BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / SEPTEMBER 29, 2017 Growing up, Kojo* was a typical Ghanaian child. He is the second oldest of six children, so he helped to...
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.
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.
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.
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Winneba, Central Region, Ghana.
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