I have to admit, I’m not a huge sports fan. My small Canadian high school offered only volleyball for girls, and I sat on the bench most of the time. To be honest, I was happier sitting in my room strumming my guitar anyway. But my work in the development field is the spark that has ignited my appreciation for and belief in sports as an agent of social change.

 

Three years ago, Challenging Heights founded the Winneba United Foundation, a football club for youth at-risk for child trafficking. The majority of the children we rescue from modern slavery on Lake Volta are boys between the ages of 6 and 15, originally hailing from Winneba. Traffickers use deceptive tactics, such as promising to provide for a child’s health, education, and general well-being, and offer enticing sums of money to financially struggling caregivers, who often believe they are making the best decision for their child by sending them away. Poverty, naivete, and lack of access to education all contribute to the endemic nature of trafficking in this community, but we have the capacity to address these three interrelated issues through football.

 

In our community, lack of access to education contributes to child trafficking on multiple levels. When children are not in school, they are more susceptible to trafficking. They are more likely to be involved in petty trading, and they don’t have school commitments tying them to a particular location. Secondly, these children miss out on education about their rights that would make them more resistant to trafficking. An informed child becomes a powerful agent in protecting both themselves and their friends from the deceptive tactics of traffickers. Finally, these uneducated children grow up with fewer employment options and become trapped in the same cycle of poverty that has driven generation after generation of parents to extreme measures to try to take care their children. If we can break this cycle, we can stop the flow of children from source communities to Lake Volta, and the end of child slavery on the Lake will be in sight.

 

The Winneba United Foundation addresses all of these issues. All of our players are required to be enrolled and active in school, and to that end, we support our players with school fees and supplies when needed so that no one need be excluded for lack of resources. We also take time to educate our players and fans about the reality of life on the Lake, the tactics that traffickers might use, and their rights as children and as human beings. Players and staff look out for one another. If a member of the team were to go to the Lake, he would already have a built-in support system that would notice, know who to call, and be dedicated to bringing him back. The Foundation offers a unique solution to social problems in our context here in Winneba, but sports have the potential to serve as a medium to address all manner of challenges worldwide.

 

With this hope in mind, we lend our support to the many great organisations participating in the Fare Network’s #FootballPeople action weeks, addressing a broad range of issues including racism, ableism, refugee rights, and diversity in football. Fare partnered with us to put on our own under-13 tournament in July, sparking a broader movement of youth football initiatives in Winneba and the surrounding area. Challenging Heights, the Winneba United Foundation, and the local youth football community are deeply grateful. We will be following #FootballPeople with interest, and we look forward to the stories and the social change that will come out of these activities.

 

So if you’re like me and you’d rather scroll through Twitter than embarrass yourself on the field, follow Fare (@farenet) and #FootballPeople and get excited about what is possible when we come together around sport for social change.

 

This post was written by Lauren Thuringer, Grants Officer

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

In a country where 1.9 million children 5 to 17 years of age are engaged in some form of child labor, ensuring Ghanaian youth receive an adequate education can be challenging. Ghana easily reached their Education Millennium Development Goal and High School is now free throughout the country. Clearly, Ghana’s efforts in education are unparalleled in the African continent. Yet, more than 500,000 Ghanaian children are still not enrolled in primary school and despite tremendous progress, too many Ghanaian youth continue to be forced into child labor and denied the opportunity to attend school. With your support, Challenging Heights is helping many of these young children reach for a brighter future by giving them the care they need and placing education at the forefront of our fight against child trafficking in Ghana. The support Challenging Heights has received from countries such as the Netherlands and Australia, exemplifies the importance of our global network of generous donors in helping us to develop our impactful educational programs. For example, thanks to the help of a Dutch NGO, we have launched Youth Empowerment Programs which give our youth the ability to learn employable skills such as phone and satellite repair. We have also come to realize the significance of small class sizes at the shelter in order to ensure every student can receive valuable one-on-one time with their teachers. Our small class sizes create a comfortable environment for students to immerse themselves in the learning process, engage with their teachers and peers and ask important questions. In another instance, after hearing about the importance of education in the prevention of child trafficking, the organization Australian AID donated money to Challenging Heights to help us construct an up-to-date computer lab for our students. While we have much more work to do in fighting child trafficking in Ghana, we are certain that our impactful educational programs are making a big difference in the lives of each child here at Challenging Heights – we are empowering them to expand their horizons and set their sights on far greater heights. Written By Intern: Jack Payne

Trafficking impacts children and their families on the individual level, but here in Ghana’s coastal communities, a troubling pattern has emerged. Child after child is taken from these communities and forced to slave away under horrific conditions on Lake Volta. Systemic poverty, coupled with naivety, leaves entire communities vulnerable to the deceptive ploys of traffickers who paint a picture of a promising future for the children under their charge and offer money to struggling caregivers.

