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Stories and updates from the Challenging Heights team, partners, and supporters.



Challenging Heights Rescues 42 More Children From Slavery

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / DECEMBER 10, 2018 Go Back Challenging Heights Rescues 42 More Children From Slavery December 10, 2018Challenging Heights in collaboration with the Ghana Police...



In Support of #FootballPeople Action Weeks

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / OCTOBER 15, 2018 Go Back In Support of #FootballPeople Action Weeks October 15, 2018 I have to admit, I’m not a huge sports...



Challenging Heights Hovde House Family Visit

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / AUGUST 7, 2018 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



We Value Education

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / JULY 31, 2018 In a country where 1.9 million children 5 to 17 years of age are engaged in some form of child...



It Takes a Village: Fighting Child Trafficking With Football

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / JULY 5, 2018 Trafficking impacts children and their families on the individual level, but here in Ghana’s coastal communities, a troubling pattern has emerged....



The difficult search and rescue of Kwame*

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / DECEMBER 8, 2017 It was early evening when the Rescue Team stepped off the bus in Yeji. They had little time to get...



The Challenging Heights Hovde House is expanding

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / NOVEMBER 13, 2017 So far in 2017, we have cared for 128 children at the Challenging Heights Hovde House. That means that 128...



After 4 years in slavery, “There’s hope.”

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.



Challenging Heights rescues 15 children from slavery

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / SEPTEMBER 6, 2017 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 Campaigns Against Violence in Schools

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / AUGUST 29, 2017 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 Marks Blue Day in Senya Bereku

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / AUGUST 11, 2017 Challenging Heights, along with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, commemorated World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on...



“Our mission: to learn about children’s rights”

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / JULY 25, 2017 Last week, a group of students at Friends International Academy joined us for the Child Rights Camp (CRC). In 2003...



With an unexpected reprieve, Challenging Heights calls for greater cooperation

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / JUNE 28, 2017 Challenging Heights is pleased to note that Ghana has maintained, against all odds, Tier 2 Watch List standing on the...



Children visit home to prepare for reintegration

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / JUNE 21, 2017 It's a relatively routine morning in Joma, a small town along the coast of Ghana. Women are walking the streets,...



Spreading anti-corporal punishment philosophy among teachers

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / MAY 24, 2017 We know that changing cultural norms is no easy task. While more than three-fourths of survey respondents in our impact...



Challenging Heights releases 2016 Annual Report

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / APRIL 19, 2017 Last year was an important year for us at Challenging Heights. We took a hard look at what services we provide, what services we want to provide and what goals we aim to achieve through those services. That assessment resulted in our new strategic plan and goal, to end trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry in five years and slavery in 10.

However, throughout that assessment we continued to rescue children, provide care at our rehabilitation shelter, reintegrate children with their families, champion children’s rights, facilitate education and support the livelihoods of women and youth in the source communities.

We proud of the work that we have done and we invite you to read more about it in our 2016 Annual Report. We’re looking forward to what the rest of 2017 brings and we hope that you’ll join our efforts with a donation.



Ghana’s government joins effort to end trafficking in 5 years

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / APRIL 12, 2017 We at Challenging Heights spent much of last year assessing the state of trafficking in Ghana and thinking big. This...



Challenging Heights rescues 17 more children from Lake Volta

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / APRIL 10, 2017 Challenging Heights, in partnership with Abolish Slavery Now, an Abolitionist organization based out of Ventura, California, rescued 17 more trafficked children from the Lake Volta. The 4 girls and 13 boys, ages 4 to 17 years-old, tops off the total 1,600 children the organization has rescued since inception. The rescue was accomplished in partnership with Abolish Slavery Now, an abolitionist organization based out of Ventura, California. Many of the 17 recently-rescued children had worked for nearly twelve years in servitude under incredibly deplorable conditions.

In an interview with the media, the President of Challenging Heights, James Kofi Annan, called for urgent government action to address the situation. He praised the Ministry of Gender for working towards the establishment of the Human Trafficking National Action Plan, but expressed disappointment that the government is failing to resource the various institutions such as the Ghana Police Service, and the Human Trafficking Secretariat, both of which are key if the country is to see an end to the problem.

Child trafficking in the fishing industry has been a problem for the Ghanaian government for several decades. It is estimated that there are over 21,000 working children on Lake Volta alone, and there are several thousands more going through various forms of abuse.

Last year the American government gave a warning to the Government of Ghana that if steps are not taken to address this issue of child trafficking, Ghana risk losing a lot of the aid money that comes from the American people.

Challenging Heights works in several communities across Ghana, to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate children who have been affected by worst forms of child labor, including trafficking. The organization recently launched its aggressive 5-year strategic plan to end child trafficking in this industry by 2022.

Akua Boatemaa Dua
(Advocacy Officer)
0204 020392
0244 515761



Positive behaviour recognition supports children’s recovery

BY CHALLENGING HEIGHTS / MARCH 15, 2017 After we conduct a rescue and the children are brought to the Challenging Heights Hovde House rehabilitation shelter, they are...



Apprenticeships upon reintegration pave the way for a new life

The majority of the children working on Lake Volta are 10 years old or younger, and this is reflected in the demographics of the children we rescue and rehabilitate at our shelter. However, there are a number of children who are teenagers, who were trafficked at a very young age and have never been to school. While they are at the Challenging Heights Hovde House, they are enrolled in school to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills, however it is often a struggle for them to catch up academically. This is why the older children, upon reintegration, are given the option to choose an apprenticeship rather than enrolling in school.

There are a variety of trades and jobs in Ghana that are taught by a master to an apprentice, but the two most common that our children choose are mechanic and tailor. We’re very luck to have strong relationships with an excellent master mechanic and master tailor. These men are extremely understanding of the lives these children have led and the difficulties they face in returning to their communities; they have each taken on a number of our reintegrated children as apprentices and under their tutelage, the children have excelled.

Our reintegration officers spent this week paying the fees for the apprentices and providing the necessary supplies and materials. The taxi was loaded up with sewing machines, thread, needles, scissors and tool sets to ensure that the boys and girls are prepared to put their best foot forward in their new learning environments.

We also checked in with the masters to find out how the children were performing, and they only had good things to report about their progress. We’re looking forward to the days where we can get our cars repaired and clothes made by these young people, and knowing that we are contributing to their continued success.

Further Reading: That’s better, turbo or supercharger?



Youth Empowerment Programme graduate expands business

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, once she started learning abut what is means to use align company strategies, her business started to grow.

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.



Academic success for a survivor of slavery

Three years ago Kofi*, then 13, had completed his time at the Challenging Heights Hovde House. He was ready to go home and continue on his path to recovery with his mom and dad in Winneba. Now at 16, Kofi has excelled in school and is nearly at the top of his class.

Kofi had previously been forced to work as a fisherboy on Lake Volta and had never attended school. After spending time in our rehabilitation shelter, our teachers determined he was able to enter into primary class three (P.3). “When I first arrived at the shelter, I felt like maybe my opportunities were limited because the school was so small. I didn’t know that they were preparing me. When I came to the mainstream school, I saw my opportunities open up, especially since I like a bit of competition with the other students,” Kofi said.

He started schooling in P.3 at Challenging Heights School (now Friends International Academy). After the first exam, his teacher and the headmaster looked at his scores and promoted him to P.4. During this time, Challenging Heights was helping to support his mother with livelihoods support and provided him with school supplies which decreased the financial burden on his parents as they gained better financial footing.

The next school year, Kofi transferred schools. The teachers gave him the placement test for P.5, the class he was supposed to enter, and he passed with flying colours. So, they gave him the next test for P.6, which he again passed with ease. It was decided that Kofi would start the school year in Junior High School form 1 (JHS1).

While mathematics is where Kofi excels, his favourite subject is social studies. He really enjoys learning about current affairsand like using his own opinion to answer questions. This past year was particularly special for his social studies class as they followed Ghana’s election. One area that he struggles in is Fante class, partly because his native language is Effutu. However, he doesn’t let his struggles hold him back. He has worked with his Fante teacher to develop some strategies to improve, such as focusing on the phonetics of the words rather than just the spelling, which sometimes are different. With all of this, at the end of JHS1, he was 3rd in his class out of 62 students.

At home, Kofi is happy and comfortable. Most days he helps his aunt sell things in her shop, but he can also be found playing with his siblings and neighbourhood friends. However, he enjoys doing his homework the most.

“My vision in life is to succeed,” Kofi said. “I want to prove to the world that kids who were on the Lake [Volta] can succeed if given the opportunity.”

Kofi’s plans for the future involve passing his BECE at the end of JHS3 and continuing onto Senior High School (SHS). He hopes to get a scholarship so that he can go onto university, where he plans to study medicine and become a doctor. If medical school doesn’t work out, Kofi has a back-up plan: he’ll continue to university and then enter the police force.

When he was working on Lake Volta, Kofi didn’t have any idea of what the future might be, other than fishing. Now, he sees his future as very bright. “I want everyone to know that through Challenging Heights, children can succeed and that there are other children out there that need help.”



30 children reintegrated with families after surviving slavery

Last month, Challenging Heights and their partner Mercy Project reintegrated 30 children with their families after they completed the recovery care programme at the Challenging Heights Hovde House.

The children spent an average of six months at the rehabilitation shelter, where they received therapy, counselling, basic literacy and numeracy education, health care and nutritional care. A number of the children came to the shelter with health problems ranging from bilharzia to wounds from being beaten to malnutrition. With support from the local hospital, all of the children were in excellent health and enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme on reintegration day.

Nearly all of the children had spent multiple years on Lake Volta, where they were forced to cast and drag large fishing nets, dive to untangle them, scoop water from the boats and perform domestic chores. For many, their days lasted nearly 18 hours, every day of the week and they survived on a single meal for the day, often just enough to get by. All of them experienced some kind of abuse, typically verbal abuse and often physical abuse.

Prior to reintegration day, our reintegration team spent months tracing the families of the children and preparing them for when the children would return home. The week before reintegration, our recovery team met with the caregivers to share with them information about how children experience trauma and how it can affect family ties. They also talked about financial planning strategies to save money for the future. All the the caregivers were asked what kind of livelihoods support they would like to receive in the form of in-kind goods to sell and our team got to work to procure the goods for them.

On reintegration day, our bus was loaded up with the children who would be returning to Winneba and the surrounding communities and their belongings. We set out and made our rounds to each of the children’s homes where they were greeted by their families with smiles, hugs, handshakes and shouts of joy.

In the coming weeks, our reintegration team will be back at the children’s houses, helping to enrol them in school and apprenticeships and providing them with the necessary materials for them to be successful. We’ll also follow up to provide advice and support in the coming years to make the transition as smooth as we can.

We’re excited to watch as these young people grow and and succeed in their new, free lives.



Access to education decreases risk of re-trafficking

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.



Challenging Heights set to end child trafficking in 5 years

We at Challenging Heights have reached a crucial point in our history. For the past 12 years we have spread our efforts among a variety of programmes, all with the goal of making an impact on child trafficking in Ghana. Today, Friends International Academy, formerly Challenging Heights School, is a community institution and example for all schools in Winneba with its anti-corporal punishment policy and sustained 100% graduation rate. The opening of the CH Cold Store last year had brought new financial opportunities and security to the women of Winneba and the surrounding communities. With a sense of accomplishment in those areas were are setting our sights on an ambitious new goal.

We plan to end child trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry in five years, and child slavery in 10.

We have identified nine objectives that fall under three programming areas that will help us to achieve this goal.

Rescue and Recovery

This is an area that we know that we excel at currently. We have rescued more than 1,500 children and more than 400 children have received rehabilitation care at the Challenging Height Hovde House shelter. However we want and need to do more to achieve our goal.

Our main objectives for our Rescue and Recovery programme are a reduction in the number of trafficked children on Lake Volta, all rescued children receive high-quality rehabilitation before reintegration with a loving family, and that family life is good for all reintegrated children, their caregivers and siblings.

We have plans to steadily increase the number of children that we rescue over the coming years. We will continue to run our shelter at the high standards of care that resulted in it being rated the number one shelter in Ghana by the US State Department. In fact, with the increase in the number of children that we plan to rescue we will need to expand our facilities there. Finally, to ensure that family life is good for all reintegrated children, we will continue our current programme of advising and supporting the children we reintegrate and will be folding our previous livelihoods programme into the reintegration support more seamlessly.

We know that it is not possible for us to reach all of the children who have been trafficked to Lake Volta alone, which is why we are partnering with other non-governmental organisations in Ghana to support their rescue and recovery efforts. Our shelter has rarely reached capacity based on our rescues alone, and so we are providing our rehabilitation services to other NGOs as well.

By the end of the next five years, we plan to have rescued a total of 700 children from Lake Volta, have rehabilitated 1,000 children in our shelter, and support 4,900 children, their caregivers and families.

Prevention

In order to end trafficking, we will need to do more than just bring back children from Lake Volta. We will need to actively pursue prevention of trafficking by tackling the root causes that leads a family to traffic their child and to work with the government so that criminal consequences are a deterrent.

Our main objectives for our Prevention programme are to tackle the root causes of trafficking with a prevention programme in and around Winneba, and to work with the government to ensure prosecution of traffickers.

Eliminating all of the root causes of trafficking would be an impossible task for any organisation, which is why we are focusing our attention on some of the main causes that we have identified, such as poverty, naivety and family separation. We are actively seeking partnerships with other organisations to effectively address the causes that we don’t have the capacity to commit to.

Additionally, the current number of trafficking investigations and convictions has made trafficking a low-risk and high-reward activity. We want to work with the government to focus their attention and efforts on enforcing the laws that are already on the books, so that traffickers and slave masters know that there are consequences for their actions.

We will count our success with a measurable reduction in the root causes of trafficking in the communities where we work, and knowing that Ghana’s government does all that it can to prevent trafficking, reduce slavery, and prosecute traffickers and slave masters.

Advocacy

In the past much of our advocacy efforts have focused on influencing national policy and to a lesser extent on changing attitudes. Ghana largely has the legal infrastructure to address trafficking and modern slavery from a national level, and we need to focus more of our attention on the social norms around trafficking.

Our objectives for our Advocacy programmes are that the Ghana public is actively opposed to child trafficking and supportive of child rights, that anti-trafficking NGOs work together, global best practices are developed and used in Ghana, and there is a deeper understanding among stakeholders of the nature, prevalence and solutions to trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry.

We are already quite skilled with our communications, but will need to step up our efforts and target and plan our messaging more effectively. We’re reaching out to both NGOs in Ghana and abroad to built support and plan actions to reaching the goal of ending trafficking. Research both using the data and files that we have as well as out in the community are being planned and in the works for the coming years for all interested and involved to better understand modern slavery in Ghana’s fishing industry.

In five years’ time, we plan that 80 percent of Ghana will oppose trafficking, 80 percent of anti-trafficking NGOs in Ghana agree that we are good partners, that we have established a global network of 120 anti-trafficking NGOs, and that one piece of research has been published each year.

 

All of at Challenging Heights are excited and energised by this new goal and focus. We know we are setting an ambitious goal, but we believe it is achievable. However, we can only do it with the help and support of our friends. If ending child trafficking in Ghana is something that you would like to be a part of, we would encourage you to become a monthly sponsor or get in touch to find out other ways you can help.



Child trafficking can lead to child marriage our research finds

Throughout the years that we’ve been rescuing and rehabilitating survivors of modern slavery on Lake Volta, we’ve heard stories and accusations of forced marriage and child marriage occurring in the fishing communities on Lake Volta. Last year, we received funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives to take a closer look at this issue and use our findings to educate the communities about what we learned.

To better understand the issue of child marriage and how it related to trafficking, it helps to start with understanding child marriage in a global context. An estimated 700 million women were married as children plus 22 million girls who are married. An estimated 280 million girls are at risk of being married before they are 18 and 15 million girls are married each year. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of girls in marriage has been declining, however because of population growth, the number of girls at risk is not changing. Even if the current efforts were sustained, the total number of at-risk girls would remain the same for another 30 years.

In light of that reality, more must be done to understand and combat the problems of child marriage, particularly in Ghana where 27% of women were married before they were 18. Based on interviews with children we have rescued, members of our shelter team and community leaders in Winneba and communities along Lake Volta, a better understanding of the relationship between child trafficking and child marriage came into view. This allows us to help increase the efforts at raising awareness of child marriage as it pertains to our work.

Our research found a couple of key points. While many traffickers deceive the families of the children who are trafficked by promising school and housing, when pressuring the girls into marriage similar deception techniques are used. The girls are told by their masters to marry a man who will provide for them and their parents, often in exchange for some money. The other key point is that many adolescents, both boys and girls, are effectively encouraged to participate in sexual relationships. When the girls become pregnant as a result of these relationships, then they are forced into marriage.

We also were able to identify some of the main causes that lead to child marriage. They include broken homes, poverty, child labour, high illiteracy rates and the social norms. It should be noted that many of these causes are interrelated and often overlap with the root causes of child trafficking.

We’re using what we’ve learned from this research to conduct sensitisations with adolescents in the community and parents of school children. We’re also planning to work with the media and other stakeholders to share the findings, so that everyone can better understand child marriage and what leads to it and how to address it.



A free and happy Christmas for more than 50 survivors of slavery

There was a buzz in the air all week. Classes had been closed for a few days and the children had set about to learn a new choreography. Ribbons were wrapped around the pillars that support the roof and tinsel and garlands were hung around the doors and windows. Christmas had arrived at the shelter.

Christmas Eve was passed with a church service. The children listened to the story of Christmas and stories from the Bible, sharing the spirit of the season with one another. Many of the children could relate to the relief that Mary and Joseph felt at being taken in. When the church service closed at 1 a.m. the staff and older children set off fireworks and passed around sparklers for the younger children to enjoy as well.

The next morning, everyone got to sleep in a bit. Once everyone was stirring, it was time to begin the day’s activities and celebration. It wouldn’t be a holiday and celebration in Ghana without food, and everyone feasted. Everyone pitched in to clean the house and courtyard for the afternoon’s programme to begin.

Some of the children, who had prepared the choreography, performed their dance for their friends and the staff. Carols were sung by everyone and it was truly a party atmosphere. Finally gifts were given to all of the children. The boys and girls were given Santa hat, watches and sunglasses, which they all wore with pride and joy for the rest of the day.

For many of the children, this was their first of many Christmases to come spend in freedom, and that is something to celebrate this season.



18 children rescued from forced labour on Lake Volta

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but the soft haze of Harmattan had settled above the waters of Lake Volta. Water levels were higher than they were the last time our rescue team visited in June, covering some of the tree stumps and making navigating the water a bit more dangerous. With the list of children who he had collected background information on tucked safely in his breast pocket, Stephen Adoo, the Rescue and Community Engagement Manager instructed the team to set out for a village an hour’s boat ride away.

The navigator of the boat expertly directed us to a village, using only his memory and 30 years knowledge of the lake. Upon our landing, we made our way to the chief of the village, to introduce ourselves, explain our mission and request for his assistance. His wife sympathised with our mission, saying that sometimes even she felt bad for the children who were forced to fish and endure abuse. The chief called the master of the two boys who were on our list.

The master came and our negotiations began; we explained that the parents and families of the boys had called for the boys return and asked for our assistance and that he needed to turn over the boys to us, and that if he didn’t we would return with the police. After some negotiating, he turn the boys over to our rescue team and they set off for the next village to find the next boy on the list, for the process to repeat.

The rescue team spent a total of 10 days on Lake Volta, traversing the lake and searching for the children who they had gathered information on. With the assistance of the Ghana Navy, they were able to rescue 18 children. These children arrived at the shelter just in time for the Christmas celebration. The rescue team handed them off to the skilled and capable shelter staff and the reintegration team began the process of tracing and preparing the families for the children’s ultimate reintegration.



Microgrants support families of reintegrated children

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.

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.

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.



James Kofi Annan addresses U.N. to mark #EndSlavery day

Each year, December 2 marks the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. This year, James Kofi Annan, the president and founder of Challenging Heights was invited to participate in a panel hosted by the U.N. Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery titled, “Revealing the Child Faces of Modern Slavery.”

James spoke about his life story, having been trafficked at age 6 and escaping seven years later to then pursue his education. His story is one that truly does put a face on the problem of modern slavery.

“Each time I made a mistake as a child fisherman, I was tortured,” he told the room. “I escaped, but there are so many children still stuck in slavery. This is why I created Challenging Heights, rescuing one child at a time.”

So far this year, Challenging Heights has rescued nearly 30 children from modern slavery on Lake Volta and our team is set to go on another rescue mission at the end of this week. Between the children we have rescued and partnerships with other anti-trafficking organisations, nearly 100 children have passed through our rehabilitation shelter this year.

However, in spite of the encouraging work that NGOs like Challenging Heights are doing to end slavery in Ghana, the government’s response and actions to end trafficking have been abysmal. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report from the US State Department placed Ghana on the Tier 2 Watchlist for the second year in a row, because of the low number of trafficking investigations and the lack of convictions. Though there are laws in place ensuring the criminality of trafficking, enforcement simply is not happening on the government’s part.

“The time to act is now. Everyone in this room has a part to play,” James said at the panel in Geneva. We couldn’t agree more.



Workshop for practitioners on Guidelines for Children’s Reintegration

Earlier this year, Family for Every Child released the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration, which Challenging Heights had a part in producing. In September, we hosted a workshop for the policymakers, with the intent to share knowledge with the people who are setting the direction of government policies and major organisations within Ghana. Last week, we met with the practitioners to share the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration with those who are on the ground and doing the work of reintegrating children.

The workshop, organised by our Advocacy Officer Akua Boatemaa Duah, was attended by 34 people from 26 different organisations, ranging from other anti-trafficking NGOs to members of the Department of Social Welfare to community members and traditional councils. We presented them with the guidelines as a tool to use when reintegrating children that have been separated from their families, particularly by being trafficked.

The participants participated in a lively discussion around the guidelines, determining how to best implement them in their individual work and how to collaborate with the other organisations in the room better. Everyone was committed to working together to combat trafficking and modern slavery, the question became how to best work with each other to achieve that goal.

The Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration were developed by Family for Every Child, a network of organisations around the globe committed to protecting children’s rights. They were created with help of 14 different organisations and agencies, and endorsed by 14 more, through interviews and and input from 127 individuals, including children themselves. The dissemination of these guidelines was supported by Family for Every Child.



Challenging Heights is AGI’s Social Enterprise of the Year

Challenging Heights has received the Best Social Enterprise award at the 5th edition of the Association of Ghana Industry (AGI) awards. This is in recognition of the organisation’s innovative and sustainable approach to addressing the issue of child trafficking in Ghana, and how the organisation has developed a number of livelihoods and income generating ventures to support its operations.

The newly introduced award category, sponsored by the British Council, is aimed at encouraging social entrepreneurs whose businesses focus on grassroots development through sustainable investments that create employment opportunities.

The President of the AGI, Mr James Asare-Adjei in his keynote address said Ghana’s prospects for job creation will improve if local industries experience sustainable growth to alleviate the graduate unemployment situation.

Mr Asare-Adjei urged the government to provide special fiscal and financial incentives to give local industries some edge over the prevailing competition.

The British Council, in its solidarity statement said that start-up social enterprises in Ghana are increasingly becoming vital parts of local economic growth and employment as well as active change agents in communities around the country.

The statement said early stage social enterprises face a stifling range of interconnected challenges such as harsh regulations, non-existent early stage investment opportunities and a lack of relevant market insight.

“Inclusive growth remains at the heart of the British Council’s support to the local social enterprise ecosystem,” the statement said.

The British Council said it supports the social enterprise award due to its efforts to recognise business that has society at its core.

