Archives For Livelihoods

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.

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.

Once we have rescued children from Lake Volta and they are recovering at our Hovde House shelter, our reintegration team works on tracing their families. During this research and investigating, the underlying reasons for why the family sent their child away come to light, and frequently that reason is the inability to provide for their children. So, when we prepare the family for the child’s reintegration, we provide them with a microgrant to ensure financial stability going forward.

These microgrants can take a variety of forms, but ultimately we ask the woman in the household what kind of enterprise she would like to pursue. We specifically target the women of the house because studies show that women invest more into the family than men and men often already have some kind of manual labour profession. Most often, they are interested in smoking fish and selling it, but sometimes they want to make soap or bread or sell sodas and biscuits at their shop. Once they have determined what it is that they want to do, we purchase the materials they need for their enterprise, be it fish, flour, soap bottles or bulk soda packages, and provide the goods as their microgrant.

Rose Attah Profile 01Rose has received two microgrants from us in the form of dried maize, which she mills and sells the cornmeal. Through the microgrants, she has increased her monthly income to 500 GHS, which allows her to pay for the school fees for all 8 of her children and the children she fosters. Before the microgrants, two of her children were unable to attend school and she was not able to foster children, either, because of the financial burden.

Welcome home hugs for Kwabena and Abena.

Welcome home hugs for Kwabena and Abena.

Two of Mary’s grandchildren were reintegrated in August. When they arrived home, she pulled them close into an embrace and her eyes welled up with tears. She was grateful for their return, but knew that they were vulnerable to being re-trafficked by their mother if she wouldn’t be able to keep them in school. We provided her with a microgrant of fish from the CH Cold Store, which Mary smoked and sold and she has used the profits to pay for the school fees for her grandchild and buy more fish to keep them there. With the financial support from Challenging Heights and support from the children’s aunt and uncle, Mary is able to ensure that they are on their way to success.

Fighting modern slavery on Lake Volta takes more than just rescuing children from the fishing boats and villages. Their families need to know that they are in a position to provide the best possible life for them upon their return and our livelihoods programme is able to make that happen.

_dsc0861-2In a survey of coastal community residents 71.2 percent of respondents said that extreme poverty would be a reason why a family would traffic their child. When the parents are unable to provide for their children, sending them to live with a relative, as is a cultural norm in Ghana, is an attractive solution. Unfortunately, in far too many cases those relatives then use these children to work for them fishing on Lake Volta or doing domestic work, interfering with their education and depriving them of their rights.

Seeing that financial hardship is frequently at the root of a family’s decision to send their child away, we knew that we needed to address it. Studies show that when women are economically empowered, they reinvest their money in their families, such as buying food and clothes or paying for school fees, at a much higher rate than men. That is why we focus our economic empowerment programme on the women of the coastal areas.

In a survey of women in Winneba, we found that many women saw fish mongering as the most economically lucrative and an area that we were able to target support.

_dsc0874-2One of the issues that the women face is that their smoke ovens are often made of mud and clay and are out in the open. When it rains, the women are not able to smoke fish and the ovens would disintegrate. Both of those things would cut into the profits. So we decided to build a 58-oven covered smokehouse with the ovens made from blocks and concrete instead of mud. We also built more than 90 ovens at the homes of established fish mongers. The smokehouse is free for women in the community to use, through small cooperatives.

Additionally, we built and opened a cold store, which allows the women to have easy access to fish year round. Even though Winneba is a coastal community, the fishing season is surprisingly short, with big catches happening only from August to September. Low catch volume has forced the women to find their fish supply elsewhere, usually travelling four hours one way to the Tema port to buy fish. By operating a cold store in Winneba, we are able to provide fish to the women year-round and they are able to spend the time that would be done travelling working and care for their children.

Since the completion of these two projects earlier this year, the women who use the smokehouse and come to the cold store report that they are able to afford the fees associated with school for their children and that it many financial difficulties have eased. That is how we are working to prevent trafficking.

This growing season hasn’t been an easy one. The rains came rather late and were very sporadic. The maize crops have been lacklustre and some tomato plants have been ruined from the unpredictable rain. However, those obstacles haven’t prevented the success of the beneficiaries who received seed microloans from Challenging Heights.

