 and 15 million girls are married each year. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of girls in marriage has been declining, however because of population growth, the number of girls at risk is not changing. Even if the current efforts were sustained, the total number of at-risk girls would remain the same for another 30 years.

In light of that reality, more must be done to understand and combat the problems of child marriage, particularly in Ghana where 27% of women were married before they were 18. Based on interviews with children we have rescued, members of our shelter team and community leaders in Winneba and communities along Lake Volta, a better understanding of the relationship between child trafficking and child marriage came into view. This allows us to help increase the efforts at raising awareness of child marriage as it pertains to our work.

Our research found a couple of key points. While many traffickers deceive the families of the children who are trafficked by promising school and housing, when pressuring the girls into marriage similar deception techniques are used. The girls are told by their masters to marry a man who will provide for them and their parents, often in exchange for some money. The other key point is that many adolescents, both boys and girls, are effectively encouraged to participate in sexual relationships. When the girls become pregnant as a result of these relationships, then they are forced into marriage.

We also were able to identify some of the main causes that lead to child marriage. They include broken homes, poverty, child labour, high illiteracy rates and the social norms. It should be noted that many of these causes are interrelated and often overlap with the root causes of child trafficking.

We’re using what we’ve learned from this research to conduct sensitisations with adolescents in the community and parents of school children. We’re also planning to work with the media and other stakeholders to share the findings, so that everyone can better understand child marriage and what leads to it and how to address it.

If you’d like to read the research, you can download it here.

_dsc1058Earlier this year, Family for Every Child released the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration, which Challenging Heights had a part in producing. In September, we hosted a workshop for the policymakers, with the intent to share knowledge with the people who are setting the direction of government policies and major organisations within Ghana. Last week, we met with the practitioners to share the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration with those who are on the ground and doing the work of reintegrating children.

The workshop, organised by our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah, was attended by 34 people from 26 different organisations, ranging from other anti-trafficking NGOs to members of the Department of Social Welfare to community members and traditional councils. We presented them with the guidelines as a tool to use when reintegrating children that have been separated from their families, particularly by being trafficked.

Bismark, representing Free the Slaves, sharing his thoughts on the Guidelines on Children's Reintegration.

Bismark, representing Free the Slaves, sharing his thoughts on the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration.

The participants participated in a lively discussion around the guidelines, determining how to best implement them in their individual work and how to collaborate with the other organisations in the room better. Everyone was committed to working together to combat trafficking and modern slavery, the question became how to best work with each other to achieve that goal.

The Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration were developed by Family for Every Child, a network of organisations around the globe committed to protecting children’s rights. They were created with help of 14 different organisations and agencies, and endorsed by 14 more, through interviews and and input from 127 individuals, including children themselves. The dissemination of these guidelines was supported by Family for Every Child.

As a part of the launch of the Children’s Reintegration Guidelines from Family for Every Child, Challenging Heights called together policy makers and influencers from across various sectors to present the guidelines and collaborate on how to implement the guidelines.

Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, giving opening remarks for the workshop.

Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, giving opening remarks for the workshop.

“What we want to do is improve the effectiveness of getting children back into their families,” Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, said.

The attendants of the workshop included representatives from UNICEF, Mercy Project, Free the Slaves, Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare (DSW), Ghana’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), Ghana’s Criminal Investigation Department for the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the International Organisation for Migration and the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives who all have a connection to reintegrating children with their families and communities after being separated because of both emergency and non-emergency situations. There was a desire among the participants to create a standard to be used by all agencies that do reintegration, ensuring that all children receive a high standard of care, and these guidelines aim to inform that standard.

Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager, explains the main points of the Children's Reintegration Guidelines.

Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager, explains the main points of the Children’s Reintegration Guidelines.

“These guidelines were developed because there are millions of children separated from their families, and as families break down, so does society,” Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager at Challenging Heights said.

The Children’s Reintegration Guidelines were developed by Family For Every Child, an international coalition of civil society organisations that aim to improve the lives of vulnerable children, using research, pooled knowledge and consultations with 158 children, 127 service providers and 66 agencies. The guidelines have been endorsed by UNICEF and 30 other organisations that address the well-being of children around the world.

These new international guidelines are broadly in line with forthcoming policy regarding children’s reintegration from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, according to Idduh Abdallah from UNICEF. Representatives from DSW concurred and stressed the importance of adapting the guidelines to a local cultural context and to support the new policy.