The President for Challenging Heights, Dr James Kofi Annan, in an interview, said Challenging Heights would continue to be driven by its passion of delivering social justice interventions to children, women and underserved communities in the coastal and farming communities of Ghana.

He said through the establishment of sister companies, namely, Run-Off restaurant, CH Cold Store, Nyce Media and the Friends International Academy, Challenging Heights has created sustainable means to support the organisation’s goal of ending child trafficking on Lake Volta, while at the same time generating income for its own operations.

“Challenging Heights is currently the highest private employer in Winneba. The establishment of these enterprises has created jobs which are aimed at empowering communities and breaking the cycle of poverty; a main cause of trafficking,” he added.

Dr Annan urged the Government to create conducive environments for local businesses to operate and create more job opportunities to deal with the country’s high unemployment rates.



From modern slavery to second chief mechanic apprentice

Kwame props the hood of the taxi up and bends at the waist to reach into the engine. He fiddles with the wrench loosening parts to get to the thing that is causing the problems. A fellow apprentice works alongside him, helping him and asking questions that Kwesi is able to easily answer. In the year and a half since being reintegrated, Kwesi has risen from his start as an apprentice to being the second chief apprentice at this mechanic’s shop. He’s learning a lot of skills and how to diagnose a multitude of problems on all of the taxis that are regularly brought here to be serviced, and he hopes to one day own his own mechanic shop.

It was two years ago that Kwame was rescued by Challenging Heights. At 15 he had been working on Lake Volta for nine years already, casting and dragging nets, diving to untangle them when they got caught in the tree stumps and even selling the fish from 4 am to 10 pm everyday. His uncle had told his mother that he would put Kwame in school, which seemed like the best option at the time. She was struggling to provide for her nine children. It wasn’t until Kwame arrived at Lake Volta that he realised he wasn’t going to be going to school.

He found some solace when his brother and cousin joined him on the Lake, but was not happy that they too would have to endure the brutal treatment he was experiencing. However, it was the stories of his cousin nearly drowning that made their way back to his aunt that prompted his mother to come to Challenging Heights for help. We were able to rescue Kwame and his family members, after which they were brought to the Hovde House shelter for our recovery programme.

After successfully completing the programme, we reintegrated Kwame with his mother, a traditional medicine maker, and his father, a fisherman, in Winneba. Kwame was enrolled in the mechanic apprenticeship, where he has excelled. We know that he will be able to achieve his dreams of opening his own shop in the near future.



Students from Castle View High School spruce up shelter

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.



Now a seamstress apprentice, Ruth has hope for her future

Years as a domestic servant for fishermen on Lake Volta, Ruth knew cooking and washing. She would take boat trips into Yeji from her small village each Sunday to buy foodstuff for the week. Her master, who was also her grandmother, verbally abused her constantly, and she expected insults from the least provocation. She knew she wasn’t happy, but had nowhere else to go.

While she enrolled in nursery school as a small girl, Ruth’s grandmother asked her mother to take her to Lake Volta, and her mother agreed. She was never afforded formal education.

Her life is so different now from when she worked on the lake. Ruth says she now knows what life is. Now that she can learn a trade, she sees what she can become in the future.

In a dream, Ruth says she saw herself sewing. Since then, she wanted to be a seamstress, but she never anticipated that she could until she visited apprenticeship opportunities with the Challenging Heights Hovde House and she began her own within a month of being reintegrated with her family in Winneba. She’s already worked on many pieces and sewn one for herself.

“I’m very happy in everything that I do, especially ironing for my master, and when my master asks me to sew some part of the dress,” Ruth beams. She’s excited to try new skills and hopes to master them so that she can one day open her own seamstress shop and employ children like herself, who had no hope in the future. She wants to give opportunities to those who may have had difficult backgrounds, too.

Thankful to Challenging Heights, Ruth says she won’t let us down. She wants to let the whole world know that children who find themselves on the lake have so much potential, so “there is no need for them to rot on the lake forever.” She hopes Challenging Heights continues receiving support so others like her can be rescued, live with their families, and have a bright future of their own.



Challenging Heights shares Children’s Reintegration Guidelines in Ghana

As a part of the launch of the Children’s Reintegration Guidelines from Family for Every Child, Challenging Heights called together policy makers and influencers from across various sectors to present the guidelines and collaborate on how to implement the guidelines.

“What we want to do is improve the effectiveness of getting children back into their families,” Jonny Whitehead, Director of Challenging Heights, said.

The attendants of the workshop included representatives from UNICEF, Mercy Project, Free the Slaves, Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare (DSW), Ghana’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), Ghana’s Criminal Investigation Department for the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the International Organisation for Migration and the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives who all have a connection to reintegrating children with their families and communities after being separated because of both emergency and non-emergency situations. There was a desire among the participants to create a standard to be used by all agencies that do reintegration, ensuring that all children receive a high standard of care, and these guidelines aim to inform that standard.

“These guidelines were developed because there are millions of children separated from their families, and as families break down, so does society,” Pomaa Arthur, Recovery Manager at Challenging Heights said.

The Children’s Reintegration Guidelines were developed by Family For Every Child, an international coalition of civil society organisations that aim to improve the lives of vulnerable children, using research, pooled knowledge and consultations with 158 children, 127 service providers and 66 agencies. The guidelines have been endorsed by UNICEF and 30 other organisations that address the well-being of children around the world.

These new international guidelines are broadly in line with forthcoming policy regarding children’s reintegration from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, according to Idduh Abdallah from UNICEF. Representatives from DSW concurred and stressed the importance of adapting the guidelines to a local cultural context and to support the new policy.

The participants ended the workshop with a greater understanding of the guidelines and a desire to ensure that the policy is inline with these new international standards, wanting to create a set of tools to ensure that the guidelines are easy to follow on the ground and suggestions on how to strengthen partnerships across sectors.

Challenging Heights is a non-governmental organisation based in Winneba that is dedicated to ending child trafficking and forced labour through social justice interventions and protecting children’s rights since 2007.



Supporting safe schools through anti-corporal punishment training

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.



Reintegration day is full of emotions, including satisfaction

Upon entering the gates to the Challenging Heights Hovde House, you could tell that today was not a normal day. It was class time, but the children, most in their yellow and blue checked uniforms were not learning. They were huddled in small groups around the courtyard, milling about with their peers and vying for the attention of Stephen, one of the house fathers, and his camera. Then it becomes apparent that 17 of the children are not in their uniforms; they are donning their newly issued Challenging Heights t-shirts. When the bus pulls into the courtyard, the dull, underlying emotional tension of the day ratchets up because today is the day that those 17 children are being reintegrated with their family members.

Bernice, one of the social workers, calls the children over to collect the pieces they made during their time in art therapy. They scurry into the meeting room to stuff their artwork and new sandals into their bags, already packed with their clothes and toiletries. Throughout all of this activity and final preparations, their friends drape their arms across their shoulders and pull them close, shouting, “Sir! Sir!” for Stephen to take their picture together. Their faces are mostly adorned with smiles and excitement, after all many of them haven’t seen their family in years, but there are of course tears. Friends sad to be apart, children whose families aren’t quite ready for them to come home and concern about friends and siblings still on Lake Volta are the emotions that come bubbling to the surface and stream down their cheeks. Our shelter staff is prepared for this emotional day and makes sure to reassure those who are having a particularly hard time and check in with each of the kids who are still going through the rehabilitation process.

Once all of the final checks are made that everyone has all of their belongings, the kids are shepherded onto the bus. They press their faces against the windows and align their hands with their friends’, who are stretched up on the outside. The engine roars to life and the door to the bus squeaks shut. The kids remaining at the shelter step back, still with their arms stretched up, waving and shouting their good-byes as the bus backs out of the courtyard and on down the dirt road.

Our reintegration team has spent months preparing for this week. They began by tracing the children’s families, where they live, who they are, who is still living and who would be willing to care for the children once they completed their time at the shelter. Most of the parents did not know the fate of the children when they sent them to live with a distant relative; they were told and believed that their child was going to living in a nice home and enrolled in school. In those cases, we sensitise them to the realities of trafficking and the situation of many children on Lake Volta. We ask them about their income and livelihoods and provide support through our livelihoods programmes. Some parents did know the situation they were sending their children to, and in those cases, we find extended family members for the children to return to, such as an aunt and uncle or grandmother, who was also provide livelihoods support to. Based on the family assessment and an assessment of the child, we classify each case according to risk, which then determines the intensity and frequency of our monitoring visits.

The bus makes its way around the communities, sometimes driving far off the paved road, deep into the residential communities to the children’s homes, the reintegration team pointing out directions and turns and helping to navigate the terrain. As the bus pulls up, the activity at the house slows and eventually comes to a stop. The team steps off the bus, with the child following behind and the family members’ faces break into smiles. Siblings come running and sweep their brother or sister up into a warm embrace. The staffs gather the primary caregivers and explain that the children must attend school or their apprenticeship, that we will provide support for their education for the next two years, that our livelihoods programme is available for them and that if the child is re-trafficked, we will arrest them. Once everything is explained, understood and agreed to, the forms that give legal custody to the caregivers are signed and the team waves good-bye with promises to return in the next couple weeks to assist with school registration, while the family takes the child and their belongings home.

The bus then heads off to the next home, until all the children have been reunited and night falls. The major work of the transition is still to come, through our years of monitoring, but the smiles of satisfaction on the staffs’ faces is an indication of the success of the day.



Children in Senya empowered to take action in their 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.



Harvest season is bountiful for seed microloan recipients

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.

Mary 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.

On 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.

Not 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.



In-kind microloan beneficiary praises the programme

Rose 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.

Through 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.



Community Child Protection Committee comes to Immuna

As the rate of trafficking has declined in Winneba, Challenging Heights has begun to expand into other communities along the coast that are major source communities for child trafficking to Lake Volta. This is seen in our increased work and presence in Senya and the recent training of a Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC) in Manford. Adding to that expansion is the initiation of a CCPC in Immuna, a small coastal community between Apam and Cape Coast.

The initial talks with local community members was extremely positive. The residents of Immuna expressed their desire for Challenging Heights to help them combat the trafficking problem in their community, and relayed that by their own estimations nearly 60% of children had been trafficked. They hoped that we would be able to do more for them in the future, including community sensitisations, checking the school rolls for missing children and eventually rescues.

Stephen Adoo, the Rescue and Community Outreach Manager for Challenging Heights, explained the operations of Challenging Heights, the general working of trafficking in Ghana and the role of CCPC’s in both. The majority of trafficking in Ghana is done domestically, rather than transnationally, and so it is a uniquely Ghanaian issue that Ghanaians are in a position to respond to. The CCPCs are made up of respected community members such as pastors, imams, teachers, assembly men and even students in source communities. In collaboration with Challenging Heights, these committees work to keep children in school. When a committee member becomes aware that a child is missing, they are empowered to investigate a bit on their own to try and figure out if it is a trafficking case. They can then either help the child go back to school if they have not been trafficked, or reach out to Challenging Heights if they have been.

As we’ve seen the success of our anti-trafficking message in Winneba, with the number of cases dropping, we know that it is important to take this message beyond the town and into the villages where this problem still persists, but we cannot do it without the support of the local community members.



40,000 pairs of shoes distributed to children in need

For the past few weeks, our field team has been visiting schools around Winneba and the Central Region to distribute 40,000 pairs of shoes to school children in need. Thanks to the generous donation of TOMS Shoes for education, we have been able to provide shoes no only to our children at the Hovde House shelter, where survivors of child slavery are rehabilitated before being reintegrated, but also to thousands of school children who are at risk of being trafficked, dropping out of school or are living in poverty.

We began our distribution focus on schools that have welcomed and supported our reintegrated children in their process and will focus on schools most in need next. We hope that the shoes will inspire pride in the children for attending school, thus encouraging attendance, as well as provide a measure of improved health and safety.

This is the second year in a row that we have partnered with TOMS Shoes for Education, and we hope that it is a lasting partnership for the years to come.



NGO supports police to rescue five children from slavery

Five child slaves in Fantekope, an island community along the Lake Volta in the Kpando District have been rescued from slavery by Anti-Human Trafficking NGO, Challenging Heights.

The rescue mission, conducted in collaboration with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the Ghana Police Service and the Ghana Navy, saw the liberation of five boys between 9 and 19 years who had slaved close to five years on the Lake.

Four out of the five children were allegedly sold into slavery by their 56 year old father; Bright Agyepong, who is claimed to have been receiving the wages of his children’s labour regularly from the slave masters.

Communication Manager of Challenging Heights, Pomaa Arthur, commenting after the rescue, explained that her organisation first heard the news on Peace FM last Thursday and decided to support the AHTU with expertise and logistics since they didn’t have the needed resources.

“We followed up on this issue and supported the police because we are very passionate about the issue of trafficking and rescuing children from slavery is a priority for us. We have been doing this since 2005 and have rescued over 1,500 children from slavery,” she said.

Ms Arthur said following a lead on the exact location of the children, Challenging Heights together with a few armed law enforcement officers went to the island community to save the children.

“The plan was to rescue the four boys who had been sold by their father but upon arrival, a nine year old boy who saw what was going on boldly came out to tell us that he’s also a slave who needs to be rescued because he wants to go to school,” she added.

Ms Arthur explained that children sold into slavery are abused and basically have no rights, adding that, these children are treated like properties.

She said the children are made to work long hours on the lake and are most of the time fed once a day.

“We are excited to have played a very key role in this rescue. This brings the number of children rescued by Challenging Heights this year to 21. These children will undergo rehabilitation at our shelter for a period of 6-9 months before they are reintegrated with their families,” she said.

Ms Arthur urged the government to prioritise the issue of trafficking by allocating more resources to law enforcement agencies responsible for combating trafficking in Ghana.

“We are likely to be downgraded to Tier 3 on the Trafficking in Persons Report if we do not make significant efforts to bring an end to trafficking. When this happens not only will the U.S cut off their aid but we would have failed the thousands of children, women and men who have been forced into slavery,” she said.



Hand in Hand for Literacy Library hosts workshop for area teachers

A library is an important part of any community that values education. But in a place that has low literacy rates and no culture of reading, it takes some work to make the library an integral part of the community.

At the Hand in Hand for Literacy Community Library we recognize the work that it can take to build a culture of reading. In the past, we’ve held spelling bees, poetry readings and quiz competitions. One of our long-time volunteers and supporters, who spends time each year volunteering in the library, saw a need for teachers to learn new skills for teaching reading and ways to engage their students with the library.

With the help of St. Thomas Aquinas Church through Friends of Challenging Heights, the library staff held a workshop for teachers from 20 local schools about different techniques to use to teach reading. Skills covered included extensive versus intensive reading, ways to increase motivation to read for pleasure, theories of pedagogy and ideas for student-centered activities. The teachers, of English and Fante, engaged in lively discussions about the various topics and were excited to take the skills back to their own classrooms.

The workshop also continued beyond just teaching skills and included an introduction to the community library and ways for the participants and their students to engage with the library. We hope that transferring the skills needed to make the library a fun and enjoyable place to be to the teachers, that they will also be able to instil these habits and values in their students.

We’re proud of the library’s growth and the place that it holds in Winneba’s community and we hope that it’s role will only continue to expand as more children learn the joys of reading.



Challenging Heights attends UNICEF workshop about corporal punishment

Last week was a major step forward for our Advocacy Officer, Akua Duah, and her anti-corporal punishment campaign. She, along with numerous stakeholders from five regions in Ghana attended a workshop sponsored by UNICEF and the Ghana government to work through the issues that surround the use of corporal punishment in Ghana.

The workshop began with the participants defining what it meant for a school to be safe. The regional directors for the Ghana Education system, guidance and counselling representatives, head teachers, a clinical psychologist and the police all agreed that school safety goes beyond just the physical structure of the school and includes how children are treated there. They were able to come to the conclusion on their own that the use of corporal punishment undermines school safety.

The workshop then went on to challenge some of the participants beliefs about the use of corporal punishment. At the beginning, the participants all agreed that beating children is not acceptable, but many were not convinced that banning corporal punishment was the appropriate action for schools in Ghana. Many argued that corporal punishment should be used, but moderately and only by certain staff members at the school. After watching videos of the caning in practice at schools in Ghana and hearing from students, it became clear to the participants that the idea of what “moderate” means when it comes to using corporal punishment is entirely subjective and that there is no real way to place any kind of regulation on the severity of physical punishment.

Finally, the participants then were led to question why they believed that corporal punishment should be used. Through discussing a variety of other discipline techniques and reward based systems, the stakeholders came to understand that there are a number of other tools at their disposal when it comes to disciplining children and working to reinforce positive behaviour. After examining their underlying beliefs about physical discipline and its alternatives, the participants came to the conclusion that the main reason they felt that corporal punishment should be used is because corporal punishment was used on them as children, and furthermore, they agreed that is not a compelling reason to continue to use corporal punishment.

We are looking forward to the opportunity to work with these other leaders and educators to help change the culture surrounding corporal punishment in Ghana.



Challenging Heights calls for government action to address human trafficking

Challenging Heights has stated that it is disappointed in the Government for still failing to address the issue of Human Trafficking in Ghana.

Ghana has for the second consecutive year been classified as a Tier 2 Watch List country in the Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report released by the U.S State Department last week due to the government’s inability to demonstrate enough efforts to prevent trafficking, prosecute criminals and protect victims.

The American government has warned that the country risks losing millions of money in aid if no effort is taken to address the situation.

Ms Pomaa Arthur, Communications Manager of the Anti-Trafficking NGO in a statement said that it is rather disappointing that systems and structures put in place by the government to fight trafficking are nothing but a cosmetic measure.

“This report reveals how much our government is unconcerned about the issues of trafficking and forced labour. Through government’s inactions, all efforts by other non-governmental organisations and agencies to bring an end to trafficking in Ghana appears to be nothing but a drop in the ocean,” she said.

Ms Arthur explained that since the Human Trafficking Fund was set-up several years ago, there has been less than GH¢200,000 deposited in that coffers coupled with a virtually non-functioning Human Trafficking Management Board in place.

She said although the government directly and indirectly receives funds from international organisations and countries such as the US to combat trafficking, the issue seems not to be on the country’s priority list as almost all government agencies mandated to fight trafficking are under-resourced or understaffed.

“We want to know what government uses donor monies for; we want to know why law-enforcement agencies are not able carry out their duties properly and we want to know why government doesn’t care about its own people who are being bought and sold as though they have no value,” she asked.

Ms Arthur noted that due to the government’s apathetic attitude towards the issue of trafficking, law-enforcement agencies such as the police and judiciary are equally laidback resulting in the country been classified as a source, transit and destination point for traffickers.

“Ghana is gradually becoming the hub of traffickers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our legal structures are not working and traffickers have taken advantage of that opportunity to turn Ghana into an operation centre for their illegal activities. They know the police will not arrest them and even if they are, they will not be convicted,” she said.

Ms Arthur noted that it’s almost an established fact that most of the efforts to address Human Trafficking has been through civil society organsations such as Challenging Heights therefore, government needed to collaborate and co-operate well with NGOs who have the resources and know-how on trafficking related issues.

“Challenging heights has been rescuing trafficked children since 2005 and providing them with rehabilitation to ensure that they are psychologically sound before they are reintegrated into society. We are committed as an organisation to end this menace, but are efforts will be futile if government does not demonstrate the same commitment,” she said.

Ms Arthur said irrespective of what Challenging Heights or any other NGO does, government still remains the most effective primary tool for stopping trafficking in the country and ensuring that the country makes significant efforts to bring an end to the situation.

She called on the government to take swift action to resource the Human Trafficking Management Board through the Human Trafficking Fund and to appropriately tool the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service to ensure the effective delivery of their mandate under the law.

“We fear that if this government inaction on Human Trafficking is not changed, Ghana may well slip into Tier 3 in the next report,” she added.

 

You can find Ghana’s country profile from the 2016 Trafficking in Person Report here.



Sixteen children rescued from forced labour on Lake Volta

After months of research and preparations, our Rescue Team spent the last two weeks on Lake Volta locating and rescuing sixteen children from forced labour.

Stephen Adoo, the Rescue and Community Outreach Manager, works closely with the Community Child Protection Committees (CCPCs). These committees are made up of local community members in high standing, such as elders, pastors, imams, assemblymen, as well as students, and they serve as points of education for their community about trafficking, the importance of children staying in school and report instances of trafficking to us. When we get these reports of trafficking, our field team works to gather as much information as we can about the child, their family, where they were trafficked to, who trafficked them and where on Lake Volta they are likely to be. Their name then gets added to Adoo’s rescue list.

We aim to do a least two rescues on Lake Volta a year, along with a number of other rescues from interceptions before the children make it to the lake. These rescues usually last around two weeks, with long days spent under the sun in a boat on Lake Volta. Our team goes to a number of small villages that dot the lake shore to search for the children on our list. When we find them, we work to convince them to come with us and their masters and the villagers to let us rescue them. Nearly all of them express a desire to go to school, and we explain how they will have that opportunity with us.

As the children are rescued, they stay in a transitional shelter until the rescue operation has finished. Then, we bring them to the Hovde House shelter, where our qualified and trained staff takes over to help them on the road of recovery and rehabilitation. This week, we and the children at the shelter, welcomed 16 new residents with warmth and open arms. We know that their journey to recovery is just beginning and will be a difficult one, but we are proud to say that we will be with them every step of the way.



CH Cold Store marks major success on first day

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.



After five attempts, Kodjo agreed to a rescue

He’d heard of Challenging Heights and the work they did to take children working on Lake Volta away from their labour, but he turned away their efforts to rescue him at least three or four times before he arrived at the Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter. The 18 year-old we’ll call Kodjo, to protect his identity, enjoyed fishing. He enjoyed the money he made with his uncle, and he had no interest in going back to his father who had kicked him out of his house when he was a small child. It was the fact that he wished he spent more than just five days in his entire life in school, that he wanted to see how the Challenging Heights rescue team could help him.

When he was just a small child living in Winneba, there was an incident after which Kodjo was kicked out of his house, and he had been gone ever since. He found money while sweeping his house, spent it, but after his father found out, and Kodjo went to sleep, his father beat him with a stick and told him to leave the house.

Walking alone toward his grandmother’s house, Kodjo said a friend of his mother’s saw him, asked where he was going and said that she would bring him to another city, Tema, when she was going that way a few days later. The woman picked him up and Kodjo lived with her in Tema, east of Accra, for many years. There, Kodjo said, he had a good life. All the while, his father wanted to bring him back to Winneba and Kodjo refused.

The one time he went to school, Kodjo had been told to write his ABC’s on the blackboard and when he didn’t, the teacher beat him. Kodjo received a cut on his back and so he hit the teacher in the head with a stone and left, never to return.

Eventually, his mother’s friend brought him back to Winneba, where he lived with his grandmother.  When Kodjo was about 15, his uncle visited Winneba and asked if he wanted to come to work on the lake with him in Yeji, since he needed help. Kodjo agreed.

For a few years, Kodjo worked tirelessly, dragging nets and pulling fish into canoes. He went to the lake by 3 a.m. and finished around 8 a.m., before heading out to sell the fish in the afternoons. It was a busy time, but he appreciated the benefits he got since whatever he needed was provided. He knew of others who had been beaten or starved, but he felt like he had everything he needed. He did not, however, get to go to school. It was something he hadn’t realized he wanted until he was rescued by Challenging Heights.

He had known of Challenging Heights, but refused to go with the field team when they arrived to rescue him because he felt like he had been making decent money and on the path toward financial stability., plus he didn’t want to be near his father, for whom he always held a grudge. His family in Winneba, though, wanted him home – and many of the promises he had been told from his uncle, like that of getting a home of his own when he returns to Winneba, would not be fulfilled.

