Having never been to school before, Challenging Heights field officers call 11-year-old Kwame the role model to his family. While his brothers may skip school, Kwame is eager to learn, eager to get ahead and achieve more than he could have while working on the lake.
Kwame was rescued from slave labour on Lake Volta in March 2015. He spent four years working, sometimes alongside some of his siblings, including his twin sister. At least six of his brothers and sisters were also sent to work on the lake by their mother, who took money from traffickers for her children’s work.
Each day began at dawn; Kwame said he would work through the morning and into the afternoon and evening. He slept about four hours a day before he would wake up and start again. Even as a small boy, Kwame helped in casting fishing nets, paddling the canoe on Lake Volta, scooping water from leaky boats or diving in to the water to disentangle nets caught on branches from drowned trees. These are typical tasks boys of all ages are made to do as they’re kept in slavery on the lake.
Physical and emotional abuse were a party of Kwame’s daily life. He said his master would hit him with a paddle. Kwame was never fed enough, and what he was given to eat always lacked fish or means for essential nutrients. Sometimes, he said, the master and his wife would insult him before they gave him the food. He never felt emotionally sound. While he wished for freedom, he never thought it possible.
When Challenging Heights arrived to rescue Kwame, they knew of his brother, and in another location, his twin sister. The master, however, lied to CH, and told us that his brother was the only child he had. Kwame was hiding, so our field team did not know he was in the house. His master threatened Kwame that if he dare uttered a word; they would beat him and kill him, so he lie there crying. Once the field team went on to the next village, and Kwame’s two siblings realized that Challenging Heights was not bad, they told them that Kwame had been left. Challenging Heights returned the next day with police to back them up against the family that they must give Kwame to the field team.
Seeing his mother was difficult at first, since she was the one to sell Kwame and his siblings to the lake years before. Kwame was not happy, or even able to recognise her because it had been so long. He said he was sad when he realised who she was, and bitter that she sold him, but as time went on, they reconciled and he knows he is accepted. Kwame says he’s forgiven them all.
It was fishing work that Kwame was told he would be doing for the rest of his life, and when he grows up, he’ll manage his own boat and also traffic children to come work for him. He always thought that was his path. He never thought he’d be rescued and set free, but that he would spend his life on the lake.