So what protects a community from child trafficking?

Education, for one.

Truth empowers us. When people know the truth about life for children in slavery on Lake Volta, they can no longer be fooled by the manipulative tactics of opportunistic traffickers. Parents think critically.  Children know their rights. Neighbours look out for one another. The community flourishes.

Inclusion.

The idea of we. The realization that it’s not just me against the world. Being a part of something bigger than themselves teaches children to care for others and also that they themselves are worth caring for. When children understand their worth and take their place in such a community, they stick together like glue, and that’s not easily undone.

So, inspired by the guiding principles of education and inclusion, here’s what we’re doing.

On July 14th, we’re hosting a football tournament, bringing together community members in Winneba around the game of football and the cause of anti-trafficking. Two hundred boys under 13 will get to experience the sense of inclusion that comes from participating on a team and helping each other achieve a common goal. These are the very same children targeted by traffickers, who perceive boys as best suited for hazardous fishing activities. Instead, these boys will experience the strength that comes from working together, and they, as well as their families and friends, will learn the importance of staying in school and looking out for one another. They’ll discover the tricks used by traffickers and the realities of life for children on Lake Volta, and they won’t be easily fooled. They’ll stay in school and raise children who do the same. They’ll talk to their friends. They’ll notice when children go missing. They’ll know the truth, and they’ll know where to go for help. Trafficking will lose its foothold in this community because these community members will hold on to each other.

This event is made possible by a Fare network Global Grant. Fare is a not-for-profit European network of groups committed to tackling discrimination in football and furthering social inclusion through the game. Global Grants are aimed at supporting the work of like-minded people to stimulate social change through football and expertise development worldwide.

To stay up to date, follow Winneba United, our football club, on Twitter and Facebook. We’ll be posting more information in the next two weeks and lots of pictures during the event itself. And if you’re in the area, we’d love to see you on July 14th supporting local anti-trafficking efforts and Ghana’s next generation of footballers!

 

Supported by the Fare network

This post was written by Lauren Thuringer, Grants Officer.

It was early evening when the Rescue Team stepped off the bus in Yeji. They had little time to get everything in order to set off the next day.

The first stop was at the hotel, to drop off bags and wash away the dust and dirt from the 12-hour journey. Stephen, the Rescue and Community Engagement Manager then set off to meet with the local police, the navy commander, and the local director of the Department of Social Welfare.

He delivered a letter to each, explaining the plan for the coming week and asking for their support and assistance. A particular request for two navy officers to accompany the team on the lake required a bit of negotiation, but a plan was made for the following day.

Beginning the Search

The sun rose just after 6 am, but because of the thick haze of dust it was impossible to find in the sky. That dust made navigation on the water difficult and dangerous, so the team waited, hoping for it to clear up. By 10 am, after completing some final errands for food and fuel, the team set off in search of the first name on the list.

The long wooden canoe flew across the open water, the surface occasionally broken by long dead trees. The team spent more than three hours searching for the village they thought the child was in.

Stephen and Solomon landed in a small community, and went in search of the chief. He greeted them and invited them to sit under a canopy where they could discuss the business at hand.

“We’re here with Challenging Heights and we are looking for Kwesi*, he has a child with him named Kwame*. We want to take Kwame back to his mother,” Stephen explained.

After listening to Stephen explain the mission and about Challenging Heights, the chief asked some of the other men who had gathered if they knew Kwesi, the man Stephen was looking for. Each one shook their heads. They suggested that he may be in another village.

From Village to Village

Stephen and Solomon thanked the chief and returned to the boat, to travel another hour to the next village. They repeated their story and who they were looking for, but again found they were not in the right place. By now, night was falling and it was too dangerous to travel on Lake Volta at night.