Finally his uncle told him, “Every year they come and you don’t go. This year, go. Go and listen to your father.”

The fifth time Challenging Heights arrived on Lake Volta and showed up to his village to bring him back, Kodjo agreed to be rescued. At the time, he had a hernia and needed medical care that was not being provided in his current situation. Now grateful to Challenging Heights for taking care of his surgery, medication and care, Kodjo may not have come for help if it had not been for his uncle’s urging.

Kodjo was taken to the hospital and his hernia was taken care of, plus he remained at the Hovde House rehabilitation shelter and began basic schooling. He’s now eager to continue his learning and realizes that there are more opportunities for a successful life than just fishing.



Success in school after years on Lake Volta

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.



Reintegrating and reuniting 10 survivors of child slavery

It was an emotional morning, with expressions ranging from ear-to-ear grins to tears of joy to nervous jitters to a sense of sadness. Ten children would be leaving our Hovde House shelter, where they had been living and recuperating for a least the last six months, to rejoin their families and begin school or apprenticeships.

One by one, each of the children were called in to do a final exit interview with our social workers. Final assessments and measurements were made and instructions for any lingering and ongoing health issues were given. In the art therapy room, the children collected their various artworks to take home with them. A new pair of TOMS shoes and sandals were distributed to each child and they stuffed them all into their duffel bag, already filled with clothes.

After a group picture, with all of the kids at the shelter, a few last Challenging Heights chants and hugs, the children boarded the bus, which pulled out surrounding by waving hands. The ten kids, along with the reintegration team and social workers were off. The mood got a little quieter, a little more reflective, but when the radio was tuned to some Shatta Wale, a popular Ghanaian musician, the excitement returned with some sing-alongs.

Once again, one-by-one, the bus made its way to each of the family homes of the children. After receiving lunch and some water, the children stepped off the bus with their duffel bags and into the arms of their families. Siblings, many who hadn’t seen each other for years, bounded across yards and from within houses to greet their returned sibling with excited embraces and face-sized smiles.

After some final paperwork from the parents and a family portrait, we let the child know that we would be back in the next week to help enroll them in school and that we would be back to check on them regularly. And with that, we let them take the weekend to get settled into their free lives.

You can watch the day unfold in our video, below.

Reintegration of Survivors of Child Slavery – Challenging Heights



Child Development Khazanas come to Swedru schools

In a partnership with Butterflies India, last week we signed up 80 students to participate in Child Development Khazanas (CDKs) as a way to foster our relationship with the community of Swedru and promote financial literacy and good money management skills among youth.

The day began at one school and the afternoon was spend at a second, where we met with the students’ parents to explain the purpose of the programme. Through the CDK, the students would be able to save and borrow money, learn how to balance their own passbook ledger and plan financially. Each student would be given their own passbook and some select students and teachers would receive training on the program to manage the deposits, withdrawals and loans. Younger children are able to take out loans for things to further or improve their education, while older students are able to take out loans to finance an economic enterprise.

Some parents were sceptical of their children’s responsibility in depositing the money and not purchasing sweets, but ultimately through detailed explanation, came to understand the importance of how this program can help with those issues and foster a sense of financial responsibility and growth. The students themselves were especially eager to participate in the program, and spent more than an hour waiting to get all of their forms filled out and their first deposit made.

Soon, the second part of the CDKs, a first aid and health care component will be implemented. Some students will be trained in  administering first aid and first aid boxes will be placed around the school in strategic places. We are excited to see the growth of these programmes and how they foster independence and responsibility among the students who participate.



New Community Child Protection Committee formed in Manford

One of the most important parts of our work with identifying children who are at risk or have been trafficked is our partnerships with community members. We call these groups Community Child Protection Committees, or CCPCs, and they are comprised of important community members, such as assembly men, the chief, pastors, imams, teachers, health workers, students and other prominent community members. After a community member from Manford, a town on the Ghanaian coast, saw our CCPC in action in Senya, he requested that we come to Manford.

This is not our first time working in Manford; we have a handful of children who we have rescued and since reintegrated there, we’ve done two community sensitisations about trafficking and children’s rights as well as three school sensitisations. But this is our first time starting a CCPC there, bringing our number of active CCPCs to 15 throughout Senya, Winneba and now Manford.

Last week, our field team provided a training on child protection and what their role is as a CCPC member. Nearly half of the 30 members of the new CCPC were able to attend and learned about how they are to serve as watchdogs in the community, not only for signs of trafficking but for any violation of children’s rights that they may discover. They learned about who can help in a variety of situations and how they can be proactive in the situations. All of the members are excited about their new roles and are hoping for some Challenging Heights branded t-shirts and hopefully some ID cards as well, to strengthen their own sense of authority on these issues.

We plan to finish training the others who could not make this training in the next couple of weeks, and once everyone is on board, we are looking forward to a long-lasting and beneficial relationship with the community of Manford.



Challenging Heights encourages media to cover social protection issues

We here at Challenging Heights are extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish. From rescuing slaves from Lake Volta to rehabilitating them in our Hovde House shelter; from providing micro-loans to women to training youth in business and ICT skills; from creating Community Child Protection Committees to stickering tro tros and taxis, we are very much a part of the community here and people here know us and our work. But, there are many people all over Ghana that are not aware of the many social issues that Ghana as a nation faces; we need help from the media to spread the message of how we can address issues like poverty.

Last week, our Advocacy Officer, Akua Boatemaa Duah, facilitated a workshop for a variety of media outlets, including Joy TV, Adom TV, Daily Graphic, Star FM and Ayinadao FM, to raise their awareness of the variety of social protection projects that are working in Ghana. She particularly focused on the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme, which is a big part of Challenging Heights’ livelihood work. LEAP is a cash transfer programme administered by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and it provides financial support to vulnerable families, the elderly, the severely disabled and caregivers to orphans and vulnerable children. Through a partnership with Challenging Heights to study the effects of LEAP, it has been shown that LEAP can prevent family separation, helps with meeting healthcare costs, reduce tension and stress within the family and improve relationships within the household. Another way to help you and your family cope with the tension and stress check the CBD carts available at the link.

Our Communications Manager, Pomaa Arthur, detailed ways that the media can increase their coverage of these kinds of stories in their respective publications and broadcasts. By making these topics a part of the mainstream coverage, instead of burying them inside or at the end of a broadcast, more people will come to understand the issues that many people are really facing, and that by including their voices and stories in the coverage of these issues will only improve the quality and trustworthiness of the media organization. She also added that by increasing the coverage of the social protection plans, the problems that the programmes face will be easier to solve.

We look forward to working with the media and supporting them going forward as they increase their coverage of social protection programmes.



Professional development training at shelter yields results

In order to provide the best care we can to the rescued children in our shelter, our staff continually undergoes professional development and skills training throughout the year. Most recently, a member of the Juconi Foundation, based in Mexico and a fellow member of Family for Every Child, came and did trainings about a variety of topics throughout her week-long stay. The shelter staff found the trainings extremely helpful and implemented much of these new techniques immediately.

One of the topics covered during this training was attachment therapy. Many staff members were familiar with attachment therapy from before the training, but hearing about how it affects children from a professional who works with similar populations in Mexico made the information much more practical and easier for the social workers and the shelter assistants to relate to the children they work with. Understanding the because many of the children were trafficked at a young age, typically around 5, and that many of them were experiencing insecure or ambivalent attachment has helped the staff to reframe their understandings of the reactions and behaviours of many of the children they work with. The staff has now begun to make an effort to begin attachment when new rescues come to the shelter by building trust, making them feel at home and filling the vacuum of care from their former life.

These reshaped attitudes around attachment also help to support another topic from the training: hypothetical language. Rather than labelling children as “bad,” “naughty,” or “stubborn,” instead our caregivers think the hypothetical situations of what their past experiences may have been that are resulting in the behaviour and reactions at hand. The children are often exhibiting a learned behaviour that stems from their attachment issues. By framing interactions in hypotheticals, it helps to build empathy between the caregivers and the children so that they can work together towards recovery. This also helps the children to not feel as if they are labelled as “bad,” and pigeonhole themselves into what they think that category is or give up on trying altogether.

Once the staff was able to begin thinking hypothetically about the children’s past, they were able to better understand how to use positive discipline. Because the children have been exposed to violence in their former lives and many of them have learned that they must fight in order to survive, violence from the staff does not correct the undesirable behaviour and only contributes to the circle of violence. Instead, the training taught the staff to reason with the children, and that if they are being violent, to give them time to calm themselves before engaging in a caring discussion.

“Instead of trying to get rid of the old path, we should work together to build a new one,” Shelter Manager Linda Osabusey said when describing how positive discipline works in the shelter. “We’ve already seen the effects of positive discipline in the two weeks since we’ve really implemented it. You can see the numbers improving in the behaviour charts. Many of the children who felt like they were labelled as bad, and had given up and just stopped trying – they had never gotten [one of the weekly] awards. This last week, for some of them, it was their first time.”

One thing that the shelter staff learned about and hopes to find a way to implement in the future is individual family therapies. There is often pain, distrust and attachment problems between the child and their family members and being able to do family therapies would help to repair those relationships and create a healthy and healing path forward.

We are excited to watch the shelter staff grow in this way and provide what we believe should be the standard of care for rescued children in Ghana and around the world. We are especially grateful to Family for Every Child for providing us with the opportunity to have this training.



Reintegrated children prepare for their first school vacation

Rescuing children from slavery on Lake Volta is only the first step in a long, and sometimes difficult, journey to recovery. Here at Challenging Heights, not only do we rescue children, we have an outstanding shelter at the Hovde House where the children are able to begin schooling and have access to therapies and counselling. It is here that we begin reuniting the children with their parents and assess the living situations that they will be moving to once they have progressed through their healing.

But we don’t just send the children on their way after leaving the Hovde House either. We follow up with them for a couple of years, making sure they are supported through their reintegration to their schools and communities and help them through any difficulties they may encounter.

Just this last week, we met with the groups of children who have been reintegrated to talk to them about school vacation; this will be the first school vacation ever for some of them. They had a lot to tell us about their first school term, including exams and what it’s like being at home.

Many of our reintegrated children felt well prepared for school and their exams. A few shared their feelings about feeling inadequate in certain subjects, particularly maths. But, our very capable Reintegration Officers, Alfred and Anita, helped them to understand that we all have things that we struggle with, and that we just need to keep working and keep practicing to get better and more comfortable. We had a chance to check out the report cards for our students and we are very pleased by the number of students doing well in so many subjects. This way we will also be able to pair up students to help each other in the subjects that they are weaker in.

Alfred and Anita also spent some time discussing with the children productive ways to spend their school vacation. They encouraged them to continue studying so that they wouldn’t forget everything they learned when the new term starts in three weeks. The children were also warned against going to the fishing beaches, roaming around the town and going off into the bush to search for mangoes, as these kinds of activities aren’t particularly safe. Together, they brainstormed good places to go and activities to do over the coming weeks. Looking out for each other and making sure that they all go back to school when the next term starts up was included on that list of things for them to do.

We are extremely proud of the progress that so many of our rescued children have made and we are very excited to watch them as they continue to excel in school and beyond.



Local fish mongers step up to help at Challenging Heights’ 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.

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.

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.



YEP Graduate runs his own printing 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.

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.

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.



High hopes for high fashion instead of fishing on Lake Volta

Sitting behind a sewing machine in the noisy tailor shop at Nkwantanan, in the middle of the four access roads in Winneba, Kwabena Samuel spreads a dress out under the needle, preparing to stitch. He says he never thought a male could sew female clothing, but under Master Bonney’s supervision, he is an apprentice, and sewing for female dresses gives him great joy.

It was only months ago that he wanted to work as an auto-mechanic, but just over a year ago that he never imagined life as anything other than fishing on Lake Volta.

Spending nine years on Lake Volta, Samuel worked for two masters. His mother trafficked him to work with extended family, but later, his mother came for him and sold him to work for another, unrelated person.

On the lake, Samuel was in charge of the boat; he oversaw the smaller children, as well as doing much of the heavy work himself. He’d cast the fishing net, dive into the water to detangle nets caught in trees and paddled the canoe.

“Life was difficult for us,” he said, as he explained that they began work at dawn and sometimes didn’t come home until night-time. In those hours, work was nonstop. He said there was no day to rest; it was seven days a week.

His master made promises he later learned would never be realised. Samuel says he was promised a room of a house that was being constructed in Winneba, so he worked really hard, to make sure that that at the end of the day, he wasn’t the one to break a promise. He wanted that room for himself. Very hesitant to join Challenging Heights when they came for him, it took more than two hours for the field team to convince Samuel about why he needed to come home. He had been nervous that going with Challenging Heights meant that an opportunity of a lifetime (securing his own room in Winneba) would pass by.

It wasn’t until he was at our Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter that Samuel understood that other opportunities are out there for him, and that his master had been lying to him during his time on the lake. Samuel’s trafficker told him about Challenging Heights before they came for him; warned him that if we ever came for him, we would take him somewhere bad or make him work harder or even sell him. These ideas made Samuel skeptical of Challenging Heights, until he was in our care.

First nervous to leave the life he knew, Samuel says when he got to the shelter and saw the children and spoke to those who had already been there, he realised that he was at home, and that not long after, he would really be home in Winneba with his family.

Samuel had never been to school before he started classes at the shelter. While there, he joined the group of older children for an apprenticeship tour. That’s when he saw so many new options for career paths in life and he changed his mind from wanting to work on cars, to dreaming about opening his own tailor shop and even taking it to a higher level, to become a fashion designer.

Just after his reintegration in August, Samuel joined Master Bonney at his shop and explains that this new master is patient and kind. He sees Master Bonney’s passion to work with children, even those like him who may pose challenges never having had formal education. With patience, Master Bonney guides him through work and life. Very happy sitting behind a sewing machine, he’s excited to do whatever the master hands him and he knows that it is all good for him.

Samuel thanks Challenging Heights for reaching him and “giving him life.” He says there are so many children on the lake and he feels fortunate to be rescued. He had always had a vision to learn a trade as he grew up, but there was no opportunity for him to do so on the lake. He told himself that someone may come and rescue him, and once Challenging Heights had, his dreams can come true.

He’s seen in a few short months how his life has improved dramatically from his time on the lake and he’s looking towards the future. In about four years, he can become a master himself, open a tailor shop and teach others like himself. He hopes for the resources to be able to rescue some of his friends and others who are trapped on Lake Volta, knowing that there is a future other than a life of fishing.



CHS students compete in Winneba’s Inter-school Games

Each school year in the middle of the second term, schools from across Winneba come together in friendly competition. Twelve different schools participated this year, in football (soccer), netball, volleyball and handball, over a three-day period.

Students had been practicing for weeks before the competition, developing teamwork and strategy. On the first day of the games, masses of children piled into Winneba United Park, some in school uniforms, but many in sport jerseys for their respective schools. There is also activity happening at two other school grounds nearby.

Challenging Heights students helped set up a tent that would provide for shade for some players and spectators; food vendors set up tables of waakye (rice and beans) and rice, and others sold snacks on their heads.

Older boys gathered with whistles and drums creating a beat for friends to sing and chant in support of their teams. Smaller children surrounded the noisemakers, dancing and moving along with the excitement.

Games run in tournament fashion, with winners playing winners, losers playing losers.

At Baptist Academy, girls face off in netball matches. It’s a game on a field with two poles with circles that resemble basketball goals. Players take up positions: goal attack, goal defender, wind attack, wind defender, center, goal shooter, and goal keeper. The ball is mostly passed through the air; double dribbles aren’t allowed. The ball shouldn’t touch the ground, or even the players’ legs. If the ball does hit someone’s leg, the ball is given to the opposing team.

The players on Challenging Heights’ team say they don’t usually know the students from the other schools, so they don’t know who could be tough competition. The girls don’t seem to care though, Abigail says they know how to do the proper pivot to be able to play well and the other schools may not. Savannah agrees with confidence: “We are good!”

Spectators cheer like crazy for each sport, and while students usually sit with their own schools, sometimes they have friends from other schools, too. Challenging Heights JHS student, Naomi says she goes to church with her friend Sarah, who’s dressed in a Baptist Academy school uniform. Sarah says she’ll cheer for Naomi when she takes the field, even though they root for different teams.

In all, our students performed very well at the games. Our primary school students took the 2nd place overall champion, and JHS teams ranked 3rd place overall. We got 2nd place in girls primary volleyball, and 2nd place in boys primary volleyball. Our football (soccer) team took 1st place! And our JHS football team ranked 4th out of 12 schools.  We’re proud of our athletes, and we know they’re only getting better.



CH Development Partners work to help stop child trafficking in Ghana

An overwhelming number of children in Accra Town, an island community close toYeji in the Brong-Ahafo Region are not enrolled in school or getting proper education amid persistent child labour in the predominantly fishing community.

Children of school going age are often found engaging in fishing with their parents or guardians on the Lake Volta during school hours resulting in lateness or total absenteeism at the only educational centre in the community; Accra Town D/A Primary School.

This trend was observed when Challenging Heights (CH); a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Winneba, visited the coastal community with members of its Ambassadors Programme to expose them to the humanitarian and philanthropic activities of the organisation.

The occasion also provided an opportunity for the Ambassadors to have fun and interact with the schoolchildren, teachers and residents of the community. The group of seven from the United States of America, for a period of two-weeks, will familiarise themselves with the four core programmes of Challenging Heights, namely; education, recovery and rescue of trafficked children, livelihood and advocacy.

The Headmaster of Accra Town D/A Primary School, Mr Wisdom Tsamenyi, interacting with the Ambassadors, said although the scale of child trafficking and hazardous labour amongst children in the area had declined significantly since CH started working with the community; it clearly remained a major setback.

He noted that one of the major problems confronting the school was the issue of pupil absenteeism and lateness. He said that often, families in the community had very little interest in their children’s education as compared to their help with fishing and mending nets on the Lake.

“Sometimes, I have to go round the community on my motorbike appealing to parents and guardians to release their wards to come to school. Some of them yield to my request and allow the children to come to school for a period, others release their children after their fishing is done and some do not come to school at all,” he added.

Mr Tsamenyi noted that children were frequently tardy in coming to schooland mostly tired as a result of going fishing in the early hours of the morning.

“These pupils habitually sleep during lessons and immediately ran back home during break-time,” he said.

Mr Tsamenyi further explained that the pupils, after completing their primary school, had to relocate to the Yeji Township to continue with their junior high education, adding that, the situation discouraged them from starting school since it was unlikely that they will carry on with the learning process. Speaking about the unavailability of accommodation for teachers, MrTsamenyi explained that housing problems deterred most teachers who have been posted to the community from coming to teach.

“The conditions of service in this vicinity are very poor. Accommodation is not provided for us and this is coupled with inaccessibility to potable drinking water. Even here in the school, students have to walk three kilometres to and fro each day to fetch drinking water from the lake, which is our only source of water,” he lamented. Mr Tsamenyi was however, grateful to CH for facilitating the construction of the primary school for Accra New Town and supporting the school with shoes for the pupils as well as teaching and learning materials.

Chairman of Friends of Challenging Heights, USA, Mr Mark Hamilton, said they would go back home to tell the story and raise funds to help stop child trafficking in Ghana, improve education and strengthen communities to economically empower themselves and resist trafficking.

“We have been to the CH’s Hovde House Shelter in Central Regionwhere we met some survivors of child trafficking and saw for ourselves how Challenging Heights is working with them to reintegrate them into society. Now we are here in Yeji, and judging by the number of children we saw working on the lake, it’s obvious that more needs to be done to end child slavery in Ghana,” he said. Mr Hamilton said the Ambassadorswill visit the Challenging Heights School in Winneba to spend time with the pupils and join the staff in teaching the children for a week before returning to the USA.

The Recovery and Community Engagement Manager of Challenging Heights, Stephen Addo, was grateful to the seven Ambassadors for making the trip to Ghana and entreated the government, corporate institutions and individuals to join forces with CH to end child trafficking in Ghana.

SOURCE: Challenging Heights



Without water in Winneba

For nearly two months, water did not flow from the city lines throughout the town of Winneba. Turning on a faucet and  realizing there is no water – is not uncommon in the town, but usually the water may go off for a few hours at a time; that’s when water tanks refill and families can fill their buckets when it is flowing. Many weeks without water, however, makes life that much harder. Children spend extra time fetching water in the mornings and evenings, including students at Challenging Heights School.

Twenty four students board at CHS for much of the school year, most of them are a part of the Junior High School Class 3, preparing for their Basic Education Certification Exam. Each afternoon, the group walked 15-20 minutes from the school to the Challenging Heights office to fill dozens of buckets and gallon jugs with fresh water from the newly dug bore hole. While the rest of the town needed water from buckets, Challenging Heights staff and some beneficiaries in the area received fresh water from deep underground from faucets as usual.

The decision to dig the bore hole came after water bills skyrocketed at the office, compounded with inconsistent water flowing from city lines. The cost of the drilling is something that is expected to be paid off within four or five months of its use (and not paying city water bills), plus the benefit of having water that flows regardless of the overall water system has already paid dividends in convenience and fulfilling needs.

Since not all children can afford pure water to drink or use for washing, they rely on water that flows from the city. When children do not have access to water at home, they are more likely to spend their time fetching water for family members than doing school work, and may not even be able to get to school on time, if at all. Having to walk and fill buckets for washing and bathing means time taken away from serious studying for the students boarding at CHS.

Even as the water flows in Winneba today, we know that this will not always be the case and that our children will be filling buckets to carry back to wash often into the future. A bore hole dug at the school will alleviate time and energy spent on something that should come as a natural right for our children: easy access to clean water.

Your support will go a long way in supplying water to Challenging Heights School for years to come.



Rescued children learn life skills for personal health, safety and self-control

As we rehabilitate children rescued from slave labour on Lake Volta, staff at our Hovde House shelter continuously works on behaviour management and discipline as children get ready to go back to their communities. As part of this process, officials from governmental agencies come to the shelter to speak to children about real-life issues and potential problems they could face.

Staff from Ghana’s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DVVSU) arrived at the shelter to speak about behaviours that are not acceptable in society. They made the children aware that even minors can be sent to juvenile court and can be convicted of crimes that send them to correctional facilities that will work on changing negative behaviours.

These are important warnings for some of the more rambunctious children at the shelter, so that those who are ready to go home will be careful and behave once they are reintegrated. While Challenging Heights staff continues to monitor children once they’re back at home, arming them with knowledge and warnings for the future may help instil discipline for a positive path as the children grow older.

Another future-building session came from Ghana Health Services. Three members of staff spoke to our rescued children, aged 12 and older. They discussed adolescent health issues and behaviours to control as the children grow. These topics include sexually transmitted infections, to early pregnancy and general health concerns that could arise in the years to come.

One staff member reminded the children to use protection any time they feel they are ready to engage sexually. If problems arise and they need to seek medical care, it’s important that their partners also get checked out and treated as necessary. The children were warned about yeast infections and how to stay clean and healthy. They were also told that if they are shy to find treatment or prevention methods at a neighbourhood pharmacy, there are health centres available that can provide important contraception or treatment products.

Throughout the detailed discussions, the staff also reminded the children how many of them ended up where they are. They expressed a shared experience, acknowledging that “many of us suffer” because mothers didn’t take the time to plan their lives. Young women often have no solid way to earn a living before they gave birth, and oftentimes had more children than they could handle, so they were not able to take care of the children properly. Struggles like that lead to child trafficking and poverty. The children at Hovde House are given knowledge and tools to create successful futures for themselves and their own families.



Financial management training helps beneficiaries plan for their businesses

In search of better jobs and more secure income, hundreds of women and a few men join our Challenging Heights Women Economic Empowerment Programme (WEEP) training sessions throughout the year.