Horticulture Programme 01Mary A. has a biggest plot of land of all of our beneficiaries where she farms a wide variety of crops, including maize, cassava and tomatoes. She has already harvested her tomatoes, were were grown from the seeds she received as a microloan, twice with another harvest coming in a couple weeks. The tomato seeds she received allowed her to increase her profits at the market, where tomatoes have been getting good prices all season long.

Horticulture Programme 02On last week’s monitoring trip to the farms, Mary B. was busy selling in town. When she saw us, she shouted that her husband, Jonas, was on the farm and that we could meet him there. Sure enough, when we arrived he was out in the field harvesting beautiful, scarlet tomatoes – nearly five big buckets full! Mary B. and Jonas joined a cooperative with the farmers on the neighbouring plots, pooling together their resources so that they can all increase their yields, particularly when the late rains spoiled some small tomato plants, and it has resulted in benefits for everyone.

Horticulture Programme 03Not all of the seeds we provided this year were good choices, though. Here was an abundance of okra in the markets, driving the prices down and making it not financially beneficial for the farmers to continue putting in the work to tend to the fields and harvest the vegetables. However, it doesn’t mean that the hope was lost; they decided to let the plants dry out so that they can sell and use the seeds for the next planting season.

We know that addressing poverty addresses the root cause of trafficking, and we’re excited to watch these women’s economic opportunity and security grow.

Rose Attah Profile 01Rose Attah sat among the small group of women gathered in the meeting hall, surrounded by large bags filled with charcoal, cassava, salt and maize. She had a slight smile on her face as Alfred Mensah, Challenging Heights’ Reintegration Officer, explained the terms of the contract each of the women would be entering. She already knew the benefits that she would reap from this programme because she had participated before.

Rose thought she was sending two of her children to live with a family member who would enrol them in school, fed, clothe and take care of them. With eight children to take care of, finances were stretched thin and it seemed like the best option. Instead they were forced to work as slaves on Lake Volta. When she learned of their situation, she knew that Challenging Heights would be able to help her children. They were rescued, rehabilitated at Challenging Heights’ Hovde House shelter, and reunited with Rose and the rest of their family. Now Rose knows about the lies that traffickers tell, recognises when other children in the community are at risk and takes them in as foster children.

Rose is fortunate enough to have a mill at her house, where corn and other grains can be ground into flour, which is how she made her livelihood. She would grind up maize to sell as cornmeal at the market. But there wasn’t enough for her family to be comfortable and provided for. Two of the children were out of school. She was receiving some monetary support from Challenging Heights as the mother of a reintegrated child, but family member would take advantage of the money and she wouldn’t be able to repay properly. Which is why she really like the in-kind microloan programme.

Rose Attah Profile 02Through this programme, the parents of reintegrated children are given 300 GHS (about $70) of goods of their choosing that they can then sell in the community. Interest-free repayments begin two months after the initial loan is made, and they remain interest free as long as all the children are enrolled in school, have health insurance and are registered. Should those conditions of the loan not be met, interest increases to 30 percent per annum.

With her first microloan of maize, Rose was able to make 500 GHS. All of her children, aged 6 to 12 are able to attend school and are well provided for. After each day of sales, she saved a bit and at the end of the month she used her savings to reinvest in her capital. She’s hoping that this new microloan will allow her grow her business even more.

After nine seemingly never-ending months, the CH Cold Store has opened for business and is supplying the women of Winneba with a steady and secure supply of frozen fish to be smoked and sold.

In our work with the women and families of Winneba, Challenging Heights realized that one of the major contributing factors to reasons why a child would be trafficked is because their family could not afford to properly care for them. We spoke with the women in these high risk trafficking communities to find out what would be the best way to serve their needs and learned that selling smoked fish is a source of income that they already knew how to do, but had production issues that we could address.

The project began with the construction of more than 50 fish smoking kilns. Women in the community form small cooperative groups and sign up with our Livelihoods Officer to be able to use the high-quality and durable smoking kilns, which are in a safe and centralised location. Most smoking kilns in Winneba are at people’s homes and are made from mud and clay, meaning that many women would need to schedule their own smoking around the owner’s smoking times and the kilns were not very durable.