Solomon knew the people in another small village, a 30-minute ride away. The team set off, hoping they would allow them to spend the night there, so they could continue the search for the child in the morning. Due to the strong community connections the team has cultivated in our years of working on the Lake, the team was provided a place to stay for the evening.

The next day, the team set off for another village two hours away. The community members had heard the name of the man in question in that area. When the team arrived, they again spoke with the chief, who called for a man to come to the meeting.

“That is my name, but I don’t know the child you are asking about,” Kwesi said.

After asking more questions, it was determined that this man shared a name with the man the team was looking for, but it wasn’t him.

“Sometimes, it happens this way,” Stephen said as the boat returned to Yeji. “Sometimes it takes three or four days to find just one child. But we have to.”

A Tip-Off Turns into Pay-Off

The Rescue Team checked in with the local authorities again and returned to the hotel room to shower and change before coming up with a plan for the next few days. They heard that there was another village on the other side of Lake Volta with the same name that they were looking for. Maybe they had mixed up the locations.

In the morning, after the haze cleared, the team set off. This time prepared to spend several days on the lake. Just as they were heading out, the Department of Social Welfare called with a tip about another trafficked child. They were in the vicinity of where the team was heading that day.

By early afternoon, the team was returning to Yeji, with nine rescued children, including Kwame.

“This is why we have to keep going,” Stephen said. “Because sometimes, we end up rescuing more children than we were looking for.”

 

So far in 2017, we have cared for 128 children at the Challenging Heights Hovde House. That means that 128 children are no longer in modern slavery. Every child received psychological care, emotional support and educational opportunities.

Our recovery shelter has been filled to capacity throughout the year. Therefore, we postponed rescues until we had the space available to bring children to the shelter.

We started this year with the new goal of ending child trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry within the next five years. In order to do that, we must expand our shelter. Here’s our plan.

Phase 1: new classrooms

Right now, the shelter has four classrooms on the ground floor and a shared space that acts as the library, therapy room and recreation room. These spaces and the current dormitories are all a part of one building.

We are starting construction on a new building consisting of six classrooms and a dedicated library. The classrooms will be detached from the main building in the backyard, which will allow the boys and girls the experience of leaving where they live to go to school. One thing that we strive to do at the shelter is to give the children an experience that will be similar to what life will be like once they return home. This will help us to do that.

As the number of children being cared for at the shelter increases, six new classrooms will allow us to keep class sizes small. Small class sizes allow the children to receive individualised instruction and attention.

Finally, having a dedicated library will provide a specialised space for the boys and girls to explore new worlds through print. Access to books and engaging reading materials is such an important part of any child’s education and provides a strong foundation for success.

We estimate that the cost of this first phase of construction will cost about $120,000. Thanks to our amazing supporters, we have about half of the necessary funding and have broken ground on the foundation.

Phase 2: new dormitories

Once the new classrooms are built, the current classrooms will be converted into dormitories. The second story of the building will be extended above the current classrooms to create new dormitories as well. In total, the new dorms will be able to accommodate up to 100 survivors of modern slavery.

Right now, we have one dorm for girls and three dorms for boys, all on the second floor. We plan to have the coverted classrooms become the girls’ dormitories, giving them their own space on the ground floor. The boys will remain upstairs, and the new rooms will allow them to share space with other boys their own age.

With the anticipated increase in the number of children at the shelter, we’ve also planned for more shelter assistants. These are the staff members that spend all day and night at the shelter, acting as surrogate parents for the children. Rooms and living quarters for the new staff members are a part of the plan.

We estimate the cost of the addition on the second floor and converting the current classrooms will be about $70,000.

You can make the end of child trafficking a reality

By increasing the capacity of the Challenging Heights Hovde House, you’ll be the catalyst for ending child trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry.

You can make a contribution to the construction, or you can create your own fundraiser. We’d love to have you on board!

Growing up, Kojo* was a typical Ghanaian child. He is the second oldest of six children, so he helped to look after his younger siblings when he wasn’t in school. Around when he was 14, and in class two at school, his mother died. His father, struggled with the financial burden of the funeral and caring for six children. So when the trafficker came, and offered to employ Kojo on Lake Volta for a year and send the money to his father, it seemed like a good idea. They had no clue of the realities that Kojo would face over the next four years.

“I didn’t know what was happening,” Kojo recounts. “My father persuaded me to go and said it would only be for a year. My grandma tried to stop it, but my father forced me to go anyway.”