The participants ended the workshop with a greater understanding of the guidelines and a desire to ensure that the policy is inline with these new international standards, wanting to create a set of tools to ensure that the guidelines are easy to follow on the ground and suggestions on how to strengthen partnerships across sectors.

Challenging Heights is a non-governmental organisation based in Winneba that is dedicated to ending child trafficking and forced labour through social justice interventions and protecting children’s rights since 2007.

Challenging Heights School is now Friends International Academy! We are building on our success and responding to the needs of our community by broadening the scope of our commitment to children’s rights to education. The success of Challenging Heights School over the last ten years has set it apart as a leader in education in Winneba and allows it to stand on its own. As our community’s needs change and develop, we will continue to adapt with quality and innovative responses.

_dsc9224We’re turning our attention to supporting children’s education throughout Winneba and beyond, particularly by spreading the message that corporal punishment has no place in schools and working with teachers so that they can learn alternative discipline methods. Last week, in preparation for the new school year, our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah convened the teachers of Friends International Academy for a facilitated discussion about the use of corporal punishment in schools.

Many of the teachers, while having taught at Challenging Heights School which has a prohibition on using corporal punishment, were not totally convinced that giving up caning is the best avenue for teachers. Some teachers were hoping to find exceptions to the rule and felt that teachers are powerless against behavioural issues without a cane.

_dsc9227To begin the workshop, these teachers discussed their memories of school and how so often it was the actions of a teacher that determined whether it was a good memory or a bad memory. They discussed what makes a school safe and secure for children and came to the realisation that it is more than just the facilities that a school has that makes a school safe environment for children.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants discussed the differences between punishment and discipline and where corporal punishment falls in those categories. After examining the development traits and stages of children, they brainstormed appropriate discipline techniques for each age group.

The teachers came away feeling empowered to employ different discipline techniques, rather than feeling restricted by an anti-corporal punishment policy. They came to the conclusion through the discussions that caning doesn’t change the children and that it’s not the only solution for teachers to employ.

As we broaden our focus of the educational rights of children throughout Winneba and beyond, we’ll be bringing this training to other teachers in the area. Children have a right to feel safe and secure in their schools and we look forward to working with other teachers to make this a reality for the children of our community.

Last week was a major step forward for our Advocacy Officer, Akua Duah, and her anti-corporal punishment campaign. She, along with numerous stakeholders from five regions in Ghana attended a workshop sponsored by UNICEF and the Ghana government to work through the issues that surround the use of corporal punishment in Ghana.

IMG_4646The workshop began with the participants defining what it meant for a school to be safe. The regional directors for the Ghana Education system, guidance and counselling representatives, head teachers, a clinical psychologist and the police all agreed that school safety goes beyond just the physical structure of the school and includes how children are treated there. They were able to come to the conclusion on their own that the use of corporal punishment undermines school safety.

The workshop then went on to challenge some of the participants beliefs about the use of corporal punishment. At the beginning, the participants all agreed that beating children is not acceptable, but many were not convinced that banning corporal punishment was the appropriate action for schools in Ghana. Many argued that corporal punishment should be used, but moderately and only by certain staff members at the school. After watching videos of the caning in practice at schools in Ghana and hearing from students, it became clear to the participants that the idea of what “moderate” means when it comes to using corporal punishment is entirely subjective and that there is no real way to place any kind of regulation on the severity of physical punishment.

Finally, the participants then were led to question why they believed that corporal punishment should be used. Through discussing a variety of other discipline techniques and reward based systems, the stakeholders came to understand that there are a number of other tools at their disposal when it comes to disciplining children and working to reinforce positive behaviour. After examining their underlying beliefs about physical discipline and its alternatives, the participants came to the conclusion that the main reason they felt that corporal punishment should be used is because corporal punishment was used on them as children, and furthermore, they agreed that is not a compelling reason to continue to use corporal punishment.

We are looking forward to the opportunity to work with these other leaders and educators to help change the culture surrounding corporal punishment in Ghana.

We here at Challenging Heights are extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish. From rescuing slaves from Lake Volta to rehabilitating them in our Hovde House shelter; from providing micro-loans to women to training youth in business and ICT skills; from creating Community Child Protection Committees to stickering tro tros and taxis, we are very much a part of the community here and people here know us and our work. But, there are many people all over Ghana that are not aware of the many social issues that Ghana as a nation faces; we need help from the media to spread the message of how we can address issues like poverty.

Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah explains social protection programmes during a workshop at Challenging Heights.

Last week, our Advocacy Officer, Akua Boatemaa Duah, facilitated a workshop for a variety of media outlets, including Joy TV, Adom TV, Daily Graphic, Star FM and Ayinadao FM, to raise their awareness of the variety of social protection projects that are working in Ghana. She particularly focused on the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme, which is a big part of Challenging Heights’ livelihood work. LEAP is a cash transfer programme administered by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and it provides financial support to vulnerable families, the elderly, the severely disabled and caregivers to orphans and vulnerable children. Through a partnership with Challenging Heights to study the effects of LEAP, it has been shown that LEAP can prevent family separation, helps with meeting healthcare costs, reduce tension and stress within the family and improve relationships within the household.

Communications Manager Pomaa Arthur describing ways the media can improve coverage of social protection programmes at Challenging Heights.

Our Communications Manager, Pomaa Arthur, detailed ways that the media can increase their coverage of these kinds of stories in their respective publications and broadcasts. By making these topics a part of the mainstream coverage, instead of burying them inside or at the end of a broadcast, more people will come to understand the issues that many people are really facing, and that by including their voices and stories in the coverage of these issues will only improve the quality and trustworthiness of the media organization. She also added that by increasing the coverage of the social protection plans, the problems that the programmes face will be easier to solve.

We look forward to working with the media and supporting them going forward as they increase their coverage of social protection programmes.

Nearly 500 students gathered at Senya Methodist Church for the conference.

Nearly 500 children from 19 different schools in the Senya Beraku area gathered at the Senya Methodist Church on 29 January 2016, demanding security and protection for their child rights. The Child Rights Conference was supported by Challenging Heights, in partnership with the High Commission of Canada.

With the theme “Child Rights is YOUR Responsibility,” the children were split into three sessions lead by the Challenging Heights field team. All focused on child rights, determining what child rights are and what should be expected by the community and leaders to protect them.

In her session, field staff member, Rosemond, explained what child labour is and that if parents think they’re ready to have a child, they are expected to take care of their child.

CH Field Officer, Rosemond, teaches students about child rights.

These discussions go on in the local dialect of Fante, so that the children were sure to understand all points made. While children learn English in school, some may not be proficient, and our team wants the children to understand their rights and the responsibility of all so it is easier for them to share with their parents.

Alfred offered more of a bilingual class to students who could grasp the transition. He spoke about discrimination and how no one should discriminate against a child based on gender, race, age or disability, and this includes parents discriminating against their own children. He reminds the students that if they think parents are not protecting them or others, they can tell someone. Everyone has the right to good parenting, a safe home and secure life. When asking students what should happen to parents who do not take care of their children properly, Alfred handed the microphone over to the children who shared their thoughts. Imprison them; report them to a town elder; report them to teachers, to leaders in the community or the Department of Social Welfare, were just a few of the responses from the students.

Children brainstorm responsibilities of the government, police, teachers and parents to protect their rights.

These JHS students are assigned to a school, but there was discussion about whether they should be a part of the decision in what school they attend, when it’s age appropriate. Their inclusion in these decisions are a part of child’s rights that may be overlooked.

The sessions reminded children that no person should deprive a child from reasonable provisions; children have the right to life, respect, education and even leisure.

In breakout sessions, the three groups are split smaller, to discuss and brainstorm ideas for how parents, teachers, police, government and communities should take responsibility for protecting child rights. Once these thoughts were recorded, they were compiled into a communiqué to the Awutu Senya West District Assembly, the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE), the Chief of Senya and other guests.

The children broke down specific responsibilities for the government, police, teachers and parents, which they read out loud to dignitaries. For the full text, click here.

Children read their compiled communique to the Municipal Chief Executive and guests.

In response to the children, a representative from the MCE explained that as the district is dedicated to doing all they can to help protect child rights, children need to accept responsibility, too, by focusing on their studies. After the children asked for a social welfare office in Senya to report cases of abuse or trafficking, she said that Social Welfare and community development options are available, even if there is no specific officer or office in each town.

The chief of Senya Beraku stood up to speak, and described the children as flowers or plants that need to be watered and cared for. He said just as parents pay school fees, it’s up to the children to water their flower and take their education seriously. The chief says even actions as simple as keeping a school uniform neat and tidy could help students go further in life and help break the chain of poverty in their families.