Once the women had a place where they could reliably and regularly smoke fish, the fish supply in Winneba became an issue. While Winneba is a coastal community and the fishermen set out year-round, there are only a few months during the year where the catches are plentiful. The rest of the year, there is often a shortage of fish to be found and smoked in the community. This shortage would force the fishmongers to journey to Tema, at least a three-hour journey one way, to purchase fresh fish to then bring back to smoke. These costly and time consuming trips would take them out of the community and away from their children, thus exposing the need for a cold store in the area to meet these women’s needs.

All of which leads to the opening of the CH Cold Store two weeks ago. On our first day, we sold fish to 150 women in the community. We’ve been restocking the fish every three to four days because of the consistent demand that we’ve had. There’s been an increase in interest in joining the fish smoking cooperatives, because the smoking kilns are mere steps from the cold store, making a fish smoking business easy. The store stocks a variety of products, including several kinds of fish, chicken and chips and plans for expanding the stock are in the works. We’re also working about better systems for keeping track of our customer base, and what their needs and wants are, as well as trying to find ways to increase revenue. But for the moment, we’re happy to celebrate this milestone of our Livelihoods work.

Emmanuel, a Youth Empowerment Programme graduate working at his print shop.

Before joining Challenging Heights’ Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), Emmanuel said he knew how to type and some basic graphic design. It was once he went through the programme that he realized he had the skills and confidence to gain employment and eventually start his own business.

With a small metal container shop located near a side wall of University of Education Winneba’s North Campus, Emmanuel says skills he has on software like Corel Draw and Microsoft programmes have been helpful. He also greatly appreciated entrepreneurial skills taught in the YEP course. He said he now knows how to market a business, how to handle customer relations and how to adjust your business strategy to stay relevant in a competitive market. He works with many of his classmates from YEP, referring customers to each other depending on what the client’s needs are and who can best fulfil them. While Emmanuel runs his own shop, he even employs a former YEP classmate.

Personally and professionally, Emmanuel says young people today need technology skills, but often, those in Ghana don’t know computer or ICT basics as they should. Even if people don’t want to get into a field using technology, as he did, Emmanuel acknowledges that knowing how to type and create professional looking materials for any class presentation will speak volumes.

Of the Challenging Heights programme, Emmanuel feels confident that his certificate opens doors. Employers want to see that

The print shop that YEP graduate Emmanuel manages.

candidates have gone through a course, but while so many students cannot afford to get into training programmes, the EMpower funded Youth Empowerment Programme serves as an opportunity for so many who otherwise could be left behind.

“If not for [YEP] I don’t think I’d be working in this sector,” Emmanuel says.

Fish mongers meet with our livelihoods staff at the CH fish smoking site.

It’s a service Challenging Heights envisions as a hub for activity, commerce and progress in the Penkye community on Winneba’s Coast. Our Women in Social Enterprise Fish Smoking Site has been up and running for fish mongers to smoke fresh fish for many months now, and soon they will be able to buy the fresh fish on the same property.

Our Challenging Heights Livelihoods team met with women who frequently use the smoking ovens to lay down some ground rules but also hear how they think the site can be improved in future use. Parameters of the site were set based on what the women said they’ve experienced as they smoked fish there.

People should not cook at the fish smoking site; they have been bringing tools to cook, but then not cleaning up after themselves. They shouldn’t be washing their clothes at the site, because when they do, they leave their clean clothes all around the site to dry. These are both part of the rule to keep the site neat and tidy. After smoking fish some women will leave the trays of nets on the ovens for many days, now they must remove their fish within two days of smoking them. The women also aren’t allowed to bring personal nets from home. There has been some discrepancy between personal nets and Challenging Heights’ nets, so the new rule means that all nets at the site will belong to Challenging Heights.

Fish mongers are mothers and caretakers working hard to provide for their families.

Anyone can use the ovens at the Challenging Heights site, but they must register before they do. Appointed community leaders and the livelihoods staff will make sure of this. Security is to be taken seriously and the women working are expected to watch after each others’ fish and belongings, not invite friends to visit, and be on the lookout for strangers wandering through the site. The fish smoking site is not a place for arguments or fights. If there are any misunderstandings, conflicts should be taken to the CH office so that any necessary action may be taken.