Life on Lake Volta was hectic. Every day, Kojo would get up at dawn and carry the outboard motor to the boat to go fishing, setting nets that he would later spend hours dragging in. Sometimes when the nets would snag on submerged tree stumps he would dive to untangle them. They would return back to the village around 1 pm, but the work was not finished for Kojo. He would then start processing the fish. take them to the market and help to sell them into the evening. All this only to get up the next day and do it all over again, with only Sundays off.

In the evenings, he would eat his only meal of the day. Usually it was just banku or konkonte, but sometimes he would be lucky enough to get some fish and soup too. At night he slept on a dirt floor in a room that he shared with five other boys who had also been trafficked to the Lake.

Kojo’s aunt helps to take care of him and received some fish as a microgrant.

In the years that Kojo was on the Lake, his grandmother tried to convince the family to go find him. After a number of futile efforts, the family came to Challenging Heights for help.

“All along I was praying to be taken home.” Then, after four years working on Lake Volta the rescue team arrived at the house for Kojo. “I didn’t know what was happening, but I figured my prayers had been answered.”

A week after Kojo was rescued, his grandmother passed away, with the knowledege that her grandson was now safe at the Challenging Heights Hovde House.

“When I arrived, I saw so many children, so I knew I must be in a safe place,” Kojo remembered. “I was so excited to o to school.”

After a few months at the recovery shelter, it was time to return home to his family. He had mixed feelings, glad to go home and sad to leave his friends. But when he arrived, his aunt, uncle and father gave him a warm welcome full of hugs and he felt like he was a part of the family again.

Kojo at his mechanic apprenticeship.

Since his return, his family has become strong community advocates. Before, they had never heard of children going  to Lake Volta, and certainly had no idea of the abuses that children like Kojo suffer. Now, they tell all their neighbours about what really happens on Lake Volta.

“There was someone who was going to send their child to the Lake. We told them about what happened to Kojo, how he was beaten and mistreated. Then they knew that the Lake was not a good place for a child to go,” Kojo’s aunt said.

For the last year and four months, Kojo has been working as a mechanics apprentice.

“I’m very happy with the work and so excited to get something to do in the future. I have wanted to be a mechanic since childhood, and now I plan to open my own shop and assist other children,” Kojo said. “There’s hope.”

 

 

 

*Aliases have been used to protect identities.

Challenging Heights, in collaboration with the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Navy, and Department of Social Welfare, rescued 15 more victims of slavery from Lake Volta over the weekend. The 15 rescued children are comprised of three girls and 12 boys between the ages of five and 17. All the children have been sent to the rehabilitation centre of Challenging Heights for the purposes of recovery and care.

Over the years Challenging Heights has been in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) with respect to rescues, policies and national advocacy aimed at putting an end to child trafficking in Ghana.

Challenging Heights works in several communities across Ghana, to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate children who have been affected by worst forms of child labour, including trafficking.  The organisation, which launched its 5-year strategic plan to end child trafficking in the fishing industry at the beginning of this year, is also involved with the provision of livelihoods training and support for several hundred women.

The organization has so far rescued over 1,600 children from the Lake Volta since it was established 12 years ago.
Akua Boatemaa Duah
Advocacy Officer
(0244515761/0204020392)

Challenging Heights is campaigning against violence against children in school with the launch of research into the harmful effects of corporal punishment and how to end it. The organisation, which is mostly known for its actions towards the rescuing of trafficked children from Lake Volta, also works to protect and promote the rights guaranteed to all children.

Challenging Heights spent two years collecting and analysing data from children, teachers and parents at schools that both use and prohibit the use of corporal punishment.  Members from each group were interviewed about the experiences of corporal punishment and how it impacted them and their peers. The report, Better Discipline for Ghana’s Children, not only identified the trends of attitudes towards corporal punishment but also identifies a way to move forward in changing these beliefs and attitudes.

James Kofi Annan, the president of Challenging Heights, explained that as much as his organisation is focused on rescuing trafficked children, abusing children in schools is against the rights of children. “The mission of our organization is, after all, not just ending child trafficking and reducing slavery but also promoting children’s rights,” he said.