Part of each training session includes life skills trainings that could help in the future of their businesses, like simple best practices for personal finance management. At one session, the group heard from Challenging Heights Grants Manager, Jonathan Anderson, who shared insight into how to save, open bank accounts and raise financial capital. People may be able to make money already, but Jonathan says most people in the Winneba or Senya areas still keep cash in unsafe places, like easily accessible in their houses.

So many who sell goods at the market, or even own small shops in Winneba and the Central Region may face challenges in terms of keeping records of purchases and sales. Jonathan suggested that people need to know when they’re unable to keep their own records and know when they should employ someone who can help. In terms of savings, it’s important that the small business owners who attend our trainings should save to raise financial capital and be able to expand their businesses.

The women are encouraged to form cooperative groups, so that people can more easily manage their market training, in terms of selling products to customers. With a group, they can easily pool resources, and help people access certain services that individuals cannot easily access if they don’t have enough capital to start their own bank accounts.  With a group, the bank will leverage their rates of losing money. They will benefit from collective action, where each member of the cooperative is held responsible to make sure their collective money is paid back. They’ll be more likely to receive loans in cooperatives.

Working with banks in groups, the individuals will then get experience with investments, training and information about what could be available to help them as they build a business. A lot of the women would not know what could be available to them in terms of loans or interest rates if they never stepped foot in a bank, which they could be afraid to do without encouragement or confidence.

Financial management training is added into soap making training, fish smoking and preservation training and horticulture trainings, to create comprehensive training that will give beneficiaries insight into how they can best improve their small business models. Everyone who receives skills training is also briefed in financial management, food security training and often times, child protection training.



Safety and hope for a bright future make Hovde House “home” after a rescue

Fifteen year-old Ema enjoys reading in the shelter’s library. year-old Ema spent six years fishing as a child slave on Lake Volta. He and others would wake up by 7 a.m., go to the lake and come back for breakfast, but then they would turn back around and work without returning again until evening.

Ema says in the day, the fishing nets were tied with rope and they would use blades to cut the nets to make new ways to use them. If the group brought only one net to the lake on any given morning, they would typically return for food by 9 or 10 a.m., and they would eat rice porridge for breakfast. Lunch would be eaten later in the day, skipping breakfast, if they had two nets with them, which was often. The group did always have an evening meal.

While he didn’t feel starved and he says he was treated relatively decently, Ema says he wasn’t happy working on the lake. He never wanted to stay on the lake, because he wanted to go to school, as he had done before he was sent to work.

On the lake, Ema stayed with his father, who was a fisherman. He says five of his other siblings also worked on the lake alongside him, while one stayed behind in Senya. The five remain on the lake, fishing with his father – and Ema hopes they, too, will have the opportunity to go to school when they are older.

After arriving at the shelter, Ema says he’s happy with all that he has learned to do, skills and education-wise. He says he feels like he is becoming cleverer. With his sights set on becoming a bank manager, he says he likes reading.

At times Ema says he felt unsafe while he was fishing on Lake Volta. One of his biggest fears came from traditional Ghanaian beliefs, where people could curse others by pouring alcoholic drinks and speaking bad words on them. Ema was afraid that someone on the lake would do that to him, and that if he dove under water to retrieve fishing nets, that he would never resurface.

It’s the safety Ema feels while at the Hovde House, plus a hope for a bright future filled with education and success that he’s glad he was rescued from working on the lake and hopes others will be, too.



Soap making adds extra skills for beneficiaries’ earning potential

In a boisterous training session under a canopy set up next to the Challenging Heights office in Sankor, more than seventy women (and some men!) participated in a soap making training session.

From students, to elderly grandparents, the participants were eager to learn how to make liquid and solid soaps that they could use for their families, sell from the market, their store fronts or sell to restaurants or other businesses.

Rebecca Arhin was one participant who says the group learned a lot in terms of how to make liquid and bath soaps. She says they were far easier to make than anticipated and that the soaps, especially liquid, could be used for many things like bathing, clothes washing, or hand washing. Enjoying the hands-on approach to learning, Rebecca says it’s good to have a skill or item to create to sell. Learning this skill, Rebecca says, is a huge benefit to women who are at home not working, but even those who do can better their lives. Whether someone is self-employed, a student, or working for another, soap making is a way to improve one’s self marketability. Rebecca is a student studying marketing; she says she will make it in the house and sell it in the market as an added income.

“It helps a lot because most of the women here learn to do fishing and smoking the fish, so as they are smoking the fish, and selling, you can as well learn the soap and sell the soap as well. If the fishing selling doesn’t go well, you can attach the soap to it to make it work,” says Rebecca.

Chiming in with similar sentiment, Sabina Owusu is appreciative to know the details of soap making, but also learned important tips in how to care for her children, farming and other comprehensive learning topics. She’s happy that now that she can make soap, she expects to work and make good money to support her family.

Sabina is a seamstress in Aboso, a town near the Challenging Heights Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter, and she says she plans to make soap and sell it alongside garmets in her shop. “So when people come and [I] sew their things I will let them know how it is and they will buy to wash their things and it will help me too to look [after] my children, to pay my children’s school fees and many many things at home.”

A step ahead of many in the training class, Sabina says she already has some small cash in a bank account from her seamstress business that she can use to start her soap making. She says she will now be able to teach her friends how to make soap so they can start their own small businesses, too. Without much prior knowledge about Challenging Heights before this training, Sabina is impressed with its work and hopes that funding for trainings like this will continue because she finds them so helpful.



Child Protection Trainings help staff and communities better care for children

Caning an entire school class when they continuously show up late.

A seventeen year-old dating a nineteen year-old. A seventeen year-old dating a forty-five year-old.

Leaving a 4 year-old at home alone for three days. Leaving a 15 year-old at home alone for three days.

Do these scenarios depict abuse? Or are they not abuse?

Prompting rousing debate, lists of various behaviours are discussed in Challenging Heights’ newly established Child Protection Training. It’s a training session attended by all new staff at CH, but also, now given to many parents of reintegrated rescued children and parents of students at Challenging Heights School (CHS).

Organised by Vice President and clinical psychologist, Dr. Kate Danvers, the lessons delve deep into phases of child development, work through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how children (and adults) handle trauma, and even give examples of positive non-violent discipline measures versus many traditional ways of correcting children’s behaviours.

The training comes from a Western perspective, though takes Ghanaian culture and expectations into consideration. While some participants are educated and may be from larger cities with more Western influence in terms of children’s rights, many are from Winneba and may have always experienced a type of discipline that may be considered out-of-date or even sometimes abusive from a Western view. These perspectives are respected but gently diffused as more appropriate lessons in how to discipline children are shared.

Topics discussed include learning about emotional systems, physically and mentally, in different situations. Mental health is often overlooked in Ghanaian culture, and it’s important for people to know what mental health and mental wellbeing are, so they can support each other and their children.

Participants determine what child abuse is, in terms of emotional versus physical and sexual abuse and neglect. We discuss child labour and spell it out so that people who may be used to the idea of children helping with a family’s work know what is appropriate and what is not. Many people may not know what child trafficking means, or what Ghana’s laws on the subject entail.

Troubleshooting discipline strategies is also important for our staff and beneficiaries. Families may need more examples of better ways to control their children’s behaviour if they themselves were caned or beaten as a child. We talk about behaviour theory and behaviour management; how and why a child may act a certain way and how we deal with situations as they arise.

Each staff member of Challenging Heights receives the training, because at some point, they will be around our beneficiary children, plus staff is expected to be good stewards of children’s and human rights, at work and outside of work in our communities.

Families of reintegrated children and parents of students at CHS have begun their own training so they can learn best practices for handling their children to prevent future abuse and/or trafficking. It’s an initiative funded by Family For Every Child, to help us keep children with their families, and educate families on how to best care for their children.



Child Rights Conference makes necessary waves with local leaders

Nearly 500 children from 19 different schools in the Senya Beraku area gathered at the Senya Methodist Church on 29 January 2016, demanding security and protection for their child rights. The Child Rights Conference was supported by Challenging Heights, in partnership with the High Commission of Canada.

With the theme “Child Rights is YOUR Responsibility,” the children were split into three sessions lead by the Challenging Heights field team. All focused on child rights, determining what child rights are and what should be expected by the community and leaders to protect them.

In her session, field staff member, Rosemond, explained what child labour is and that if parents think they’re ready to have a child, they are expected to take care of their child.

These discussions go on in the local dialect of Fante, so that the children were sure to understand all points made. While children learn English in school, some may not be proficient, and our team wants the children to understand their rights and the responsibility of all so it is easier for them to share with their parents.

Alfred offered more of a bilingual class to students who could grasp the transition. He spoke about discrimination and how no one should discriminate against a child based on gender, race, age or disability, and this includes parents discriminating against their own children. He reminds the students that if they think parents are not protecting them or others, they can tell someone. Everyone has the right to good parenting, a safe home and secure life. When asking students what should happen to parents who do not take care of their children properly, Alfred handed the microphone over to the children who shared their thoughts. Imprison them; report them to a town elder; report them to teachers, to leaders in the community or the Department of Social Welfare, were just a few of the responses from the students.

These JHS students are assigned to a school, but there was discussion about whether they should be a part of the decision in what school they attend, when it’s age appropriate. Their inclusion in these decisions are a part of child’s rights that may be overlooked.

The sessions reminded children that no person should deprive a child from reasonable provisions; children have the right to life, respect, education and even leisure.

In breakout sessions, the three groups are split smaller, to discuss and brainstorm ideas for how parents, teachers, police, government and communities should take responsibility for protecting child rights. Once these thoughts were recorded, they were compiled into a communiqué to the Awutu Senya West District Assembly, the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE), the Chief of Senya and other guests.

The children broke down specific responsibilities for the government, police, teachers and parents, which they read out loud to dignitaries. For the full text, click here.

In response to the children, a representative from the MCE explained that as the district is dedicated to doing all they can to help protect child rights, children need to accept responsibility, too, by focusing on their studies. After the children asked for a social welfare office in Senya to report cases of abuse or trafficking, she said that Social Welfare and community development options are available, even if there is no specific officer or office in each town.

The chief of Senya Beraku stood up to speak, and described the children as flowers or plants that need to be watered and cared for. He said just as parents pay school fees, it’s up to the children to water their flower and take their education seriously. The chief says even actions as simple as keeping a school uniform neat and tidy could help students go further in life and help break the chain of poverty in their families.

After the dignitaries, Dr. James Kofi Annan rose to speak, reminding everyone that there are about 48,000 people in Senya, while Winneba has nearly 100 thousand people, yet the rate of trafficking to Lake Volta in Senya is more than double Winneba’s rate. The number of children trafficked in Senya has risen over the years and he sees Senya as a priority area for vigilance and protection by state and local leaders.  Senior James has seen what a positive impact education can have on children who have been trafficked into slave labour and demands the chief and MCE of Senya take this seriously.

Unexpected in the programme, Senya’s chief stood once more to respond to Senior James. He seemed to take offense to Senior’s pointing to Senya’s rise in trafficking. He compared Senya to Winneba, but claimed Winneba’s lower trafficking rate is because there is a university and more therefore, more wealth pumped into Winneba systems. He says he has been in discussions with educational institutions and is appealing for them to set up in his area of Senya, to attract students and teachers.

The messages shared with students and those shared by students are imperative to educating coastal communities in Ghana about the realities and dangers of child trafficking.

One teacher from the Salvation Army JHS said that some of his students have heard of child rights, but most of them do not have extensive knowledge. They may have heard about it on television, but they may not fully understand.

The teacher, Rockson, explains: “[Challenging Heights is] making a lot of effort to change the perception of these coastal areas, in terms of child trafficking, because of the way you educate the coastal areas about child trafficking. These days, people don’t see [trafficking] the same way as before. They aren’t sending kids to the lake like they used to; it’s not as common as it was before, because of Challenging Heights’ education efforts. They need to be commended.”

Overall, feedback about the conference was positive, with community and Challenging Heights staff members calling it a success. Making sure that children know their rights is a step towards them becoming in control their own destinies. Demanding leaders take action in support of these rights will spread knowledge and minimize the desire to traffic children into hazardous and hopeless situations.



Hundreds of children call on local Assembly to protect their Child Rights

For Immediate Release – Challenging Heights in partnership with the Canadian High Commission today supported hundreds of children in Senya Beraku in demanding their child rights be secured and protected. Children from over 20 different schools formulated a communiqué to Awutu Senya West District Assembly at the end of a Child Rights conference held in the town.

The theme of the day was “Child Rights is your Responsibility!” and commenced with approximately 450 children being empowered to learn about their rights. Participants then explored the responsibility of different members of society in protecting child rights, including family, community, civil society and state institutions.

The event culminates with a presentation by the children setting out their expectations of the local assembly in meeting its responsibilities. The Chief Executive of Awutu Senya West District Assembly, Hon Sampson Nee Armah Abbey was invited responded to the communiqué with a commitment to lead on protecting and promoting child rights in the district.

Challenging Heights is grateful for the Assemblies engagement but believes more needed to be done at all levels in society: “We all have a responsibility for Ghana’s children, from parents to parliamentarians”. We call on all ministries to ensure they played their part: “Schools can keep children safe, but the Ministry of Education must ensure the capitation grant is released on time; LEAP helps protect children, so we ask the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to expand the programme to coastal areas as promised last year. More must be done to stop child trafficking, but again this year the budget allocated to the Human Trafficking Fund has not been released.
For its part Challenging Heights is continuing to educate and sensitize communities on child labour and trafficking, and providing education and livelihoods support to some of the neediest families. The conference organisers put out the following call: “Let none of us walk by on the other side when we see children’s rights abused: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, teachers and elders, community leader and chiefs, police and immigration officers, social workers and welfare officers, assembly men and women, MPs, Ministers and Mr President – we ask you all to do your duty and accept that ‘Child Rights are your Responsibility!’.”

During the event visiting dignitaries including the representatives from Ghana Education Services, Social Welfare and the Tuofohene of Senya were entertained by traditional dancing and singing performances by the Challenging Heights School choir and cultural troop.

Contact details for interview or follow-up



Behind the Scenes at Challenging Heights: HR strengthens organisation

After managing a family-owned rental real estate company, Araba Korsah left her hometown of Cape Coast for Winneba, to re-energize Challenging Heights from the Human Resource standpoint.

Araba directly manages the administrative office, security team and staff drivers, but she works with managers from across the organisation as they hire new staff, discuss salaries and organisational policies.

A company policy overhaul was Araba’s first task to tackle when she started in June 2015. “Human Resources Manager” is a new role at Challenging Heights, and Araba is learning how to walk into an organisation that has had an unwritten office culture for so long. She says there were always policies in the books, but the way Challenging Heights actually operated was different. What is currently in practice needs to be added, reviewed and updated. Araba is here to get things in order and keep office operations running smoothly.

Arriving as a newcomer to the non-profit where many people on staff have climbed the ladder and created success was a bit overwhelming. Araba says it’s always a challenge trying to change a culture, but she breathes easier with full support from Challenging Heights’ president, Dr. James Kofi Annan.

When Challenging Heights has job openings, Araba works with managers to find out a job description and salary range. She talks it through with Senior James, writes up a contract and works with the finance office to see if the position fits with the organisation’s vision and budget.

Araba also manages the office premises, day to day operations, making sure supplies are ordered, bills are paid and even the post office box is checked. She oversees the Challenging Heights drivers and arranges their schedules, which can get complicated! With so many visitors coming to see operations at CH, plus our staff needing to travel for daily family monitoring and bus trips for the rescued children at the shelter, the drivers are often pulled in many directions and Araba organises.

Multiple capacity building trainings have become part of our workplace. A few of these include child protection trainings, media skills training, and trainings in how to train staff who trains community members. Araba arranges and helps facilitate these trainings.

As new contracts are written and signed, our new human resources manager and systematic organisation have proven helpful and necessary as Challenging Heights adds to our staff and capacity as we expand the breadth of our community assistance.



Art Therapy Offers Avenue for Self-Expression for Rescued Children

A palm-sized canoe with seats and a fishing line leading to a fish almost the size of the boat was crafted carefully out of Play-Doh sits on the table in front of a boy who had been rescued from slavery on Lake Volta. When asked by the social worker, the boy said he made it because he remembered his time on the lake and how he used to use the canoe to go fishing. The social worker asked him if he would go back and he exclaimed, “no! The lake is so hard; I will not go back!”

The next table over, a smaller boy used the Play-Doh in the shape of a house. He talked about his house in Senya and that it’s where he would be going after he leaves the shelter.

Play-Doh is fun for the children at the Hovde House Rehabilitation shelter, but in this case, it’s also used as a tool for social workers and staff. Art therapy is used to help the children express their feelings. After years working on Lake Volta, they have been through a lot of abuses and cannot always speak about it verbally. This is a space set aside for the children to express their feelings using art.

With drawing, singing, music, dance and other arts and crafts projects, the children can learn about themselves. Some of them never realised they were good at drawing or that they had a knack for moulding clay. It also helps to build the children’s self-confidence. Shelter director, Linda Osabutey, says that they may think, “if I ‘m able to do this, then I can do other things in life.”

The art is also a fun activity. The children are in school all week, so it’s an emotional release and lends for positive self-expression.

They may do drawings of their family and show how they are related to everyone; the children are told to draw who is closer to them and who is further away, or not on good terms. This is a way for the staff at the shelter to learn about family dynamics and offer proper counselling.

The classes are held two days a week and the children are split into two groups so they all get a turn.

Confidence building activities may include name frames that staff will hang in the dining hall, where children give themselves personal attributes. They may choose qualities that they believe they are, or even ones they hope to be someday, things like “bold,” “strong,” or “intelligent.” The children have made portraits where they write their aspirations and future goals, so they can learn to dream and look towards a positive future.

In emotional art therapy classes, they learn about themselves. Sometimes they may be directed to draw what they like to do when they’re happy versus when they are sad. They draw out what they do when they are angry, too. The children may not even know what their  emotions mean; they may act out and not realize that their behaviour means that they are angry, or they may not have understood that they were sad or hurting.

These revelations help during counseling sessions and one on one, so that staff can know more about the children. They learn how they could be handled and what they may need.

There are also purely fun art therapy activities, like the Play-Doh. The week that this was introduced, many children had been reintegrated back to their families and the children left at the shelter were sad and missed their friends. Staff knew to give them a break and let them let their creativity run wild. It was apparent that the children had fun watching each other; some were naturally artistic, while others used moulds to create shapes, but every child was able to express him or herself without needing to find the words.



“Voluntary Returns” to our Rehabilitation Shelter

While most of the children who arrive at our Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter are rescued by our field team from villages on Lake Volta, some of them are brought to the shelter by their families, may have been picked up from a bus raid or they escaped from slavery themselves and were directed to Challenging Heights on their own. Working on dugnad voluntary work has changed a lot my perspective on being more empathic.

Our Community Child Protection Committees (CCPCs) are scattered throughout the region; their members are local community leaders or activists who help Challenging Heights spread awareness about child trafficking and watch out for families who may be sending their children to work on Lake Volta. Sometimes, CCPC members will go to houses and seat parents have trafficked children; the member may ask where the missing children are and if there is no response, they investigate. If it is discovered that the children are in Yeji (or elsewhere on Lake Volta), the CCPC member will threaten the parents to get police involved. Families may then turn their children over to Challenging Heights so they avoid getting into trouble or going to jail.

Some children may willingly escape from working on the lake themselves and come to Winneba (or surrounding areas) where they are from, but they may not have a place to go. There have been times when people in the community may hear a child saying, “I have just returned from Yeji; I have nowhere to go” and they will direct those children to the Challenging Heights office in Sankor. From there, our staff will assess their situation and they may be taken for rehabilitation at our Hovde House Shelter, since rehabilitation is important even  more when people have problems with alcohol, and that’s why you can see the most commonly asked questions about alcohol addiction rehabilitation to find a solution for the people who need this kind of help.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum, here at the next link you can find it explained more in detail by experts.

Right now there are four children who arrived at the shelter by means other than our field team’s rescue mission. It’s not very common. In a year, there may be two or three who are considered “voluntary returns.” Typically those who escape are 13 or older, since they can manage their way out of a dangerous situation.

Two of the four in our shelter were taken in by Ghana Social Welfare in Yeji and transferred to Challenging Heights’ care. Two of the children escaped themselves. They had been on the lake for so long that they don’t know their families, or even where their homes in Winneba are.

Last Fall, a bus raid performed by Challenging Heights and Ghana Police discovered five children who were on their way to work in hazardous conditions on Lake Volta. The children were sent to our Hovde House shelter. Since they had not yet been working on the lake, we call this an interception. Four of the children were sent home to their families and their families were warned not to send their children to work on Lake Volta. One child remained at our shelter because her home wasn’t suitable or safe for her to stay there. She had not been in school or well fed. The other four are being monitored by our teams to make sure their parents are taking care.

Every child who is taken to the rehabilitation shelter is cared for in the same loving way no matter how they arrive. Their medical conditions are checked; they are enrolled in school and they are well fed, clean and safe.



Challenging Heights position on the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Ghana

For Immediate Release – The Overall goal of the NPA is stated as: “The main objective of this National Plan of Action (Framework) is to reduce the worst forms of child labour to the barest minimum by 2015, while laying strong social, policy and institutional foundations for the elimination and prevention of all other forms of child labour in the longer term.”

The NPA cites the 2003 Ghana Child Labour Survey, which estimated that out of 6.36 million children (5-17 year olds)

  • 2.47 million children economically active (38.8%);
  • 1.27 million in child labour (20.0%);

The GCLS 2003 did not measure worst forms of child labour.

The GLSS6 indicates that by 2014 this has risen to:

  • 1.9 million children in child labour (21.8%);
  • 1.2 million children in hazardous labour (14.2%); out of 8.70 million children.

Thus the Government of Ghana’s own figures indicate that the core aim of the NPA has not been met.

Even if we assume that before 2010 up to 95% of all forms of child labour were hazardous child labour then a change from 19% (0.95×20%) to 14.2% represents a reduction of only 25% i.e. the target to eliminate the worst forms of child labour has been missed by 75%.

In practice, the proportion of all child labour that was hazardous at the start of the NPA is likely to be much lower. In 2014 hazardous labour formed 63% of all child labour.

Given that WFCL were not measured prior to the NPA the best direct comparison is of the figures for all forms of child labour:

  • The total number of children in Ghana in child labour has increased (the change from 1.27m to 1.9m represents a 49% rise);
  • The proportion of Ghanaian children in child labour has increased (the change from 20.0% to 21.8% is equivalent to 9% inflation).

We believe the reason the NPA has not delivered its core goal is because key objectives set out in it have not meet met. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Establishment of children’s panels in all districts (Issue 1.1.2, p16)
  • Revision of the Labour act (1.1.3, p19)
  • Regulation and protection of children in domestic service (Issue 1.1.2, p17)
  • Provision for victims of domestic servitude, kayaye and CSEC (Issues 5.1.5, p56) Government shelters remain unfunded and in inadequate condition with provision coming from CSOs (2015 TIP Report)
  • Training of law enforcement officers (Issue 1.2.1, p23), with the US state department and INGOs taking on the task in 2016.
  • -No coordination of anti trafficking cases (Issue 4.1.1, p44) e.g. Central Region there is no function AHTU office despite being a source of victims: we rely on DOVVSU who are not mandated or trained.
  • Lack of prosecutions (Issue 4.1.3, p46) the 2015 TIP Report identifies a decrease in Government efforts; our own experience is that prosecutions have only been achieved by CSO pursuing cases and funding law enforcement agencies.
  • The legal instruments for the 2005 Human Trafficking have still not been enacted by Parliament;
  • The Human Trafficking Fund is unfunded for the fourth consecutive year (2015 TIP Report);
  • Many children not in school (Issue 3.1.1, p29): we know from our research into LEAP that economic support for the very poor is necessary to achieve this
  • Capitation grant does not cover all schools or all basic needs (Issue 3.1.2, p31): we continue to document grants not being paid on time.