The women want to see the rules enforced and they’ve chosen leaders among themselves to help keep watch. One of the two leaders, Ajoa, grew up in Winneba. Her mother was a fish monger and so she learned how to smoke fish as she matured and became a fish monger herself. She likes the Challenging Heights site because other fish smoking sites do not provide much shade, so she had to stand in the hot sun and wasn’t able to smoke fish if it rained. Now, with Challenging Heights, she can smoke fish every day, and she does. It helps her smoking production, which helps sales and she has more money to provide for her family.

One of the women who has come to the fish smoking site from the start, Ajoa, volunteered to be a leader for the group.

Ajoa was at the site from the first day it was unveiled. She helped build mud bricks for smoke ovens and has smoked at the site for months. She says she wanted to be one of the community leaders because she believes in the site, in Challenging Heights’ mission, and she wants to help as much as she can. Ajoa and others have already seen benefits from the fish smoking site, but they’re excited for the cold store to open. Instead of having to find money and transportation to get to Tema (at least three-four hours away) to buy fish to smoke, having it in Winneba will be a huge relief and advantage to her sales.

The two leaders will be at the site smoking their own fish, but also available to enforce rules and be a source of information for passersby.

The livelihoods team created ten groups of five fish mongers each, to form cooperatives. Each one has a leader to organise the group and make sure that they are participating in the upkeep of the fish smoking facility. The groups will be responsible for cleaning on a rotating schedule, so others will know which groups are pulling their weight since this space is free for the women to work. The leaders of the groups will notify their group members whenever Challenging Heights’ staff plans to meet with them, for organisational information, but also for information on micro-loans or financial management and child protection training. The leaders will help Challenging Heights track beneficiaries’ work and needs as they live in the community and work closely together every day.

The cooperation of women expects to see great benefits from the Challenging Heights Cold Store and fish smoking site for years to come.

Simon “Konastone” works at the computer in his shop.

With a line out the front door and people sitting on every seat available, Konastone apologises to his clients and asks for a moment to speak about his time at the Challenging Heights Youth Empowerment Programme. The 30-year-old says he started his own printing shop, Konastone, in 2010, but he didn’t have the capital for the actual building. At the time he would pick up projects from students at the University of Education Winneba, print them at his house, and deliver them for a fee. Gradually his business grew and he built the shop – but electrical and financial issues kept him from opening, and he continued door-to-door service. By 2012 he opened the shop, but it was in 2014 that he gained the confidence and better business development skills to expand.

It was in 2014 that he took a friend’s advice to join Challenging Heights’ Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP).

“I’m somebody who always opens myself up to study and learn new things,” Konastone says. He wanted to learn all that YEP had to offer after he had seen the successes his friends met after they graduated with the certificate.

Konastone Computer Services is simple, but has garnered many clients.

Along with some technical skills, like using the software Coral Draw or how to design a certificate with a clean boarder, for which his customers now come to him for his expertise, Konastone says he learned how to better manage his business. With practical lessens, experience and learning, he gained the tools to build upon the business he already created.

He continued running his shop as he took ICT and leadership classes with Challenging Heights, and he was pleased to use the skills and advice taught in class in his daily work. He knows that most learning comes on-the-job, but he takes lessons in how to handle customers and uses them and improves upon them everyday. He knows that his business relies on networking, which was a major component of YEP for him. Konastone says it’s important to know how to relate with others and he now corroborates with colleagues from his YEP class. He says he met most of them for the first time through the course, but he’s remained in contact and he often bounce ideas off each other and even share customers when they know certain skills each other possess.

Konastone works with a client, who is a student at University of Education, Winneba.

YEP offered Konastone new ideas to broaden his approach to his printing business. He hopes Challenging Heights can advertise to a wider audience to let young people know that their free programme, funded by EMpower, is available and valuable. Konastone thinks that young people should participate in YEP if they can, because the world is so technology-based, yet many Ghanaians are not in the know. He attributes technology for connecting people in their generation, plus knows that to be technologically savvy is the only way for young people to successfully manoeuvre through their education process. Having ICT training gives young people the basics skills they need professionally, but also personally, as they advance.

Konastone takes every bit of learning he can as he thinks of positive growth opportunities for his business. With a twinkle in his eye, he allows photographs of his shop to be taken, acknowledging, “it’s a humble beginning.” He’s excited for what’s to come.