After the dignitaries, Dr. James Kofi Annan rose to speak, reminding everyone that there are about 48,000 people in Senya, while Winneba has nearly 100 thousand people, yet the rate of trafficking to Lake Volta in Senya is more than double Winneba’s rate. The number of children trafficked in Senya has risen over the years and he sees Senya as a priority area for vigilance and protection by state and local leaders.  Senior James has seen what a positive impact education can have on children who have been trafficked into slave labour and demands the chief and MCE of Senya take this seriously.

Child’s Rights are YOUR Responsibility.

Unexpected in the programme, Senya’s chief stood once more to respond to Senior James. He seemed to take offense to Senior’s pointing to Senya’s rise in trafficking. He compared Senya to Winneba, but claimed Winneba’s lower trafficking rate is because there is a university and more therefore, more wealth pumped into Winneba systems. He says he has been in discussions with educational institutions and is appealing for them to set up in his area of Senya, to attract students and teachers.

The messages shared with students and those shared by students are imperative to educating coastal communities in Ghana about the realities and dangers of child trafficking.

One teacher from the Salvation Army JHS said that some of his students have heard of child rights, but most of them do not have extensive knowledge. They may have heard about it on television, but they may not fully understand.

Students get engaged in the conversation about their rights and the community’s responsibilities.

The teacher, Rockson, explains: “[Challenging Heights is] making a lot of effort to change the perception of these coastal areas, in terms of child trafficking, because of the way you educate the coastal areas about child trafficking. These days, people don’t see [trafficking] the same way as before. They aren’t sending kids to the lake like they used to; it’s not as common as it was before, because of Challenging Heights’ education efforts. They need to be commended.”

Overall, feedback about the conference was positive, with community and Challenging Heights staff members calling it a success. Making sure that children know their rights is a step towards them becoming in control their own destinies. Demanding leaders take action in support of these rights will spread knowledge and minimize the desire to traffic children into hazardous and hopeless situations.

As our radio programme, aimed at local, Ghanaian, audience, continues we have been excited to see the impacts it has made over the past weeks.

CCPC member, Mr. Quansah, and Advocacy Manager, David Kofi Awusi, discuss child trafficking on Radio Peace 88.9 FM

Mr. Quansah, an extremely active CCPC member, joined Advocacy Manager David Kofi Awusi to discuss child trafficking in our communities. The week after Mr. Quansah, a Challenging Heights Student, Felicia, joined David Kofi Awusi to discuss how trafficking prevents children from going to school and the consequences.

But the most exciting part is the number of listeners who call asking questions, reporting cases, and seeking help.

While Mr. Quansah was on the radio programme discussing trafficking one man called to ask if somebody has his or her own child that they want to traffic, even if it was to get money to send them to school, why they should be stopped? We saw this as a great opportunity to discuss the law that deems trafficking as a criminal offence as well as the conditions on the lake and how it affects the children. Mr. Quansah explained that even if children are sent back they often have acquired some form of illness, curable or incurable. These illnesses become expensive and often parents can’t afford to properly treat the illness or if it is untreatable they don’t have the means to give the child the proper continuous treatment they may need, both ending in the suffering of the child.

Felicia discussing on Radio Peace the benefits she has received from going to school.

What we found most impactful during Felicia’s session was that a man called who was listening to the show with his young nephew who refused to go to school and for Felicia to specifically share something with the boy about why he really needs to go to school.

Felicia maturely answered by directly telling this boy that if he wants to realize his vision and dreams he needs to go to school. School will teach him how to read, write, and give him the knowledge he needs to get a good job and to create a better future for himself.

In addition to the various questions asked in regards to the programme, the radio programme has enticed callers to share their own stories confirming that child trafficking exists in Ghana. Others have called to congratulate Challenging Heights on the work and giving words of encouragement to continue while others call to reach out to the government through the programme asking for laws that protect children to be enforced. While others have called to report cases, including a young boy calling to report his own case of child neglect. We have been able to take contact numbers and get this young boy connected with our programmes team to investigate his case.

Through these calls and the questions of the listeners we can confidently say that our weekly radio programme is impacting and creating awareness among a large group of people and are excited to see how else it impacts our local communities.

Challenging Heights airs on Radio Peace 88.9 FM in Winneba to promote the rights of children

In the Winneba area? Be sure to tune in today and every Wednesday at 5pm on Radio Peace 88.9 FM