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
Archives For Prevention
Last week, a group of students at Friends International Academy joined us for the Child Rights Camp (CRC). In 2003 Challenging Heights began as a Child Rights Club, a place where children were free to develop, form friendships, and learn about their rights. One goal of the organisation is to bring the clubs back to the youth of Winneba to further community engagement and rights education. The week’s programme was the first step to reinstating the clubs, and our main project as summer interns with Challenging Heights.
Each camp day began with our mission and song as a warm up to our discussions and activities centred on child rights. Our song, to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, resonated with each student and filled the classroom with spirited anticipation. Our daily themes changed, from education and corporal punishment to child marriage and sexual health, but the students’ engagement and enthusiasm for honest discussion did not.
Students answered multiple questions such as: What are children’s rights? How does child marriage relate? Why is the right to education important? What is consent? These conversations were facilitated in small groups so every student had the opportunity to be heard by their peers. To add another element of fun, the students participated in team-building activities which provided them with the opportunity to practice leadership and build positive group relationships. These are crucial to the continuation of student-run Child Rights Clubs.
It was clear that the parts of the CRC’s mission the students valued most were spreading this knowledge in their communities and protecting one another from injustice. When asked what would make CRC better, one student suggested that “the CRC go for excursions to places or areas that people or children are being abused, in order to help them know their rights.” These students are passionate about being leaders in their school and hope that more teachers will help them incorporate all of Friends International Academy in this pursuit.
This post was written by Challenging Heights interns Nicole Ballou and Erin Moore. Challenging Heights is grateful for their help and participation this summer.
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.
At Challenging Heights, we believe in and support the protection of children’s rights, particularly their right to an education. We’ve seen that children who are in school are less likely to be trafficked, or even re-trafficked. By ensuring children’s access to education, whether it was through advocating for the elimination of school fees more than 10 years ago or our current focus of addressing corporal punishment in schools, we have been working at a very broad level to protect this right for children.
Our national and municipal level policy advocacy does not preclude support on an individual level either. A big part of the rehabilitation and reintegration of the children that we rescue from modern slavery is education. While at the shelter, the children all attend school in the on-site classrooms. There they learn basic literacy and numeracy skills. In many of the exit interviews that we conduct upon the children’s reintegration, many of them say that their biggest change was in their ability to write their name and other academic achievements.
However, our support for their education doesn’t end upon their reintegration. Often, the children return home on a Thursday or Friday, allowing them a weekend with their families to relax and enjoy. Then, on Monday morning, our reintegration officers set off to help enrol the children in their nearest school. We talk with the headmaster and the teacher, to help them understand the child and some of the challenges they may face, since for many it is their first time going to school. We then find out from the school what school supplies are required. Later in the week, we return with all of the necessary school supplies and a seamstress to take measurements to make their new school uniforms.
This support for our reintegrated children, keeping them in school, significantly lowers their risk of being re-trafficked. Not only that, but with this level of support, the majority of families are also then able to ensure that all of their other children are enrolled in school as well. This goes a long way in promoting change among the community and helping to foster a value of education, which in turn can help to prevent trafficking.
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 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.
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.
In 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.
One 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.
Earlier this year, the students of Castle View High School in Castle View, Colorado choose Challenging Heights as the recipient of their annual Make a Difference Week fundraising campaign. In just a short week, these committed student were able to raise more than $30,000 for Challenging Heights.
We were able to use those funds to build three new classrooms at what is now Friends International Academy, the school that Challenging Heights founded 10 years ago. As the reputation of the school and the high levels of the students’ performance has spread throughout Winneba, enrolment has steadily increased. The growing student body has triggered a need for more classrooms, which we were able to make a reality with the help of Castle View High School.
This strong connection between Castle View High School and Challenging Heights prompted some of the teachers at CVHS to consider a fundraising and service learning trip to Ghana with Challenging Heights. Once again, the generosity of the students was great, and 16 students were able to raise more than $8,000 for Challenging Heights to combat child trafficking and modern slavery.
During their week spent with us, they tackled a new paint job for the Hovde House shelter, reading with the students at Friends International Academy, helping out at the Hand in Hand for Literacy Library and assisting with the distribution of TOMS shoes to children in need in Winneba. They also spent time at the beach, visiting tourist sites and walking in the canopy of Kakum National Park.
The students and chaperones came away with a greater understanding of the problem of modern slavery in Ghana and globally and a sense of commitment to wanting to continue a partnership with CH in the years to come. We at CH are delighted to have gained more than 20 new advocates and ambassadors for our mission and look forward to a lasting friendship.
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.
We’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.
To 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.
For the past several weeks, our Partners in Development Officer, Rosemary, has been out in the field in Senya. Multiple times a week, she calls together a group of school children, ranging in age from 12 to 17, have been learning how to run their own savings programme and this last week they learned about first aid.
Nurse George joined us from the local hospital to explain what to do if someone is bleeding, either from a wound or from their nose, has a fever, and if someone breaks a bone. With children volunteering to act as victims, George talked through the steps to take when someone is bleeding from a wound, such as wearing sterile, disposable gloves, cleaning the area with running water and applying pressure. When it came to practising care for fractures, Regina ended up with a splint and a make-shift sling, so that the children could see exactly how to help. George also explained the use for all of the products that went into two different first aid boxes that will be placed in the community, so that these youth leaders can assist when they see someone needing help.
All of these meetings and classes inspired the children to take action on their own. With a local festival happening to honour deceased family members, many people who be coming from out of town. The children saw this as an opportunity to show off their pride in their community and some of their new-found knowledge. The children approached Rosemary to help support a community clean-up and malaria sensitisations of community members.
Many community members know that malaria is a disease, but they don’t know the specific causes or symptoms of the disease. During the clean-up, when the children saw groups of community members, they stopped and explained that malaria is caught from mosquitoes and the symptoms that a person experiences when they have the disease. Once the children finished sharing their knowledge about malaria, they picked their brooms and rakes back up and set about the task of sweeping the streets and cleaning the gutters.
We know what can happen when children feel empowered in their lives and last week in Senya, we saw the results of that.