Challenging Heights has continued to highlighted these issues so that they can be addressed, in the hope that changes would occur in the lifetime of the NPA. Specifically:

  • Challenging Heights has called for Ghana to ratify ILO Domestic Workers Convention No.189.
  • Challenging Heights has advocated for the expansion of LEAP provision both in substance and reach.
  • CH has campaigned for the timely release of capitation grants before the start of every school term.


Rescued Story: From a life of work, afraid of drowning, to a hopeful future in school

Having seen another boy drown while diving into the lake to untangle a net caught on a tree underwater, Kow was very frightened that the same thing would happen to him as he worked. 

With a slight build, Kow looks far younger than the 14 years he says he will soon turn. He’s been at the Challenging Heights Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter for four months, after spending four and a half years in slave labour, fishing on Lake Volta.

He says he never got paid for very long days filled with casting fishing nets, dragging them in, being called to work on his trafficker’s farm, or hunting fish with other equipment.

Frequently, Kow says, he and two other children would work the farm, uprooting yam, corn, tomatoes and garden eggs (eggplant). After harvesting, he would take the produce to market to sell. All this often came on the same days he would head to the lake and fish in the mornings.

Kow says he ate four times a day, but his diet consisted entirely of starch. In the morning and the others would take koko, or a kind of liquid porridge; in the afternoons, beans, kenkey (a kind of dough made of maize) or garri (dried cassava), and they would have yam for supper. The children weren’t given the fish or vegetables they worked to catch or harvest.

While he was there, he says, he didn’t feel safe. He was severely beaten on a regular basis. One time, Kow said, his eyelid was even torn from the beatings.

Kow was made to fill barrels of water, but as an additional task, the trafficker, or master, would pour any unused water out on the ground and tell Kow to go and fetch more. Sometimes, Kow says he was given an especially huge net to carry on his shoulder. He said it made him very tired, but the net was never used for anything; it was only meant as extra and unnecessary work for Kow.

The abuse wasn’t just physical, but verbal and emotional, too. The master, Kow said, would insult his parents and even his extended family, calling them derogatory terms for genital parts. He would call Kow a “foolish child,” say that his parents were “irresponsible.”

Kow knows that he was there in Yeji because his mother agreed to trade his services for payment. The trafficker convinced Kow’s mother that no, she was not selling her son, but that he would be working and well taken care of.

Kow’s stay at the Hovde House is his first experience in any sort of formal classroom. Before the lake, Kow hadn’t been to school, and on the lake, he was not studying, either.

He says he misses his brothers and sisters, his mother. He says, he wasn’t even told when one of his siblings died at home while he was in Yeji. The trafficker promised Kow he would bring him back to his parents, but of course, Kow said, he never did. Kow said the master always had the final say, so when he demanded to be returned to his family, Kow was beaten.

Frightened by the mere sight of the master, Kow says he was not friendly at all to the children and they were always very afraid of him.

While in Yeji, Kow says he watched on as a child went into the lake to remove a net that had been stuck in a tree which was in the water. The child never returned to the surface alive. Having seen a boy, just like him, drown; Kow could not have been more scared of his own work. He said he did the exact same thing as the boy, diving in to remove nets that were caught. He became very scared that maybe one day, he would die, just as that boy.

Kow found his way to Challenging Heights after another child who had been rescued from Yeji told the field team that he was also working on the lake and wanted to go home. The field team tracked down Kow’s trafficker and brought him south.

His time at the Hovde House has been a positive experience but he continues to face struggles, even as he sleeps. In one nightmare, he says his trafficker taught Kow how to fish and Kow grew up to become a fisherman.

Since he had been beaten so often and so severely, Kow says whenever he even thinks of his trafficker or the beatings, his forehead itches.

Now, he’s starting school in Class 1 at Hovde House. Kow is happy to be away from the lake; happy to be in school; happy to be in a place where he is not beaten and has hope for a positive future.

(Kow’s name is an alias; we have used it instead of his real name to respect his privacy and dignity.)



Recap of a Rescue, 40+ Children Saved from Modern Slavery in 2015

In the week traversing Lake Volta in October 2015, the Challenging Heights Field Operations Team rescued 24 children from forced hazardous labour. This comes after a similar rescue in March with nearly as many children saved. With tips from villagers, the team found the children in fourteen different remote communities across the lake.

Before the mission began, covert investigations took place to locate the children whom Challenging Heights had been requested to bring back to their families.

After the drive from Winneba, the field team stopped in a small town about an hour from Yeji to prepare the temporary shelter where the children would be taken during the rescue.

Once the Field Team arrived in Yeji, which is a main corridor for trade and travel on Lake Volta, they spent a day visiting local authorities. The team needed local police, the Navy, and Social Services to be aware of the rescue mission and make sure they were prepared to step in with force if traffickers refused to return a child. The local departments were all supportive of Challenging Heights’ mission. Two Yeji-local staff members prepared the boat for its journey, securing fuel and supplies.

During the first full day in Yeji, some members of the team were on the lakefront and noticed a boy wearing ratty clothing and eating from a small bag on the ground. Stephen, the Field Team Manager, called him over and asked him questions about where he was from and what he was doing. Hearing that the boy was from Winneba but working on the lake with relatives, Stephen knew that he had been trafficked. The boy was hungry and said he would do extra chores for women near the lakefront to get extra food in the evenings. The boy was taken to the Challenging Heights temporary shelter as Stephen and team went to meet with the trafficker and summon him to Winneba.

On day two, a rain delay meant only a couple stops were made, but the children who were meant to be found were not at the villages. The team stayed in a small village on the lake that night and cooked food they brought.

Wake-up on day three kicked off many stops at different communities in search of a few children. Two boys were rescued from separate places and taken to the temporary shelter.

When the field team tried to negotiate for children at the first village on day four, community members challenged them and even tried to start an altercation. The rescue team retreated and sought out escort backup from the Navy. Four officers joined the team on their boat and went back to the community. The Navy officers had to physically defend against community members who challenged getting the children during the first visit. The navy officers gave warning to the communities that they are not allowed to hinder Challenging Heights’ rescues. After searching many villages and communities, with members telling the team that certain children were not there, the team found four children in four different communities. One child was spotted by a Navy officer and it was determined that he, too, had been trafficked. Social services allowed Challenging Heights to take the child into safety at the temporary shelter.

After the previous day’s need for authoritative force, two Ghana Police officers joined the rescue team on the fifth day. Three children were rescued and taken to the Challenging Heights temporary shelter.

On Sunday, no police or navy escort joined the team, but five children were rescued from five different communities.

Two children were found on day seven, with help of the Yeji social welfare officer. The officer had identified them earlier in the week and Stephen and team then followed up to figure out where to find the two. The social welfare officer gave directions to where the villages of the two were located and called the informant to let them know CH was coming. They were not on the initial list, but it was determined that they had been trafficked and were then rescued. The team searched many villages to find the other two who were on the CH list.

On the last day of searching, the team located two children, but their traffickers had already sent them on a bus back toward the Central Region. The children were tracked down by Challenging Heights staff once they were in Winneba and they were taken to the Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter when the rest of the children arrived on the bus from Yeji.

With a more-than 10 hour drive, the field team returned to the Central Region with children aged 6 to 16. Others who were sent home just before Challenging Heights arrived to rescue them were also taken to be cared for at the Hovde House.

In the days following the rescue, family members and traffickers made their way to the Challenging Heights office in Sankor, Winneba, to plead their cases as to why their children were sent to Lake Volta, and oftentimes, claiming they did nothing wrong. The law, though, reminds them that child trafficking of any kind is illegal. They were informed of any restitution or potential jail time they face and are warned not to send children into forced labour on Lake Volta.

Parents, siblings and grandparents are shuttled to the Hovde House to visit their children, some of whom haven’t seen each other for many years and may not even recognise each other.

The children join another couple dozen former slave children as they begin their pathway to education, health and self-sufficiency.



Christmas at Challenging Heights School

As part of an annual tradition, students at Challenging Heights School prepare entertainment to celebrate the end of the year and Christmas holiday. Weeks ahead of time, little ones learn lines from traditional Christmas tunes, like the “12 days of Christmas” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and older children practised dances and cultural performances to share with their peers.

Classes let out for a half day so that all students and teachers could enjoy the entertainment and celebrate together.

It was the second annual Christmas Event at CHS and makes for a fun way to finish out the term before winter break.



Advocacy and training put to use to stop child trafficking

This fall, a bus full of children was stopped by police; the driver was questioned; all children were questioned, and they were turned BACK to their homes, away from the direction of slave labour.

Challenging Heights’ Advocacy Team says it came just after our Child Protection training, where Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) leaders and other community leaders were taught about the realities and dangers of child trafficking in Ghana.

Since the training, our advocacy team has gone to multiple towns and cities in the Greater Accra and Central Regions of Ghana. Together with GPRTU leaders, the team tells taxi, tro tro and bus drivers about how common it is for children to be sent into forced labour on Lake Volta. Their vehicles are stickered with Turn Back Child Trafficking slogans and the message is spread.

The day the bus was stopped, it didn’t have stickers, but Ghana Police were vigilant. They suspected trafficking when they saw how many children were on the bus without accompanying adults and they were all taken to the police station. There, statements were taken from the driver and children, and police gathered that yes, this was a trafficking situation.

All of the children were turned back.

Since the “Turn Back Child Trafficking” campaign with Walk Free and now the Canadian Government, launched in June 2015, Challenging Heights has been demanding vigilance and awareness through the media. With press releases, press conferences, radio shows and interviews, we challenging Ghana Police to step up enforcement and pay attention to the reality that is putting Ghanaian children at risk and keeping them from inalienable rights.

Since the GPRTU training, the Challenging Heights Advocacy Team has done a lot of media work, through local radio shows and press releases. We challenge the police and demand vigilance as we question what the government of Ghana has done with its 2011-2015 National Plan of Action (NPA) towards the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL). The NPA will expire at the end of 2015, but 75% of what was planned has not been achieved.

Charity Althul, secretary of Swedru’s GPRTU, joined our advocacy manager on Radio Peace, a local Winneba radio station to discuss the stickering and voice full support of Challenging Heights’ efforts. Her consistent push toward awareness is the kind of splash we hoped to make in our campaign, and we expect others to jump on board as our message to prevent child trafficking is shared.



Parents visit newly rescued children at the Challenging Heights rehabilitation shelter

Sometimes it’s been years since a mother or father has seen their child, who’d been sent to northern regions to work on Lake Volta. Sometimes the mother and father her/himself sent the child away, but other times it was other family members who take that responsibility.

When children are rescued by Challenging Heights, they are taken to the Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter. They live, learn, and play with children just like them, who have also spent time working in abusive, hazardous conditions instead of going to school and were unable to enjoy a safe and loving family life.

After a couple weeks of initial introduction to shelter routine and care, the children receive their families – parents, siblings, and grandparents. These visits bring tears; there may be some anger. Sometimes there is even confusion about a child’s name.

In one case, a boy whose family said he was about 8 years-old, told the shelter one name. When his father visited, the father called him by a different name. The next week, his grandmother and a few aunties visited and called him by the first name. Staff at the shelter then need to do some research to determine what the boy’s actual name is, and call him by that name.

Often on the lake, children are given new names by their traffickers, so that they will be harder to be found and brought home to their families.

The 8 year-old had been working on the lake for four and a half years. That means he was a very small boy when he was first sent to Lake Volta, and memories as to what his name is could be hazy. The group of children from Challenging Heights’ last rescue has many who are very young, even four or five years-old. Those children could have been born on the lake, or brought to Lake Volta when they infants or toddlers. Life on the lake is all they knew.

A slightly older boy, his parents said he is 15, though he’s small in stature, seemed uncomfortable in the introduction to his parents. Shelter staff explains that the father left his mother before the boy was born, so the boy never knew this man claiming to be his father. His mother had been unable to care for him as a child, so he mostly lived with his grandmother.

When the boy’s mother saw him, she began to tear up; wiping her eyes with a cloth as he absently pulled up a chair and sat down. The mother spoke to the boy with a sort of yearning, with an expression of regret on her face. The boy mostly looked away. He seemed disinterested and distant towards the mother and the small boy who jumped around on her lap as they spoke.

This separation of family members is a common practise among lower-income families in Ghana, and the emotional pain that it may cause the children is something that counsellors and social workers at the Hovde House work on throughout their care.

Rosemond, a Challenging Heights Field Officer, was on the last rescue when 24 of the children at the shelter were picked up from their masters on the lake, and brought back to the Central Region. She says she feels a stronger connection to the children she was there to rescue. A smile stretched across her face as she described how they are after a few weeks after the rescue, compared to when she first met them on the boat. Their physical appearance is better kept; they’re nicer, Rosemond said. The children who may have arrived at the shelter angry or silently keeping to themselves, now talk more and show warmth.

Parents’ visits give them a chance to see how their child is being cared for with Challenging Heights. Some people hear false rumours that the organisation will take their children and use them for traditional juju (witchcraft) practices, but once they see the Hovde House, and realize that their child is eating well, in school, and in a safe environment, they are relieved and pleased for all the help their child receives.



Library recitation competition inspires reading and learning

The best English speakers from five different schools pitted against each other for an intense recitation competition. The librarians at Hand in Hand for Literacy’s Challenging Heights Community Library hosted the event, offering prizes for winners, as well as a chance to compete again on a local radio show.

Head librarian, Madam Safowaa explained to the students that this competition is meant to implicate positive reading habits to those living in Sankor, near Challenging Heights, but also far beyond.

With the plan to be an annual event, Madam Safowaa and her team educate about various disciplines and uses it as a way to bring the community together. Each of the schools participating in the competition have students registered as users of the Challenging Heights Community Library.

As a way to promote the library and remind other schools that it is open to the public after Challenging Heights School hours

The competitors were selected as some of the best English speakers in their classes; those were narrowed down to the top five to be on a school’s team, and the best one of those five became the contestant. This means one person competed from each school, with about four supporters watching from the audience.

A local assembly member served as an honoured guest and spoke to the children about the importance of education and community.

There were three rounds to the competition. First, each contestant was asked to summarize a story they were given to prepare before the event. Second, the moderator mentioned a part of the story and the students were supposed to share the exact line, quoted, from the original story. Third, each student was given two questions to answer; if they were wrong, the student to their left could “steal” the answer and get an extra point.

A female student from a nearby school in Winneba, H&E, won the competition; she spoke with confidence and competence.

Through competitions like this, teachers and librarians at Challenging Heights School hope to inspire thoughtful reading and engagement among students in Winneba.



Rescue: Traffickers are summoned and pay restitution

At the time of rescue, traffickers and families who are said to be misusing children and forcing them to work on Lake Volta are given a letter – a summons – that they must report to Challenging Heights’ office in Sankor, Winneba. There, they will be interviewed and decisions will be made as to what consequences they face.

Mr. Mensah is Challenging Heights’ Community Stakeholders Manager, who is ordained by Ghana’s court system to mediate an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Programme. The traffickers and families of the children rescued report to him.

He asks four main questions:
1) Did you work your own son or daughter?
2) Did you give your child over to a trafficker?
3) Did you collect money from a trafficker?
4) How long was your child working in slave labour?

From the answers to these questions, Mr. Mensah decides how much to charge the parents in reparations – money that they were paid by traffickers to use their children, which would go directly to child’s care.  If the children had been making money for the parents, the money is now owed to the children themselves. The amount of money paid depends on the number of years the child had stayed with the traffickers; typically between 200-400 Ghana cedis (which is around $50-100 USD). Sometimes families are asked to buy clothing and supplies for their children while they are in Challenging Heights’ care. The fines are hefty for families in places like Winneba, Senya and Swedru; the goal is to deter families from trafficking their children again.

If families and traffickers do not show up to Challenging Heights to meet with Mr. Mensah, the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service will be called. Mr. Mensah says that one person called from a Lake Volta village explaining that fishing has not been lucrative lately, and she wasn’t financially able to make the 10-14 hour trip to Winneba. She asked her sister who lives closer, to meet with Mr. Mensah in her place.

In twice-a-week ADR mediation sessions, Mr. Mensah meets with families from the region to resolve disputes, from men who do not take responsibility for their children, to women who have too many children to raise on their own. He sees the poverty issues that many families face, but he says that is no reason to traffick a child into slave labour. Some families may need to lessen the burden of number of children they care for by sending children to family members on Lake Volta, others accept payment for their work.

When digging into the gravity of each trafficking situation, to determine appropriate punishment, Mr. Mensah hears all kinds of stories and reasoning from families who sent their children to work. When there is proof that families accepted money in exchange for their child’s labour, they may be brought to court and if convicted, spend time in jail. Child, in Ghana, is a person under the age of 18. Many families tell Mr. Mensah that no, they did not sell their child into slave labour; they simply send them to live with relatives on Lake Volta because they could not provide enough for them. Oftentimes, they may not be truthful in their descriptions of what happened, but that is hard to prove, so they are strongly warned, but it’s too difficult to try for conviction and jail-time.

Without knowing Challenging Heights’ staff and style, some families may express concern about how their children are cared for. Once the families initially visit Mr. Mensah, they are taken to the Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter to visit their children. They are given opportunity to speak with their children, some of whom have been separated from their parents and working on the lake for many years. When they see the shelter, the parents are always put at ease, seeing the bright and healthy environment the children are in as they start school and work toward reintegration.

Every step that Challenging Heights takes in the process of rescue and rehabilitation is in each child’s best interest.



Challenging Heights Rescues 24 Trafficked Children trapped in Hazardous Labour

Challenging Heights has just rescued another 24 children trapped in child trafficking in fishing on Lake Volta. This brings the total children rescued by the organization since January to 40.

All these children, aged 6 to 16 years old, are supposed to be in school – but that is not the case. Instead they were enslaved in forced labour, spending an average of 17 hours a day working in hazardous conditions on Lake Volta.

Shamefully, while these children are forced to work and denied an education, their masters often use the income from their sweat to fund their own children’s education; some of them have become university graduates!

It is this social injustice against children that Challenging Heights is committed to addressing. Challenging Heights believes that it is the right of every school-aged child in Ghana to have access to quality and affordable education

Undoubtedly, child trafficking is still rife in Ghana. The good news is that as a country we have long known how to eliminate it, with clear directives captured in the 2011-2015 National Plan of Action (NPA) towards the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL).

With the NPA due to expire in less than two months time, 75% of what was planned has not been achieved.

Challenging Heights hereby calls on the Government of Ghana through the various ministries, units and department to render account to Ghanaians of what they have achieved so far in the face of the NPA and what their plans are until December when the NPA expires.

Following each rescue, Challenging Heights provides temporary rehabilitation support to all the children at the Challenging Heights Hovde House. Once they complete the rehabilitation process we reintegrate them back to their families and follow them up through planned monitoring for two years, providing educational support to children and livelihoods support to carers to ensure they remain safe.

We believe every child should be allowed to realize their rights to education and a family life, so that they can pursue their dreams and future aspirations.

For  interviews contact:
David Kofi Awusi, Advocacy Manager
+233 240 577480
advocacyCHghana@gmail.com
challengingheights.org



Senya community learns the realities of child trafficking

Gasps and groans erupt from a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Methodist Church in Senya, which is nearly an hour drive from Winneba, on Ghana’s coast. Over a couple of hours, they watched a film showcasing the reality of child trafficking and forced labour on Lake Volta.

Men, women and children of all ages waited for the Challenging Heights field team to work through setting up a projector and getting speakers working and as the movie played, more and more people showed up to see the excitement.  It’s not often that new faces show up to the small town with a projector to play a video on the side wall of the church. This community sensitisation programme is one funded by a new partner, Engage Now Africa, which is learning from Challenging Heights’ experience.

Before starting the video, field officers, Alfred and Rosemond, quieted the crowd and explained what Challenging Heights is and why they were there.

The short film, called “The Fisher Boy,” interviewed children who had been rescued from slave labour on Lake Volta and even their parents who trafficked them. An interviewer asked what it was like, and asked care givers why they would do such a thing. The children explained in detail how they were beaten if they were slow in their fishing duties, and mothers claimed that poverty made it hard to care for their children and selling them was the best option at the time. They may or may not have known the traffickers who requested the young workers, but they said they didn’t realize that the children would not go to school or that they would be abused.

There were shouts and yelps from the viewers as they saw close up shots of bad scars, humpbacks, and other uncomfortable permanent damage on the children. One boy showed how gruesome his eye became when he lost it from a beating.

Throughout the film, Alfred held the microphone, translating the English subtitles into Fante, the local language in Senya. When people seemed antsy, he paused the movie and drew back their attention. He kept the crowd entertained and engaged, while making sure they understood what really goes on when families send children to Lake Volta.

It was evident that many in attendance hadn’t known the atrocities, but others among the faces had been rescued child slaves themselves, or even traffickers or former Lake Volta fishermen.

After the video, some children who had been reintegrated by Challenging Heights greeted the staff and showed their friends in their community how they know these strangers with the projector.

More than fifteen people spoke to Challenging Heights staff, reporting cases of child trafficking that they hadn’t realised could be such a disturbing problem. Names were written down and contact information exchanged. One man explained that he had been working on the lake himself and he actually knew many of the faces showed on the video.  He seemed eager to share his knowledge and help Challenging Heights in their efforts in the future.

It’s from events like this, where Challenging Heights staff speaks directly to the families who are likely to send their children into forced labour, that they may think twice and look into alternatives for making money to raise their families.

Education is a key to preventing child labour and keeping children in school.



Children enjoy reading and learning at CHS Hand in Hand for Literacy Community Library

“All these little faces are smiling, reading, and enjoying books.”

For about the first ten minutes of stepping into the Hand in Hand for Literacy Community Library at Challenging Heights School, the founder and president of Hand in Hand, Deb McNally, smiled as she explained how she could barely speak as she “had to soak it all in.”

The Challenging Heights’ Community Library is the second in Ghana for which the former school teacher coordinated fundraising. She says it all started after a trip teaching in the Volta Region, where she first learned that so many students in Ghana don’t have books to read. Unaware that there were places on earth without books, McNally was determined to create a pipeline for books from America to land in the hands of Ghanaian children.

In April, the library celebrated its first anniversary with much fan-fare. Librarian, Madame Safowaa, drove through the town and stopped along the way, sharing the excitement with anyone around using a megaphone. On that tour, mothers and fathers stopped her for more explanation.

The last time McNally saw the library, she was helping unpack boxes and stack books; there was no life enjoying the space yet. It sees more and more visitors; it’s open to the public after school hours until 5 p.m. and on Saturdays until 1:30. More than 1300 people are registered to check out books and the building has become a venue for quiz and recitation competitions, expanded learning and provides space for studying.

With bright posters and signs adorning the walls, the library presents an excited energy. Thousands of books are kept neatly on shelves. Nursery-aged smaller children are read to by librarians and watch educational videos to practice English words together. Older children use the library as a resource, but also as an escape from the heat or a refuge to study during boisterous break times.

After the first library at Senchi Ferry, Challenging Heights’ community library is thriving. It’s an image of success and growth that McNally is working to bring to another Ghanaian community, Jukwa, where twelve nearby schools will use the facility.

“What strikes me the most – if it were not for the love and generosity and vision of so many people, those kids could spend a lifetime without a book,” said McNally.



Rescue: A day on Lake Volta; 2 more boys will go to school

The first day the field team was set to ship out in the Jeff Kashden Express in search of children trapped in hazardous slave labour on Lake Volta started bright and sunny, but quickly, the skies darkened and clouds opened. A massive storm rolled in to Yeji and the team’s launch, which should have begun by 8:30 a.m., was delayed until about 1 p.m.