A lot of schools have the wrong impression that without corporal punishment it is impossible to discipline students and have good results. Friends International Academy, Challenging Heights’ basic school which was recently donated to the community, has been running without the use of Corporal Punishment since its incorporation in 2007 and has attained 100% in their BECE results for every graduating class, he concluded.

The report, Better Discipline for Ghana’s Children, will be digitally launched on the 28th August, 2017 and will be made available to Ghana Education Service and any other educational institute which has any interest in possessing them. Included in the digital package will be infographics. Hard copies of the report and supporting materials will be available upon request. Please contact Akua Boatemaa Duah at media@challengingheights.org with any requests.

Akua Boatemaa Duah
Advocacy Officer
(0244515761/0204020392)

Challenging Heights, along with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, commemorated World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30 with a community sensitisation event in Senya Bereku. Thousands of people from the community attended the festivities, which included a route march and speeches by several dignitaries and leaders in Ghana.

The day started out with a route march through Senya Bereku. Schoolchildren danced through the streets while holding signs with slogans, such as “It could be me or you. Be vigilant” and “Allow me to enjoy my childhood,” with a brass band following along. The main programming included several performances by a cultural group, several dances and a short musical drama depicting child slavery on Lake Volta, as well as speeches by the District Chief Executive (DCE), Honourable George Andah, the Queen Mother, the Paramount Chief, James Kofi-Annan, Dr. Emma Hamenoo and Honourable Otiko Afisah Djaba, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. The topics included the role of parliament in fighting human trafficking, engaging families on issues of child protection, the role of traditional leaders in combating human trafficking, the role of shelters in victim protection, kin fostering and the purpose of the commemoration.

The DCE started the program by commemorating World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and acknowledging Challenging Heights and our work for the children of Ghana. The Honourable George Andah, a member of parliament, recognized the symbolism of holding this event at the Fort of Good Hope, where 600 years ago, people were taken away and trafficked. Mr. Andah referred to today’s trafficking in Ghana as the “silent slave trade”. Mr. Andah noted the role of the parliamentarian in combating and highlighted the provision of free SHS in September, which was met with thunderous applause by the crowd. Mr. Andah urged the community, local religious leaders, businesses and students to all take part in the fight against human and child trafficking.

The Queen Mother reminded the government of its promise to provide employment to the people of Ghana, as most people are trafficked because of the lack of employment prospects. The crowd applauded at her reminder to the government of its promise.

The Paramount Chief reminded the community that modern slavery is an illegal practice and that as custodians of tradition and culture, traditional leaders play a large role in shaping the way of life. Traditional leaders have the responsibility to respect values more than rituals, to promote education, which is the bedrock of social change, to ensure all benefits and opportunities are channelled for economic development, as poverty is a root cause of trafficking, and to lead traditional laws and ensure their strict adherence. He concluded by highlighting poverty, saying “poverty is the biggest enemy in the battle against child and human trafficking” and urged the government to provide the infrastructure to root out poverty from communities in Ghana.

James Kofi-Annan, the founder and president of Challenging Heights, told the crowd of his story being trafficked and enslaved on Lake Volta as a child. He congratulated the government on giving 1.2 million cedi to human trafficking, but remained disappointed by that number as Challenging Heights has given $4 million.

Dr. Emma Hamenoo, from the Department of Social Work at the University of Ghana, discussed kin fostering and child trafficking. The tradition of well to do family members taking care of family members in need is now a source of abuse. She declared that academia’s duty was to create a discourse to begin national discussion on these issues. She also mentioned the problem with imprisonment and fines: if we imprison a parent, then who will take care of any other children that parent has and if a parent could afford the fine associated with trafficking, they would not have had to sell their child into slavery.

The Honourable Otiko Afisah Djaba, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection closed the program by highlighting the seriousness of the offense of human and child trafficking: “It is a crime against the children, parents, family and Ghana”. She noted the Global Plan of Action to combat trafficking in place since 2010, but also reported that Ghana remained on the Tier 2 Watch List this year, which paints a dark picture for the future of the country as child trafficking robs “children of their joy, education and a bright future”. Her announcement of a new program in Senya to teach income generating activities met with applause from the crowd.

With thousands of community members attending this event and community sensitisation, Challenging Heights is proud to have sponsored this commemoration of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons and to play a role in the fight against child trafficking.

 

This post was written by intern Juli King. Photographs were taken by intern Millie Kidd.