The decision was made for the boat to travel to the farthest area of Lake Volta where children in question were thought to have been staying. It took more than three hours to get to a very small village where the team believed three children to be. While the skies began to clear by late afternoon, much of the trip had been rainy, with gray skies and strong wind. The field team wrapped up under fabric and piled near the front of the boat to keep it from rising too high as it glided along the water.

Those three children in question were not in the village, yet as the sun began to set, the families who did live in the straw thatched structures allowed the Challenging Heights field team to use their kitchen area, utensils and sleep in their extra beds.

As morning light rose, the team geared up and headed out to the next village, where they thought those children would be.



Hovde House staff use new therapies to ease rescued children’s PTSD

When children arrive at the Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter, they come from a life of slave labour on Lake Volta. Sometimes, they endured violent abuse and verbal assault. This means many of them suffer from some level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

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In general, the care team at the shelter has seen that time spent in the therapeutic environment of the shelter helps to lessen the effects of trauma, such as troubling memories, aggressive behaviour, difficulty concentrating in class, fear, social withdrawal, sleeping problems or anger issues. Social workers offer counselling sessions to the children and shelter assistants are attuned to underlying issues. There is plenty of time to relax and play, and if they wish, children can share stories about what happened to them in the past, through drama and art.

Some children need more specialised help to overcome the effects of their past. At the beginning of their stay, children are given a PTSD screening test and they are re-screened at later junctures, so that social workers can track their progress. Some children will start with high scores, but these often reduce after weeks or months in the therapeutic environment of the shelter.

For those children whose scores do not lower, which means, they are still highly affected by the trauma they have endured, staff try a new technique. Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) was introduced to the care team by Challenging Heights Vice President and clinical psychologist, Dr. Kate Danvers. She explains it as an intensive style of counselling that allows staff to get to the heart of a child’s trauma, without digging too deep. It’s not meant to take away their past, or make it all better, but to alleviate the symptoms. The care team have all received training in NET and are supervised on their practice by Dr. Kate.

Social workers, Sir Peter and Madame Anna, explain that NET is a set of stages of explaining to and questioning children, and allowing them to talk freely.

First, the social workers explain confidentiality, in that what the children tell them will be kept private, unless there is something that may be harmful to themselves or to others.

Next, they explain the process. “Psycho education” as they call it, helps children understand the effects of traumatic events, and also includes teaching about children’s rights and how their experiences on Lake Volta violated rights that should have been afforded to them, even as children.

In building a lifeline, the children tell their own stories. They start from birth and use big or small rocks and big or small flowers along a long piece of yarn to explain life events as negative or positive. The children are asked to talk about their early childhood, time on the lake, current situation, and even look to the future and talk about what they foresee.

The care team uses NET with children who are considered to have significant problems because of their traumatic experiences. Anna says the impact of the trauma could be seen even as a child she worked with sat through class. When the name of the person involved was mentioned, her eyes flashed with anger.

The repetitive telling of their painful memories is what lessens the pain. Each session, the social workers re-read the story and if there are any mistakes, the child can correct it. The more a child hears the story, Anna says, the more they can accept it.

Anna says they are not supposed to stop a child as the child tells about a traumatic event, and to look out for what emotions they are going through. She says, for example, if a child’s hands begin to shake as they speak, the social workers can see that it was a painful experience and that’s when they can ask questions to find out why their hands are shaking.

In one girl, Anna saw anger in her face and countenance, but noticed that as the NET continued, it softened over time. Anna said she became calmer as she repeated the story; she was less angry and upset about what happened. The girl began her PTSD screening with a score of 24, but it was lessened to 4 after Narrative Exposure Therapy. Anna said that while she was enslaved, the girl felt isolated and discriminated against. She felt as if she were no good, even there working on the lake, her trafficker treated another child better than her, and so when she arrived at Hovde House, she assumed the shelter would be no different and that no one would like her. After NET, the girl is more talkative and joins in. Anna said working through her experiences has caused the girl to accept it and realize that yes, she’s been through trauma, but she will come out stronger and move forward.

Peter said one child worked through the trauma of being forced in to the water at Lake Volta, to untangle nets while fishing. The boy hadn’t known how to swim, but his trafficker dragged him into the water and he swallowed a lot of water. The boy needed to cough up a lot of water and as soon as he could breathe, he was sent back into the water. As Peter and the boy retold the story, the boy began to feel more comfortable and his PTSD score went down dramatically. Giving him time and opportunity to share his story and hear it over and over helped lower his anxiety and anger.

Narrative Exposure Therapy is not something that is used with every child at Hovde House, but the care team are glad to have a new way to work with the children who are under the most stress and anxiety. This is all part of the effort to help the children overcome the trauma they endured and move forward to become successful, happy adults.



Public transport drivers learn how to watch out for child trafficking

“There is so much I want to share with everyone back at the [station],” said Kweku, a transportation union leader from Mankeseem.

He took part in the Challenging Heights “Training workshop for GPRTU and Traditional Leaders in the Central and Greater Accra Region of Ghana on Turn Back Child Trafficking.” It was a day-long information session and discussion for the Ghana Private Road Transport Union, religious leaders, and chiefs in the area. Kweku said before the training, he didn’t even realize that children were regularly sent from their homes in coastal communities on buses and tro tros up to Lake Volta, sold into child slavery and hazardous forced labour.

As a way to sensitize the community and create awareness in public transportation drivers who may unknowingly be the vehicle with which traffickers pass along child slaves, Challenging Heights Advocacy Manager, David Kofi Awusi, organized the session. Supported by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives, lunch and transportation fees were provided to the participants.

Having been a driver, and now a leader of transport union, Kweku said he had no idea that so many young people were sent to Yeji to work on Lake Volta without much in terms of food, shelter or education. This highlights the need for sensitization programmes.

Sir David explained signs to look for in children who could be at-risk, or those who could be on their way to forced labour. They discussed what a trafficked child could look like – symptoms of mistreatment: if they look particularly unhappy, malnourished; if they keep their gaze down, if they’re not confident and uneasy.

Awareness can be the key to vigilance, and Challenging Heights continues its mission to advocate and educate community members who can help put a stop to child trafficking and work toward getting children in school.

The taxi and tro tro drivers, union leaders and community leaders were given “Turn Back Child Trafficking” stickers to put on their vehicles and stations, to remind each other to stay watchful, because it is everyone’s responsibility to keep Ghanaian children safe.



Challenging Heights School votes for its first student government

“Mr. Chairman!” is how each student began their manifesto, explaining why they are the best candidate for the role in which they were running in the Challenging Heights School Prefect elections.

As teachers at Challenging Heights School frantically cut ballots while children enjoyed their break time, candidates for five different school offices prepared themselves to deliver their “manifestos” (speeches) to the student body.

This is the first ever school elections at CHS, and headmaster, Eric Asamani, believes that teachers and staff will benefit from having students help self-govern and keep their classmates in line, organized, and quiet. Along with participating in overseeing aspects of the school, Asamani thinks that participating in the election process will help students in their futures. They will better understand the democratic process and become better versed in public speaking.

The election held an open voting process, where the numbers would determine winners; nothing was kept secret.

Candidates campaigned with posters of their pictures and “mottos” plastered on school buildings for about a week. They ran for “School Prefect” for both boys and girls, which is almost like a “class president” role. Specifically the School Prefects will take responsibility for keeping students in order if teachers aren’t around and communicating information from staff and administration to their peers.

Next, two students ran for the “Grounds Overseer” role, which is one that will make sure school grounds are clean and well kept. They promised to find ways to convince their fellow students to come to school early and tidy-up, and determine the best place to gather trash so that it can be burned once a week.

The “Sports Prefect” position was hotly contested, with three candidates vying for the role to help teachers organize Friday afternoon sports competitions, teams and leagues for the school.

Along with Sports Prefect, the “Entertainment Prefect” will work closely with CHS staff to arrange entertainment for Friday afternoons. This role includes music and games that all children at CHS could enjoy.

Lastly, two children spoke their manifestos aiming to become the CHS “Chaplain,” to help their peers reach their spiritual potentials.

Each position has a Number 1 and a Number 2 position, almost like a “vice” role, which can help the winner and still participate in the governing process.

The school government leaders come from JHS 2, which is the second to highest grade at Challenging Heights School. The JHS 3 students will be preoccupied studying for their Basic Education Certificate Exam, which they must pass to graduate and move on to Senior High School.

All students in Classes 4, 5, 6 and JHS 1, 2, 3 voted in the election after they listened to their classmates explain why they would be the best fit for each job.

Candidates spoke in proverbs like, “It is not a mistake to make a mistake, but it’s a mistake to repeat a mistake,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” and “all work and no play makes Jack a boring boy.” They made promises like requesting and acquiring new balls and equipment for sports, good music to be played at school events and the Entertainment Prefect candidate even danced in the middle of the school yard as his peers watched and cheered.

When it came time for voting, students lined up by class and one by one, they received the ballot for each race and placed their thumb in ink and stamped their thumb by the candidate they wished to win. Voting with a thumb print is standard practice for all elections throughout Ghana, since many eligible voters may not be literate or able to use technology often used to vote in Western countries.

As voting commenced, music blasted on loud speakers and students from all classes danced and played as they waited for results. It was a lively day full of excitement as students were eager to cast their votes.



Violence Against Children Endangers Development in Ghana

Press Release: 2nd October 2015

As we commemorate the International Day for Non-Violence, Challenging Heights is calling on schools and families to refrain from subjecting children to all forms of violence.

Every day hundreds of children suffer violence in Ghana. The most common forms of violence against children are child labour, child trafficking, domestic slavery and an outdated culture of disciplining children by corporal punishment.

Challenging Heights condemns all forms of violence against children in Ghana, especially corporal punishment in all schools and homes.

There is good evidence showing that inflicting pain through corporal punishment as a way of disciplining children is a very weak method for correcting wrong behaviour compared to other methods. Contrarily, existing evidence shows that corporal punishment leaves emotional and psychosocial scars on victims, reduces mental development and school performance and is likely to make children more violent.

Challenging Heights recalls the case of Kwesi, a 15 years old boy who dropped out of school and shortly afterwards was trafficked to work as fisher boy on Lake Volta. He dropped out of school due to several beatings he endured at the hands of teachers, one of which left him partially blind in one eye. Driven away by violence, Kwesi spent over two years in child labour, enduring all forms of abuses at the hands of cruel and greedy traffickers.

It may surprise Ghanaians that they are out of step with most other countries: research by UNICEF has shown that children in Ghana experience the 7th highest rate of “violent discipline” in the world. Challenging Heights is calling on citizens to learn alternative behavioural management approaches rather than resorting to the primitive use of inflicting pain as a way of instilling discipline.



Behind the Scenes of Challenging Heights: from Intern to ICT teacher to Grants Officer

“I never knew that volunteering could be a good way to get experience that will then get you a job.”

Jonathan Anderson joined challenging heights in June of 2014 as part of the Advocates Programme. He learned about all aspects of CH, and then interned in the office with our Vice President and finance officer for about three months before he was hired on to teach ICT for our Youth Empowerment Programme. He taught computer skills and leadership training for two terms before he applied for and was offered the role as “Grants Officer,” and set up shop in the Advocacy Office at the Challenging Heights office in Sankor.

As grants officer, Jonathan has a few main focuses. Every day, he writes narrative reports for different funders, according to their interests. He says every project that Challenging Heights does has its own objectives and the donors want to receive detailed information about how their support is helping beneficiaries. He speaks with managers of our different departments to find stories of individuals impacted. They look at participants and how their life situations were before receiving help from Challenging Heights, and then, a year or so after their training. He measures the improvement and shares impact results.

Jonathan works with the finance team, sifting through budgets to see what programme areas need more funding as donors phase out, to see if current donors could help fill gaps, or know which grants to seek out for future funding.

Keeping track of sources of income, Jonathan pays close attention to which contracts are short-term or long-term and makes projections about which areas need more funding in the next year. He uses those projections to prioritize grant research and applications.

Jonathan is also charged with soliciting new funding sources, which he says, is the most critical part of his job, and the biggest challenge. He does enjoy the pressure to work harder to seek out worthwhile opportunities.

He says he gets ideas for new sources of funding from many areas, he has also gotten many ideas from websites like GoFundMe. When our president, Dr. James Kofi Annan, travels for speaking engagements and fundraisers in more developed countries, he will often come back with referrals for grants that could interest Challenging Heights. Jonathan also spends time researching ideas online.

When it comes to writing grants, Jonathan starts with a letter of inquiry, expressing interest and asking for support. He will then write a proposal brief before potential donors ask for more information and write up a contract or agreement stating terms of understanding. He keeps track of what donations are given, how long the funding will last, how they want impact to be measured and reporting expectations.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in development planning in Ghana, Jonathan did development work as a civil servant for the local government. He quit his job to pursue his Master’s of Arts in development and government in Germany, and upon returning to Ghana, found that there was a hiring freeze placed on most government jobs.

Jonathan grew up in Winneba and had heard of Challenging Heights, so he decided to give back to his community as a volunteer as he searched for full-time employment.

“I learned the spirit of volunteering from my time overseas,” says Jonathan. He appreciates what Challenging Heights does to help those who cannot help themselves. His favourite part about his job is the insight he gains for working for humanity. He knows that procuring grants is an integral part of non-profit work as we work to solve societal problems.

Now, he says, he would encourage fellow Africans to consider volunteering their time to gain experience. Jonathan says people can’t sit at home expecting for someone to call with an opportunity when they can be proactive.

“Volunteering opens doors for you to get a permanent job.”



CHS students vote for the World Children’s Prize

Advocating and education about children’s rights, making children aware of some hazardous child labour in other parts of the world, The World Children’s Prize awards superb leaders in the pursuit of rights for children, and also educates children themselves

As Challenging Heights president, Dr. James Kofi Annan, was nominated for The World Children’s Prize in 2013, Challenging Heights School became a Ghanaian base for the organisation’s campaign to protect children’s rights around the world.

After Senior James won the prestigious award, students at CHS, as well as four other schools in Winneba and nearby Senya, participate in a rigorous voting process, to select future Prize winners.

Because of our efforts to bring about awareness of children’s rights, The World Children’s Prize thought Challenging Heights to be the perfect fit to help them educate children and distribute their magazine. Though the magazine, children are made aware of how individuals and organisations are protecting the rights of children in many other areas of the world.

In the five schools participating in the voting process, we established children’s rights clubs. Children are given World Children’s Prize magazines in May, near the beginning of the 3rd Term, and they spend time reading and discussing together. They share the magazines, which is where they learn about the nominees and other empowering information.

Ambassadors from the clubs serve as peer educators to the rest of the children who will be voting.  Our field team supervises, but the children facilitate the events. There are “debates” held through the third term of school, where students will separate into groups to represent the three nominated candidates. The groups talk about their candidate and try to convince their fellow classmates that their candidate should receive the award. After campaigning, the children organise voting.

Students issue ballot papers and show their classmates to the voting booth, explaining the candidates. They take care of counting ballots and announce to their schools who won the event.

In a way, our field staff explains, the children are learning to elect leaders.

Each of the schools involved in Ghana are in the Central Region, and students in grades 3 to 9 participate.

The children voted for their candidate of choice before school let out for August Vacation, and so as our schools’ results are in, the global announcement of a winner should come by November.

Instead of only honouring world leaders who advocate and encourage change, the children themselves become part of the recognition process. Children across the world are learning; they are empowered as they are given the choice to select winners, long after our own leader, Senior James, took the prize.



Continuous vigilance needed to prevent child trafficking

Today, 20th September 2015, through Senya Police Service and Challenging Heights collaboration 5 children were potentially saved from being trafficked into forced labour. Human trafficking is morally wrong and strongly prohibited by the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), which makes it a criminal offense liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.

Yet Ghanaian children are trafficked every day within and across our borders. Often children are trafficked in plain sight, across police checkpoints and using commercial vehicles.

Exemplary screening of vehicles by the MTTD of Senya Police shows how rife the problem is, with a single checkpoint identifying 5 children suspected to be trafficked in only one night. Instead of being denied their right to education and possibly being taken to work as slave labour in the fishing industry on Lake Volta, these boys and girls are now either safely in protective custody or back with their families.

Challenging Heights believes that this represents a fraction of the many children who are trafficked on our roads on commercial vehicles and across police checkpoints every day. Children whose hopes, education and opportunity are callously traded for a life of forced labour, abuse and bondage.

Challenging Heights calls on commercial drivers and passengers in Ghana to ensure that no child is trafficked in Ghana. It is every citizen’s responsibility to watch out for vulnerable children in vehicles and report suspicious cases at the next police checkpoint.

We also remind all officers and barrier personnel of the police directive issued by the IGP on 5th June to systematically check all vehicles for trafficking, and to respond promptly to potential trafficking cases reported to them at such checkpoints. Only by all working together can we Turn Back Human trafficking in Ghana and give our children the future they deserve.



CHS student advocates against child labour after his own time enslaved on Lake Volta

He wants to be a soldier and eventually launch a career in computer engineering. These goals of success and stability wouldn’t have been possible for Samuel just five years ago.

It was then, in 2010, that Challenging Heights rescued this 14 year-old from slave labour on Lake Volta. He had spent most of his life on the lake, doing everything from dragging the nets on the fishing boats, to scooping water from leaky boats and helping to sell fish that were caught.

In his days on the lake, Samuel didn’t realise what opportunities could be available if he had been in school instead.

At Challenging Heights School now, Samuel is a member of the Cadets Programme, which is an extracurricular activity that trains students in military fashion. As a cadet, Samuel marches in formation and participates in group jogs and fitness sessions. He says he serves as a guide when students travel in groups or walk in parades; he ushers everyone to move together. It’s the structure and order of the Cadets that Samuel most appreciates, and he hopes to use his experience as a stepping stone into the Ghana Armed Forces.

In school, ICT (information and communication technologies) is this Class 6 student’s favourite subject. Before coming to Challenging Heights, Samuel had never used a computer. Now, he wants to turn them into his career.

Before the lake, Samuel said he had been in school only briefly. He was sent to work as a very young boy by his mother, who owed a debt after his father passed away. When his dad died, the people who were owed told his mother to give them her sons to work off the debt.

Through community vigilance and investigations, Challenging Heights learned that Samuel was on the lake and where he was working.  The field team negotiated with his traffickers to bring him back to Winneba. He spent some months in rehabilitation at the Challenging Heights Shelter and that’s where he chose his next step: to go to school.

Once he was safe from his traffickers, he told the Challenging Heights team that he had two older siblings who had also been sent to work on the lake. He said that when they heard he had been rescued and he was in school, they told the traffickers they wanted to be free, too. It took Challenging Heights’ efforts, though, to rescue them and bring them back to Winneba. Since the two were older, instead of going to school, they chose to learn a trade.

On the lake, Samuel received no formal schooling. Before he was rescued, he says he could not read or write. It’s only because of Challenging Heights and having been rescued that he says he can read and write and communicate in English.

Through education and Challenging Heights School, Samuel says he is able to socialize in a way he had never been afforded. Even during school vacation, he wishes he could be at school so that he can be with his friends, exchange ideas, interact and learn. Samuel credits Challenging Heights with introducing him to computers and information that will carry him through to more schooling and a successful path in life. With genuine appreciation, Samuel is proud to become educated.

He says he feels safe in Challenging Heights School; even the fence and gate itself help him feel like there are no threats to harm him. He sees the school as a larger family, where people from different backgrounds can come together.

Only through Challenging Heights, Samuel learned about children’s rights. He says he’s in an after-school club that discusses child’s rights. It’s in now knowing his own rights, which Samuel feels like he can speak out against inequality and issues that hinder children’s rights. He now realises the rights that he should have been afforded, and can help others to see those. Samuel says because of everything he’s been through, he knows what traffickers tell families and how they get children to work for them. He experienced the dangerous conditions and poor treatment himself, and he wants to prevent other children from the trauma that comes from working on Lake Volta.

As years move forward, Samuel says he wants to join Challenging Heights in advocating against child trafficking and child labour.

Not only in school, but in his daily life, Samuel is actively engaged. He says he now listens to the radio a lot, and when issues about child trafficking arise, he listens intently.

It’s in sharing his own story, Samuel says, that he wants to tell the world about child labour and child trafficking from his own perspective. He wants all children in school, far away from the dangers of the lake and on the path to success and empowerment.



Rescued children say hello to their families, goodbye to their friends, for now

A busload of anxious children rides through Swedru, Winneba, and Senya. More than thirty child slaves completed an intensive rehabilitation programme at the Challenging Heights Hovde House Shelter and they’re on their way home, back to their families, back to school.

Some children took classes and received therapeutic counselling for five months, while others needed more support before returning to their local communities, staying at the rehabilitation shelter for nine months to a year.

The boys and girls were all rescued by Challenging Heights after family members reported that they were in forced servitude somewhere on Lake Volta. Many of the children lived in, near, or passed through a town called Yeji. And since then, the memories they have of verbal, physical and sexual abuse torment many of them.

After months of rehabilitation, 31 children are deemed ready to reintegrate. That doesn’t mean that goodbyes to good friends, or trepidation in seeing family and friends weren’t present.

In Senya, tears flowed as one teenage boy grabbed his bag and slowly stepped away from the Challenging Heights bus. The local social worker spoke with him before a group of Challenging Heights staff walked him to his family. Another boy from the home came to the rescued boy’s side and held his arm through the entire process.

At each home, the social worker speaks directly to each child’s care givers. He reminds them why their child has been away and that they should never sell their children into slavery of any kind again. The parent or guardian is asked to “sign” a form (which is done by thumb print for most parents who may not know how to write their names), which acknowledges that the child is now in their care and they accept responsibility to make sure the child is in school and not re-trafficked.

One family member of a child responded to the social worker’s plea with, “it

Some children’s parents were not home when the Challenging Heights bus arrived. A couple children stayed on the bus, to return later, but others stayed with family and neighbours they know, until parents come home from market. The Field Team returned to speak with parents after other children were delivered, and they will monitor families closely in the coming weeks, months and years.

Some children grinned ear to ear as their mothers ran out from other responsibilities like cooking or mending, to greet the children.

As two cousins stepped off the bus to walk back to their family home, a few girls grabbed their hands through the open windows. The girls had tears in their eyes.

In the shelter, the children connect on an intense level. With shared experiences on Lake Volta, they understand each others’ struggles to reintegrate. They become close, and will surely miss each other as they go their separate ways.

a mistake, yeah.” She shook her head emphatically, expressing her concern and showing remorse.

 



Challenging Heights Calls on the Education Minister to Release Capitation Grants Immediately

Challenging Heights condemns the current trend of delay and irregularity in the release of capitation grants to public schools in Ghana.  We are therefore calling on Hon. Prof. Jane Opoku Mensah, the Minister of Education to ensure that the grant for this school’s terms is release immediately.

Today, Tuesday, 8 September 2015, public schools have re-open. We want to see that the capitation grants are made available to all public schools without any delay at all since the Ghanaian child’s education is too precious to wait.

The country fails to meet its commitment to give every child a basic education, as directed in the MDG, if it does not release the grant on time. Our call to the education minister is most urgent since the current trend of delay and irregularity in the release of the grant to public schools contributes to the failing Basic Certificate Examination Certificate (BECE) in our basic schools in Ghana.

Sadly, there is an evidence of several head teachers being distressed by bearing the unwarranted burden of raising funds to run their schools in Ghana, when grant money is not distributed on time.

To fill the funding gap, head teachers have had to resort to levying pupils as a means of raising funds to run the school. Also, some head teachers have to take bank loans or overdraft personally to fund the school.

The question that arises is, is it the responsibility of the head teachers to raise funds to run the schools? Is it not illegitimate to levy students in the public schools as means of raising funds under the current Capitation Grant regime? Can we guarantee quality education in the basic schools should the current trend persist?

These concerns are why Challenging Heights demands that the education minister ensures that grants are released immediately, as public schools re-open for a new school year, to ensure that quality education is achieved.

Challenging Heights is a Ghanaian Non-Government Organization that envisions “a world where every child is in school and lives in a caring and loving family.”

For interviews contact:  David Kofi Awusi, Advocacy Manager
Cell: (+233) 240 577 480; Email: 
advocacychghana@gmail.com



Behind the Scenes at Challenging Heights School

School uniforms and classroom desks, cabinets and chairs, are sewn and built on site at Challenging Heights School.

As teachers get ready for children to arrive for the next new school year, staff on all parts of campus are working hard in preparation.

Richard is the Challenging Heights carpenter; he’s sawing, drilling and hammering everything wood. When children’s desks are broken, he repairs them. He puts together cabinets for the Challenging Heights Office, as well as bookshelves and chairs. As Mr. Fix-It, Richard is on call to make repairs at all Challenging Heights properties.

When running and playing, it’s not uncommon for the children to abuse the bright blue tailored shorts and yellow and blue checkered shirts and dresses that they’re told to wear neatly. Charity and Joanna are always hard at work, sewing new uniforms to replace ratty ones or getting them ready to welcome new students to Challenging Heights.

Charity is a graduate of the Challenging Heights Livelihoods Programme. She took part in the Youth Empowerment Programme, learning new skills and receiving a certificate, before getting hired as a seamstress for the school.

We often see Charity working the sewing machine pedal with one of her small children tied around her back, as her other older children are students at Challenging Heights School.

David Kingsley Adams, known as just, Adams, is the Challenging Heights School busar. He keeps school records, financial transactions, and issues receipts.

He’s spent two years at Challenging Heights, and before that, Adams says he worked in a similar job at a different school. He says he’s happy to be here, and enjoys the math and calculating of his role. He collects the subsidized school fees from parents and works with the Challenging Heights finance team as they adjust budgets.

These are just a few of the staff who comes to work each day, excited to be a part of the Challenging Heights mission.



CHS teachers train as “Agents of Change,” while students are on vacation

While school is out for August vacation, Challenging Heights School teachers gathered in the community library for a training session with Headmaster Eric Asamani.

Titled “Positive Discipline and Classroom Management,” Asamani aimed to remind his teaching staff how their roles at Challenging Heights School is not just to teach material, but to set a good example and be role models for students.

The group discussed how to manage behaviour in the classroom, even going over the language they could use to speak with children about respecting and using time efficiently.

Asamani reminded teachers that they, along with the children, needed to come to work dressed neatly and professionally. He said that students will better respect their teachers and also be more apt to follow their lead in proper behaviour.

After having one teacher stand up and model what he was wearing, Headmaster Asamani wrapped a stuffed animal around his neck and asked the teachers what was wrong with what he was wearing. He wore dress pants and a button down shirt, but he said the stuffed toy would cause a distraction. Even if a teacher is wearing proper attire, Asamani says it must be done neatly. Male teachers should tuck in their shirts; female teachers need to watch how short their skirts are. All teachers need to dress neatly, or else the students will focus on what they are wearing, versus the lesson at hand.

Teachers are expected to be prepared for class, understanding their own lessons and therefore, being prepared for any question from a child. Madam Rosemond explained that she wants to have her methodologies set before beginning a lesson. Asamani acknowledged that if teachers are unprepared, students will know.

Specific ways to speak to children in class were also discussed. Asamani wants teachers to give students choice in their responses, to encourage their decision making. He also expects teachers to think about the statements they are making to their students during the day, and he wants them to keep them positive.

Teachers discussed real-life examples of questions and concerns in their classrooms, how to mitigate fights between students and encourage those who may not be interested in participating.

“Are you aware that you’re an Agent of Change to the pupils?” is a question Asamani posed to the teachers as they look forward to the next school year.



URGENT: Police Action Needed to Save Ghana’s Children from Trafficking

Challenging Heights is happy to acknowledge that the Motor Transport and Traffic Directive (MTTD) of Ghana Police Service in Senya Beraku in the Central Region has complied with the directives of Ghana’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) to screen vehicles for child trafficking. Challenging Heights is therefore calling on all police officers, especially at various police checkpoints, to comply with the IGP’s directive as well.

The IGP issued directives to police on the 5th of June 2015 at the launch of the TURN BACK Human Trafficking campaign in Accra. Challenging Heights has continued to engage with various MTTDs to ensure that the directives are implemented.

The result was that on 14 August 2015, the MTTD and Ghana Police Service in Senya Beraku in the Central of Ghana, in collaboration with Challenging Heights, screened vehicles and distributed hundreds of anti-child trafficking campaign stickers to drivers while educating them on the dangers of child trafficking and their role in addressing it.

Challenging Heights supports this compliance and joins the public to ask all other public officers especially at police checkpoints to check all vehicles and screen them for child trafficking.

Screening vehicles for child trafficking is most urgent in this period of the year, during school vacation; it is when hundreds of children are trafficked especially to Lake Volta, for forced labour. We call on the general public to report suspect passengers at police checkpoints for action.

Currently, 49, 000 children are working on Lake Volta. Of this number, 21,000 are engaged in hazardous child labour – work that is dangerous to the lives of the children. This is the time no child should be allowed to add to the number of children working on Lake Volta at the cost of their lives and future.

Challenging Heights is a child rights organization and our vision is “a world where every child is in school and lives in a loving and caring family.

For interviews contact:

David Kofi Awusi, Advocacy Manager

Cell: 0240577480 or advocacychghana@gmail.com



Taxis and Tro tros help us “Turn Back Human Trafficking”

After a press conference with Ghana Police which launched the “Turn Back Human Trafficking” campaign, the Challenging Heights Advocacy Team is pounding the pavement, making sure our message is heard by travellers and traffickers.

“I support Ghana to be a child trafficking free country,” is one slogan meant to warn anyone who wants to send children to work on Lake Volta that there will be consequences.

Drivers of taxis and tro tros (public transportation in the form of privately owned passenger vans) in Senya readily accepted the Challenging Heights team plastering brightly coloured stickers on their trunks and side windows.

As he peeled the paper and laid the stickers carefully onto back doors and behind the head rests of tro tro front seats, Challenging Heights Advocacy Manager, David Kofi Awusi, explained to drivers what the stickers are for.

Since Ghana Police committed to vigilance and action in looking for and removing children who are being trafficked into slave labour on Lake Volta, Awusi says it’s now time to make drivers aware of the dangers of child slavery.

Challenging Heights hopes that drivers will be aware that unaccompanied minors on buses and tro tros heading north to Yeji from the Central Region may well be headed to a life trapped in slavery. We want people to understand the dangers and help to stop traffickers in their tracks and hope that the brightly coloured stickers may turn heads and remind people to “turn back” human trafficking.

Mr. Kofi Larbi, chairman for the GPRT (Ghana Private Road and Transport Union) in Senya, allowed Challenging Heights to place stickers on tro tros, bus stops and the main waiting areas for travelers. He’s on board with doing all he can to promote awareness of the reality of child labour.

Two days later, Challenging Heights joined Ghana Police at check points in the Senya area.

Ghana Police pulled vehicles over and asked if the drivers would support the anti-trafficking measure by allowing us to put stickers on their vehicles. Every one of them willingly agreed.

It’s a small step in the fight against human trafficking, but with police commitment and taxi and tro tro driver support, our awareness campaign moves forward.



Best behaved students rewarded with a trip to West Hills Mall

Bright-eyed, but quiet and nervous, twenty-two students from Challenging Heights School split up into groups of four and cautiously stepped onto the elevator at West Hills Mall in Weija, just outside Ghana’s capital, Accra.

The mall would be considered up-scale in any modern country, but for these students, tiled floors and air conditioning was a thing to behold. They had never before experienced the rise of an elevator, the downward shift of the escalator, or an automatic hand dryer in a bathroom.

The children ranged in age from 10 or 12 to 16.

Instead of violent punishment as most Ghanaian schools practice, Challenging Heights School works to reward good behaviour and discipline, not with caning, but with tedious tasks and clean-up duties. Good behaviour is encouraged with positive incentives.

At the end of every school term, the students who qualify for the “Roll of Honour,” receive prizes of some kind. In the past, they took home books or school supplies, toys and stuffed animals. This term, the five teachers who make up the Roll of Honour committee, decided that a field trip would incite excitement.

About a dozen of the younger students in nursery and primary grades received a special meal to mark their good behaviour for Term 3. The children sat patiently as they saw the containers of jollof rice and sausages sitting under a mesh net to keep bugs away. Sir Lewis and Sir Timothy, who lead the Roll of Honour committee, explained to them why they were being rewarded.

As this took place inside a classroom, hoardes of other students watched from the doorways and windows, eagerly wanting to take part. The teachers told them, too, why these dozen were getting a special meal, and told them that they could be rewarded after the next terms if they followed the Code of Conduct, too.

After the youngest children ate and were dismissed, the older Roll of Honour students piled on to the Challenging Heights bus as the rest of the school looked-on. About an hour and a half later, the children arrived at West Hills, ready for their adventure.

With great interest, the students began to ask questions. One group of teenage girls was astonished to know they could walk into a jewelry store, just to look, without purchasing anything. They learned about how the freezer system at the grocery store worked and tried out a foaming soap dispenser in the washroom for the first time.

As they wandered the mall and walked into different stores, they gained confidence and asked more questions of the staff involved.  They wanted pictures snapped of them with various items and in front of colorful displays.

Once the group met again, they enjoyed meals that were made and packed with care by their teachers and the Challenging Heights house mothers; jollof rice and fried chicken with vegetable pasta salad. The teachers on the field trip wanted to get the students an extra special treat from the mall: ice cream bars.

An afternoon that started full of nerves and unknown anticipation, ended with a bus load of more confident, knowledgeable students. They acknowledged themselves that they had learned so much and had a wonderful time. It was clear to see the transition from overwhelmed and unsure, to excited and pleased with all they had seen.

The bus ride back to Winneba was lively, full of singing, dancing and laughing. They couldn’t wait to get back and share with their families and friends at home.



Police must ensure a school vacation free of child trafficking

Challenging Heights calls on Ghana Police to deliver on their commitment to stop children being trafficked across Ghana, with the upcoming school vacation known to be the season when many children are taken into forced labour on Lake Volta.

Exactly one year ago this week the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) conducted a raid along Accra-Kumasi road in collaboration with Challenging Heights. Checking just 6 vehicles they identified 33 children deemed at risk of being trafficked or exploited in hazardous forced labour in the fishing industry there.

Challenging Heights urgently reminds all Ghana Police officers of the directive issued by the IGP on 5th June 2015 during the launch of the TURN BACK Human Trafficking Campaign in Accra. This commits all officers and personnel at barriers and checkpoints to thoroughly screen vehicles for unaccompanied children and to report cases of concern.

We believe that at this time vigilance is required by all police officers, but especially the MTTD. The safety of our children cannot be left to special operations but requires the systematic screening of suspicious vehicles, especially those carrying children, across all our roads. If the AHTU can rescue dozens of children in just one night, imagine how many more could be saved if checkpoint officers met their obligation to check for vulnerable children every day?
Sadly, over 190,000 people are thought to be trapped by human trafficking in Ghana. Of the estimated 49,000 children working on Lake Volta, over 21,000 are engaged in hazardous child labour – work that endangers their lives. We believe many of these children are trafficked to the Lake during school vacations, and so it is imperative the police act now before Ghanaian children are made slaves in need of rescue in their own country.

Challenging Heights therefore calls on police officers, the public, drivers and GPTRU leader to ensure that there will be no child trafficking during this year’s schools vacation in Ghana. We further remind all citizens that the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 594), makes human trafficking a criminal offence punishably by imprisonment.
Challenging Heights is a Ghanaian NGO that “promotes youth and family empowerment and children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour in Ghana”. Our vision is “a world where every child is in school and lives in a caring and loving family.

Challenging Heights is a Ghanaian NGO that promotes youth and family empowerment and children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour in Ghana. Challenging Heights delivers social justice interventions to underserved communities with programmes that include the rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of children who have been trafficked to Lake Volta to work in the fishing industry. Challenging Heights also runs a number of community awareness and economic empowerment programmes in order to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking of children.

For interview contact: David Kofi Awusi, Advocacy Manager
Cell: (+233) 240 577480; Email: advocacychghana@gmail.com



Rescued children get an introduction to the open skies and Ghanaian history

All 55 children currently being cared for at the Challenging Heights Hovde House were taken on a day-long excursion to their nation’s capital. Staff accompanied the boys and girls, who had not too long ago, been working in dangerous conditions as slave labour on Lake Volta.

The group first made their way to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. There, the children learned what a person will need while traveling. They saw first-hand, the process anyone needs to go through at the airport, from start to finish. Airport staff led the children on a complete tour to get them familiar with what it means to check in, check bags, and walk through security.

Shelter director, Linda Osabutey, says the trip was set to help the rescued children develop their social and outing skills, since many of them have little interaction with a broader slice of Ghanian life than what they saw on the lake or at the shelter. Madam Linda hopes excursions like this will cultivate interest in some of the children in the aviation and/or transportation sectors.

After Kotoka, the group made their way to the Kwame Nkrumah Museum. Named for Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, the museum showed the children how Ghana became independent. The students got to hear Nkrumah’s life story, which in many ways, can inspire them to aim high and work toward any goal they set. With determination and hard work, their goals are attainable, just as their first president’s.

In the past, Hovde House staff have taken the children to Kakum National Park and slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina, but this year, they chose an excursion to Accra.

Meant as a learning experience and broadening the children’s perspective, Linda says the trip was also a great deal of fun.



Behind the Scenes at Challenging Heights: Money Talks

“We are the money watchmen! The ‘money security act.’” Gilbert Oduroh says he and his colleague, Cecilia Donkoh, take care of figures. He’s a numbers guy. She loves the problem solving. The duo makes up the Challenging Heights Finance Department, writing budgets, preparing payment vouchers and reporting back to our esteemed donors. Cecilia says she spends her days completing entries for the reporting software, Quickbooks. She keeps track of what money comes in, where it goes, and writes checks to pay administrative bills like electricity and gas. When payments build up, Cecilia says, that’s when her role can get challenging. “Any mistake you do affects someone’s reports,” she explained. Detail oriented, Cecilia says their office hasn’t had any problems with entries because she and Gilbert are incredibly careful. She joined Challenging Heights in October 2014, after finishing a year of Ghana National Service once she completed her accounting degree. Cecilia says she loves the calculating. When numbers don’t work out, she may get confused and need to start all over, but she really enjoys the puzzle and figuring it out.

Her co-worker, Gilbert, studied business accounting and worked for about seven years doing similar work before joining Challenging Heights in 2013. He says he documents all money that comes in from donors, keeps track of how much is spent and what’s left. Gilbert is often sought after by the nearly 100 Challenging Heights staff members, since he’s the one doling out salaries, making sure all tax deductions are properly taken out and paid. Plus, he handles the petty cash fund. There’s a specific process Gilbert implements to get cash to those who need it for Challenging Heights programming. Staff members raise a request for cash for a specific activity; Gilbert reviews it, approves it and passes it on to Challenging Heights President, James Kofi Annan. Once Senior James gives the O-K, Gilbert writes a check and the activity is carried out. Afterwards, Gilbert expects receipts and supporting documentation of what the money was used for; he files documents and enters each spending item into the system. The pressure Gilbert feels, he says with a laugh, comes from his colleagues. He knows that they want money for their programmes as quickly as he can get it to them, but as finance officers, he and Cecilia need to make sure everything is correct with the budget before releasing a dime.

Cecilia and Gilbert navigate donor requests carefully, knowing that different people expect different documentation. Some are strict with rigid directions on how they want expenditures reported, which can be sometimes prove difficult, but this finance team is methodical and they keep everything organized and clear. “I love what I do – that’s what I know best!” says Gilbert. The two say, they take care of the money; they watch its every move, but they don’t spend a bit of it themselves. It all goes toward programmes for Challenging Heights’ beneficiaries, or directly to beneficiaries.



Transforming rescued children at the Challenging Heights Hovde House

“It’s a great feeling ‘cause you get the chance to transform someone who has never been to school before, and you see such a child writing his or her name, it’s amazing.”

The life of a social worker at the Challenging Heights Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter is more than checking in on a child every once in a while. Anna Frimpong and her colleagues live with the children and help care for them, as well.

Anna graduated from university in Accra, studying social work and psychology. Before joining Challenging Heights, she worked with Canada World Youth, among other jobs. She says she couldn’t be happier at the shelter, as she always wanted to work with children and enjoys seeing progress in those Challenging Heights rescued from slave labour.

She acknowledges the difficulties; some children were sexually abused. She said they may come to the shelter shouting and upset, but she and the other shelter staff work with them until they are well-behaved. She teaches an etiquette class once a week for the girls at the shelter, “to groom them as a lady,” as Ghanaian culture calls for women to act appropriately.

Along with behaviour expectations, Anna and her colleagues teach children’s rights. She says the girls will meet together and discuss female-centred issues like menstruation and sexual issues. At one time, Anna says the girls were not letting their undergarments dry properly as they hung their washed laundry on the clothes line. She said they would put their underwear underneath towels or other clothing to hide them, saying that if the boys saw their underwear; the boys would make fun of them. Anna and her colleagues met with boys and girls to explain that teasing will not be tolerated and that the girls needed to hang their laundry just as everyone does.

These are all topics that Anna says are never broached if a child spends an entire life on the lake. She says some girls are born there. One girl at the shelter was just three months old when she was trafficked to Lake Volta.

“When they come here initially, they come with so much anger, and then it gets to a time where you get so close. The child comes to you and tells you how they feel, how they are happy to be here, how you love them, and they’ve never felt something like that. It’s amazing,” explains Anna.

Our Hovde House shelter accepted a group of children from the Mercy Project this year. Anna says that some of them were so young when they arrived that they didn’t know anything different. At first, they wanted to go back to fish and work on the lake, because they weren’t comfortable with the change. On the first day, Anna says she saw a lot of angry faces. When the children arrived, they showed great mistrust; they would misbehave and didn’t want to talk at all about trauma they went through. Anna says behaviour like that is expected after all they had been through on the lake. Soon though, Anna says she and the other staff built a rapport with the children, gained their trust, and the children participated fully.

Along with the socialization aspects of her social work role, Anna also becomes a care taker to the children as they stay at the Hovde House. She said she will help the children with their hygiene, homework and chores.

Anna and the care staff work for 20 days in a row, before taking ten days off. Since they live at the shelter, they are available at any hour of the day to speak with a child who may need counselling. She gives regular PTSD screenings, to check on how the children are handling trauma that they encountered while working on Lake Volta.

Anna enjoys her work and watching the rescued children grow.

“Children are amazing. They learn from us, so I just believe we should try to be watchful the things we say and the things we do when children are around.”

She hopes that others will take the time and effort to make sure children in Ghana have rights and are cared for properly.



Rescued children visit apprenticeship opportunities

Hair dresser, tailor, concrete designer, auto mechanic, welder, carpenter and more. The oldest rescued children being rehabilitated at the Challenging Heights Hovde House were taken on a bus-tour style “Career Day,” gaining crucial exposure to many different apprenticeship opportunities in the area.

First stop was a local hairdresser in Swedru. Three girls are on the bus and had shown interest in learning about the job. The owner of the shop, Joyce, explained what the job entails, including how a standard day goes. She talked about the different types of hair and gave some examples of how different hair types need to be treated differently. For this job, Joyce said, apprentices need to have completed JHS courses. She said hair dressers need to know how to read and write, because they must be able to read instructions on the boxes to know how to apply hair product appropriately. It takes three years to become a hair dresser, if apprentices attend courses regularly.

Near Winneba Junction, all the children got off the bus at a mechanic’s shop. There were handshakes and smiles all around as the children knew two current apprentices, who they themselves had been rescued and spent some months at Hovde House.

The master at the auto shop advised students to finish JHS, but admitted that working as a mechanic was possible with less formal schooling and a longer apprenticeship.

Down the road, students saw huge piles of cement pillars and blocks. Most were decorative, but also served function. The block designers explained how they use molds to cut the blocks into different shapes and sizes. They say an apprenticeship can be about three months for quick learners. It does take an investment to start a business, the master warned the children, but growth will come.

With stops at a tire shop, brick factory and construction site, the children from the shelter saw first-hand what kind of work they could consider as they look to their bright futures far away from fishing on Lake Volta.

Along with career information, the shop owners shared pieces of advice and words of wisdom about working and life.

A seamstress in Winneba acknowledged that not even university graduates are having an easy time finding work, so vocational skills are often the way to go. She said being a seamstress isn’t like being a hairdresser, where owners would need their own shop. With a sewing machine, the work can be done anywhere, even from the house. It’s the kind of work that families need themselves, so if you can sew your own clothing, you won’t need to pay someone else to do it, and you can advertise your work by wearing your own designs.

This seamstress explained that the children would need to be serious and focused to make the measurements perfect, but that it can be fun and rewarding. She hopes the children have a love and passion for the job they choose, but she also encouraged them to not just learn one thing. She said, if you learn other skills, for example, sewing plus make-up or hair, you wouldn’t just dress a person, but put together their entire look and achieve more income through more services provided.

A big message from everyone was, even if some people say school isn’t important, it is. The children listened closely as some said it’s necessary to at least complete JHS, because some people even go to university to study fashion design.

The girls in the group visited the seamstress, but they also joined the boys at every stop. The boys were introduced to a tailor, who focused on sewing suits and male clothing.

At the carpenter’s shop, everyone was told yes, women can make furniture, too. Many professions in Ghana are traditionally meant for men or women, but the masters on this tour did encourage the girls to choose what interests them.

A common theme for each job was that it takes time to learn and perfect a craft. If the children are serious and hardworking, focused and goal-driven, they can achieve much.

The children have been used to a life on Lake Volta without much knowledge of a world beyond. As they re-join, or even begin, their formal schooling at the Hovde House before they are reintegrated to their community schools, we hope that introducing them to options will encourage them to work hard and remain hopeful.



A traditional naming ceremony

As the Challenging Heights Community Stakeholder’s Manager, Mr. Mensah settles disputes between families quarrelling about who should be responsible over a child.

In one case, a man impregnated a woman and she had a little boy. For years, though, the man never accepted his role as the child’s father.

In Ghanaian culture, the father is supposed to name a child, but when a father is absent from child-rearing responsibilities, the child may not ever be officially named.

The mother in this case went to Mr. Mensah with a complaint that her son’s father has not ever helped financially. Through mediation, Mr. Mensah convinced the father to take responsibility and in doing so, the father is now allowed to name his child. The father is traditionally the person who names a child. A public naming ceremony was held at the Challenging Heights Office, with both the man and the woman’s families in attendance.

The boy is now three years old. Naming ceremonies typically happen when a child is a few weeks or months old, but they typically only take place when the father is present. The family knew that the father wanted to call the son after the current minister of Winneba, Hon. Alex Afenyo Acheampong, but since there had not been a formal naming ceremony, the family called the boy, “Honourable,” in the mean time.

At the ceremony, a traditional song is sung, before the family’s elder speaks to the group.

Two cups are served. In one cup, water is poured; in a second cup, soda is poured. The two are then mixed together and the mother drinks part of it; the father drinks part of it, and the rest is tossed under the father’s legs, to represent the desire to be fruitful and welcome more children to the world. At this time, the child is named and the family claps in celebration.

The family and others in attendance enjoy minerals (soft drinks) together before parting ways.

In this situation, with Mr. Mensah’s intervention, the two families pressured the father to step up and take responsibility for his child. During the ceremony, the father and mother sat next to each other, but they are not a couple and appeared cordial for naming.

The boy, at age three, wore a traditional white outfit. He stood on the table for part of the ceremony, and after his role was complete, he crawled under the table as a typical three-year-old may. The boy enjoyed his soft drink as his family honoured him.



Ghana Minister commits to expand LEAP benefits after our research finds room for improvement

“I hope that my appeal will be granted so that together we can create a country safe for all children while enabling all children to enjoy their basic rights to education and proper parental care and support.”

This passionate request was made at the press conference launch of Challenging Heights-led research on Ghana’s Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) Programme. Challenging Heights president, Dr. James Kofi Annan, discussed the benefits, but also shortfalls in LEAP. It was met with positive response by Hon. Nana Oye Lithur, Ghana’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

LEAP is a Government of Ghana cash transfer programme, which was introduced in 2008. It is implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. As of November 2014, the LEAP programme had reached 90,000 families in all 10 regions of the country, with the aim of reducing extreme poverty in Ghana.

In November 2013, Challenging Heights led an in-depth research project concerning LEAP, with support from Family for Every Child and the Centre for Social Protection (CSP) at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK. This research was part of a wider study on the linkages between social protection programmes and children’s care in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa.

Our research shows that LEAP has positive impact on the wellbeing and care for children, but these advantages can be increased if some changes are made. Issues like delay and irregularity in payment need to be addressed. We also expect that removing the current cap of only providing cash for four eligible household members would greatly benefit Ghanaian families.

Challenging Heights calls on the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) to remove the current cap of four family members per household receiving LEAP benefits, which would make LEAP accessible to anyone who needs and qualifies for LEAP assistance in Ghana.

We also ask the Minister to prioritize expansion of LEAP to all coastal areas of Ghana, including the Effutu Municipal and Awutu-Senya District, which are areas Challenging Heights serve, and they do not currently receive LEAP benefits. These coastal regions are deep in poverty, giving rise to horrendous child labour and child trafficking situations.
We want the minister to ensure that payment of cash under LEAP is done as expected, promptly and frequently. Our field research shows that existing beneficiaries of LEAP “sometimes …wait for four months before [they] receive the money.”

If all family members are able to receive benefits (instead of just the current limit of four), our research shows that children in particular would feel positive effects, “as they are more likely to live in larger households.”

We also expect that steps will be taken to curb corruption when it comes to government workers doling out LEAP benefits.

Minister Lithur responded to our concerns before she shared her own speech. She said LEAP will expand from helping 90,000 families to 150,000 families and her department plans to strategically focus efforts in areas that need the most help, especially increasing services offered to the coastal communities we requested. She says they will focus on the coastal belt, especially women who are pregnant and have children under two. Also, Lithur’s department plans to remove the household cap, so that all beneficiaries can be helped. LEAP benefits will increase so that the minimum amount paid to each household will be 88 Ghana cedi, as soon as the Minister of Finance signs their funding request. The government has plans to change their benefit distribution process to become e-payments. Lithur explained that doing biometrics and paying beneficiaries electronically should cut back on corruption and increase integrity.

After speaking, Lithur and James Kofi Annan took questions from eager media. Both parties smiled widely together.

We are pleased with commitments made by the minister, and we look forward to seeing how the promises are implemented to improve the lives of families and children in the communities we serve.



Research identifies important ways that benefits of LEAP can be improved

Research results launched in Ghana today have highlighted how the Government’s Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme can be optimized. The study shows that LEAP has positive effects regarding both material and non-material aspect of well-being and care for children. It further shows that these advantages can be increased if implementation challenges such as delay and irregularity in payment are addressed promptly and if the cap of four eligible members per household is removed.

Challenging Heights is therefore calling on the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) to remove the four eligible household ceiling andceiling and making LEAP accessible to all eligible households members across all the LEAP catchment areas in Ghana.

We are also asking the Minister to prioritize expansion of LEAP to all coastal areas of Ghana including Effutu Municipal and Awutu-Senya District since these coastal areas are deep in poverty giving rise to horrendous child labour and child trafficking situations.

Challenging Heights is also asking the Minister to ensure that payment of cash under LEAP is done as planned – promptly and frequently. Our field research shows that existing beneficiaries of LEAP “sometimes …wait for four months before [they] receive the money.”

LEAP is a Government of Ghana cash transfer programme introduced in 2008 that is being implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. As of November 2014, the LEAP programme had reached 90,000 families in all 10 regions of the country, with the aim of reducing extreme poverty in Ghana.

In November 2013, Challenging Heights led this LEAP research in Ghana with support from Family for Every Child and the Centre for Social Protection (CSP) at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK. This research was part of a wider study on the linkages between social protection and children’s care in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa.

Challenging Heights is a child rights organization that “promotes youth and family empowerment, children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour.” Our vision is “a world where every child is in school and lives in a loving and caring family.”

For interviews contact: David Kofi Awusi (Advocacy Manager)
Cell: (+233) 244 515 761



Building Livelihoods from the Ground Up; Beneficiaries Pound Bricks Before Smoking Fish

Before heating the coals and smoking fish to sell at market, participants of the Challenging Heights Livelihoods Programme started from the ground up. They pounded bricks and smoothed edges to construct smoking ovens from a mud mixture made from termite mounds.

The hard work came with wide smiles. This is the work they women grew up on. The Challenging Heights Livelihoods Team knows that many people in the Winneba fishing community have come on hard times, but they have the skills and desire to get back to work so they can provide for their families and not consider selling their children into forced labour.

A pavilion stands overlooking the ocean slapping against the rocky shore. This plot of land Challenging Heights now owns on the coast of Winneba will soon be home to an all-inclusive fish-smoking facility, school and hospital.

The plan is to make sixty fish smoking ovens available to women who need a place to make their products. There will be a refrigerated cold store, where fish can be brought in bulk from the port at Tema (East of Accra) and stored for locals to buy with relative ease. Women will be able to smoke the fish in the shared ovens then sell the fish at market or in other towns with fewer time and travel constraints that were previously necessary.

As women smoke fish, the goal is for their children to be in school, on site, at a new school which will be constructed on the same property. A hospital is also planned for the land.

The Penkye area of Winneba is the main fishing community which lines the coast. It’s where families often struggle to make ends meet, and hard times have caused many women to lose their fish smoking and selling businesses. They haven’t been able to sell fish at markets, and they struggle to feed their families.

The Challenging Heights Livelihoods Programme offered a Fish Preservation Training, to teach some women how to smoke fish, but moreover, to provide families with seed capital to reinvigorate their businesses so families can support themselves.

Recently, women in the programme met at our site to construct the ovens themselves. The cement for the first nine ovens comes from a mud mixture made from termite mounds in the area. Male staff searched for and found multiple mounds with varying levels of suitability to mix. One of our gardeners found the best mound, which was not too sticky and didn’t need to be mixed with stone or gravel. Through a tedious process, staff collected the mud, but as they did, their truck got stuck in the mud! There was extra cost and time involved in towing the SUV, and the mud needed to be offloaded the next day.

The mud itself poses a challenge to mix. Instead of our female livelihoods beneficiaries taking on that task, we hired workers from a nearby prison. It took them more than four hours to mix the clay to the appropriate consistency, and then it was left to dry for a few days.

Soon, the women began forming clay bricks and carrying them to construct the walls of the ovens. They smoothed down the clay and built them higher, knowing that they would need to return every couple days to add to the eventual seven layers of clay.

Realising how difficult the clay brickwork can be, the women suggested that it is more cost effective and efficient to construct the rest of the ovens with premade cinderblocks.

The goal of this project is to get women in Winneba and surrounding areas back to work. At this time, their cost in travel to buy the fish and then to sell the fish in other cities, is not sustainable. It also requires mothers to leave their children unattended for long periods of time. If they are able to secure fish at a closer location (as they will with the Challenging Heights cold store), they will have an easier time selling fish to restaurants or food vendors and be able to spend more time with their children.

In the next few months, women will be able to buy their own fish, at cost, buy their own fire wood, and have access to smoking ovens. Our teams will also construct additional ovens, for free, in the homes of our beneficiaries.

It’s an opportunity the women say they’re excited to be a part of, and they know this will help them to sustain their families and livelihoods for years to come.



WAEC Boss Must Resign Immediately For Failing The Children Of Ghana

Challenging Heights strongly asserts that the leaks in the ongoing Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) are due to weak system in the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC). We therefore request that Rev. Samuel Ollennu and other staff in WAEC connected to the leaks resign immediately.

On 18th June 2015, Daily Graphic reported that Mrs. Agnes Teye-Cudjoe, the Deputy Director of Public Affairs of WAEC was quoted to have said in the official statement issued on behalf of WAEC that “The Council, regretted any inconveniences caused stakeholders and, in particular, candidates who did not involve themselves in the malpractice”.

If WAEC recognizes that candidates were not involved in the malpractice, then why should they suffer? This is a gross injustice to the 438,030 candidates who are writing the ongoing BECE.

Challenging Heights demands that Rev. Samuel Ollennu, the Head of Ghana National Office of WAEC resign from his post immediately for failing to provide strong leadership for WAEC, which lead to yearly leaks of exams papers, cancellation and subsequent suffering of innocent candidates. Furthermore, we demand all WAEC staff who are concerned with quality assurance, monitoring and supervision to resign from their post immediately.

Challenging Heights openly pledges its support to individuals, organizations and groups who want to sue WAEC and demand for damages, compensation and justice for all the 2015 BECE candidates. As a result of the failure, hundreds of thousands of candidates will endure emotional and psychological impacts of the cancellation. We can easily predict mass failure in the ongoing BECE due to the unfair decision taken by WAEC to cancel the five papers.

Every year, WAEC questions leak and usually children from rich families benefit from this. This is because parents who are poor are not able to afford to buy exams questions for their children. This is not only morally wrong, but presents an unfair playing field for candidates from low-income families in Ghana.

Challenging Heights therefore calls on WAEC to develop a system which will allow them to officially publish all examination questions through an official press release prior to each exam paper so that every student can be graded on the same scale.

Challenging Heights believes that when it happens that way, emphasis will move from mere responses to exams questions but rather on the quality of responses from candidates. Also, this will ensure that all BECE candidate; both those from poor families and those from rich families, will fairly compete before the examination questions.

Challenging Heights is a child’s rights organization that “promotes youth and family empowerment, children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour”. Our vision is “a world where every child is in school and lives in a loving and caring family”.

For interviews contact: Dr. James Kofi Annan (President)
Cell: (+233) 244 515 761



JHS students visit Ghana’s Parliament; some see Accra for the first time

Between class-work, exam prep and studying, 20 of Challenging Heights School’s oldest students, JHS 2 and 3, got to experience what they learn first hand, with a day-trip visit to The Parliament of Ghana.

The students have been learning about Ghana’s three branches of government, especially as they prepared for the Basic Education Certificate Exam (BECE), which they need to pass to graduate and move on to senior high school. On their trip to Parliament, they saw the ministers and national leaders they have read about and seen on television, in the flesh. They even met the Effutu Region (which includes Winneba) Member of Parliament (MP), Hon. Alexander Kwamina Afenyo-Markin.

Sitting in the gallery, the students watched on as members of Parliament debated on the floor and made motions, which is all part of the government procedures they had only read about before.

Challenging Heights School had to apply to Parliament’s public relations office and be accepted to be able to participate with guided tour. Along with three other schools, including a notable senior high school, Headmaster Eric Asamani says the students grasped a better understanding of Parliament’s inner workings.

Asamani knows that some of the students had never been to Accra, so they used the day-trip to check out some of their capital’s sights. The group stopped by the Accra Mall, the West Hills mall, the airport and the Flagstaff House, which is the Seat of the Presidency of Ghana. That is where Ghana’s President, John Dramani Mahama, lives and works. West Hills shopping mall in Weija offered some students their first experience riding on an elevator and escalator!

The students are thankful to donors who fund CHS and allowed them to explore their nation’s capital. They say they want to go back to those places. Asamani believes they’ve now been inspired to work hard, travel outside of Winneba and raise their economic ability and standard of living.



Day of the African Child aims can only be achieved through full implementation of the National Plan of Action by the Government of Ghana

Challenging Heights believes that the Government of Ghana is neglecting its 9 million children by failing to fully implement the National Plan of Action (NPA) to end all forms of Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) in Ghana by 2015.

The NPA was launched in 2011 with strong commitments to tackle rights abuses such as hazardous labour and forced marriage, the elimination of which is the focus of this year’s Day of the African Child. As a child rights organization, Challenging Heights was hopeful that this NPA would mean a better life and protection for all children of Ghana.

But now with less than one year of the NPA left, over 75% of the stated plan has not been delivered. The government is therefore at serious risk of failing on its commitments to the children of Ghana and leaving them exposed to forced labour in mining, fishing and agriculture, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.

Today, the 16th of June 2015, as we celebrate the International Day of the Africa Child, Challenging Heights is asking the Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP): what is the way forward for the children of Ghana? We demand that these two child-oriented ministries tell the people of Ghana what concrete plans they have put in place to protect our children from all forms of exploitation and violence, and furthermore what guarantees they will give that these plans will be achieved?

According to ILO there are over 168 million boys and girls who are trapped in child labour globally – millions of them in our own country.  Of Ghana’s 8.69 million children aged 5-17 years old, an estimated 1.89 million are in child labour in Ghana (21.8%) with as many as 1.23 million (14.2%) in hazardous child labour, forced marriage or child trafficking.

How long will we sit down and look on for our children to die and waste away in horrendous child labour and other forms exploitation in Ghana? Let us remember that the OECD recently stated that Ghana is achieving less than 3% of its economic potential because all our children do not complete basic education.

We ask the Government of Ghana to show strong leadership through concrete actions and moves to end the menace of child labour which is a key barrier that prevent children from living in freedom and enjoying their basic right to education. A necessary step in achieving this is setting out how – and when! – all the targets of the NPA will be achieved.

 For interviews Contact(+233) 244 515 761



Shelter staff makes the Hovde House feel like home for rescued children

Shelter staff makes the Hovde House feel like home for rescued children

“One of the kids here calls me as his elder brother,” says Stephen Appiah, the newest Shelter Assistant at Challenging Heights’ Hovde House rehabilitation shelter.

Stephen doesn’t only look after the 50+ children at the shelter, but he’s become a part of their family as they transition from a life working in often dangerous conditions as slave labourers on Lake Volta, back to their families in their home communities.

As the children are caught up in their classes and go through extensive counselling, Stephen wakes up with them at 5:30 a.m., helps them with chores and gets them ready for the day. He’s the one they may cry to if they have bad dreams or need help washing up. It’s a 24/7 job, in which Stephen and the other shelter assistants work 20 days before they have time off for 10 days.

He laughs that he doesn’t get much sleep when he stays at the shelter, as he shares a wall, just one room over, from one of the boys’ dorm room. Stephen says he hears the children at night, when they’re happy and laughing or playing around, but also when they argue. He says it doesn’t bother him one bit, “That’s why I’m here, so I have to cope with it. It’s no problem.”

Before becoming a shelter assistant, Stephen worked at the Hovde House as a security guard. He spent extra time talking with the children and even playing with them, which was not specifically part of his role. After nearly two years of protecting and guarding the compound, shelter managers asked Stephen to apply for the role of shelter assistant. He’s now one of two men who live on site, and is happy to have a more direct role with the children.

“At times we play football with them just to let them know that they are free here. And being here too is like being at home, so they should feel comfortable when they are here,” Stephen says.

With a big smile, Stephen talks about how much he enjoys playing football (soccer) and games with the children. He watches them and works with them as they mature in just a few months while at the shelter. When they arrive, Stephen says they may behave strangely. He says they may want to be at home, and sometimes they are crying and upset, but soon, they get used to living with the other children. If a child arrives misbehaving, Stephen says it usually only takes a week for them to get comfortable, believe that they are safe, and act appropriately.

“We let them know that here is like home. So they should relax and they should stop crying.”

He and the other shelter assistants try to calm the children down, and stress that violence will not be tolerated. Along the wall of the dining room, there is a sign that reads, “Hands are not for hitting.” Stephen says he enjoys teaching the children how to behave, and he sees how good they become by the time they are ready to get back to their families and communities.

Stephen says it’s not hard for him to watch a child leave because he knows they are very happy to go home, and he is happy to be a part of their transition.



Challenging Heights welcomes commitment by Ghana Police to properly screen vehicles for trafficked children

As Ghana Police Service launch the TURN BACK Human Trafficking strategy today, Challenging Heights is calling on police officers to routinely and systematically inspect all suspicious vehicles for trafficking persons, especially children.

We know that every year thousands of child and adult victims of trafficking are transported along Ghana’s roads, taken into forced labour and sexual exploitation.

Fortunately there are established police checkpoints on all major roads across all the ten regions of Ghana. They have the capacity to check vehicles – especially commercial vehicles travelling to high risk destinations such as Yegi by night – for unaccompanied children and vulnerable adults.
Yet currently hundreds of children are trafficked through these checkpoints every week. To stop this police officers must systematically check vehicles for victims of trafficking and not just stop vehicles to check for licensing and certification. We believe it is the duty of every police officer to protect Ghana’s children from potential exploitation, not just dedicated units such as the AHTU.

We therefore welcome the statement by Ms Rose Bio Atinga, the Director-General of Administration, speaking on behalf of the Inspector-General of Police, in which she confirmed that police “officers and men at barriers and security check points have also been directed to be alert and look out for such cases and report”. We look forward to seeing the results of these promised efforts in the weeks and months ahead and would expect a significant increase in the cases report and prosecutions considered if action does indeed follow.

Over the past decade Challenging Heights has rescued hundreds of children from forced labour and prevented thousands of potential victims of trafficking. But these children should never have been at risk of trafficked in the first place.

Ghana is known to be a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, where both internal and external trafficking happens on daily basis. Although there are strong law in place, such as the Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), practical actions to implement these is very limited, uncoordinated and under-resourced. Consequently, Ghana is listed on Tier 2 by the United State Department of State’s Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) Report, meaning our Government does not fully comply with the international minimum standards.

The Global Slavery Index (GSI) estimates over 190,000 people are trapped in forced labour and exploitation in Ghana, while the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that on Lake Volta alone there are over 21,000 children engaged in hazardous labour (work that is dangerous to the life and wellbeing of the child).

Challenging Heights therefore calls on all the people of Ghana to acknowledge what is happening in our country and watch out for cases of trafficking and abuse, which should be immediately reported to the police. We further call on GPRTU leaders and drivers to disallow persons they suspect of being trafficked to board their vehicles and reported suspected cases of trafficking to MTTD officers.

Contact for interview and further information:
+233 244 515761
infoCHghana@gmail.com



How We Make Sure Rescued Children Get In School and Stay in School

Along with preparing the children rescued from hazardous labour on Lake Volta to go back to their families and communities, getting them ready to join their classmates is a vital part of reintegration.

The Challenging Heights Field Team organizes all the details, from asking specific principals to allow a new student into their school, to making sure each child has enough pencils, erasers and notebooks to participate in their studies.

Most reintegrated children start school immediately after they return to their families, whether or not they have the appropriate school uniform. Others, like one girl in Winneba’s fishing neighbourhood, Penkye, were taken to a new school by the Field Team.

This girl was originally expected to attend Challenging Heights School, but her family decided they wanted her to go to a different public school with fewer costs. As soon as they found out, the girl dressed, and the Field Team brought the girl to that school in their area and asked the headmaster to enroll her.

There were already three other reintegrated, rescued children at African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church School, but they needed school supplies. Challenging Heights received instructions from their teachers as to what exactly they required and collected the materials. School supply donations have proven crucial to making sure students are well-equipped to learn.

After the headmaster accepted the new student, dressed in a Challenging Heights t-shirt on the first day at her new school, the Field Team passed out four backpacks full of materials that the children needed for class.

Other children, dressed in school uniforms, surrounded the Challenging Heights SUV, curious as to who these new classmates were and envious of their fresh backpacks, books and pencils.

Teachers welcomed the rescued children, proudly grasping their new bags, and walked them toward their classrooms.

Each reintegration comes with challenges, but our goal is to help the children get back to school and away from dangerous slave labour permanently.



Community Disputes are solved by Our “Respected Elder”

If a child reports neglect on the part of his own parents, or a parent needs support getting their spouse to help to care for children, Challenging Heights offers community mediation. Instead of waiting to be heard in a court, families struggling with internal disputes about custody and care turn to Victor Debi Mensah, known to nearly everyone in Winneba simply as, Mr. Mensah.

As an active community member for decades, Mr. Mensah needs no introduction for most people in Winneba. He taught many of them in class before becoming the Head Teacher of a local school, and is part of many social groups and organisations.

It was in his official retirement, however, that Mr Mensah became a key member of the Challenging Heights family. He was the first Headmaster for Challenging Heights School, as the organization and institution established itself in the community, and then “retired” again to become our Community Stakeholders Manager in 2011 .

Mr. Mensah serves as a mediator and facilitator in solving community and family disputes, and is approved by the local courts to legally handle such disagreements. Most often working with child neglect cases or marriage disputes, Mr. Mensah typically hears from one parent who reports another for neglecting their duties or not helping to care for their child. Other times, children may directly report their own cases of child neglect and ask for help to push their parents to take better care.

In this role, Mr. Mensah stays calm in the face of sometimes extremely tense conflict and he makes decisions in regard to the best interest of the child. Community members accept Mr. Mensah’s word as law.

Mr. Mensah also serves as our representative for many prominent groups in Winneba.

When asked about his favourite part of the job he quickly answers, “All”. He says he enjoys being part of an organization that is opening the eyes of the public and creating awareness about child labour. He says Challenging Heights is helping change people’s perspectives, so they can understand that children should not work on the lake.

The responsibility and challenge of helping solve disputes is what Mr. Mensah says keeps him sharp. He says he broadens his own mind, searching for new approaches to solve community problems and collaborating to help others find solutions.

Outside of the office, Mr. Mensah is often the MC at various social programmes that his friends, family and community members ask him to host. In his off time, he can be found surrounded by friends, chatting, laughing, and eating his favourite Ghanaian dish, fufu with light soup.

It’s Mr. Mensah’s devotion to children and better his community’s future that inspires others to take part and improve their families and communities.



GES Must Respond To WASSCE Anomalies Before the Future of Ghana’s Children is Destroyed

PRESS RELEASE 18-5-2015

Ghana Education Service must respond to the violent and unnecessary discipline administered during the ongoing West Africa Certificate Examination (WASSCE), demands the child rights organization Challenging Heights.

Challenging Heights believes that these anomalies that prevent children from writing their WASSCE as planned can destroy the future of the children and youth in Ghana.

The ongoing WASSCE has seen several breaches in discipline conduct, such as caning examination candidates on the basis of not paying their full school fees, even though this goes against orders issued by the acting Director-General of Ghana Education Service. Some students who were caned were made to stand outside for an hour, falling behind, as their classmates continued the exam. Other students were sent home to retrieve their school fees.
In one case, a student was not allowed to use the washroom, and was then forced to defecate near the examination hall. The saddest part was that he was made to collect his own feces and clean the place before being allowed to enter the examination hall to continue his paper.

These situations pose roadblocks to children in Ghana and hinder them from furthering their education. This in turn is hampering Ghana’s development.

The potential of Ghana’s economic growth as a result of its investment in the education sector is undeniable. In the newly released Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) findings, we see a strong correlation between investment in education and economic growth. It predicts that if all children completed basic education to age 15 then the Gross Domestic Productivity (GDP) of Ghana would not double or triple but increase 38-fold!

It is on this basis that Challenging Heights demands a response from Ghana Education Services to prevent future breaches, and so not to waste the meager resources we have invested in our children in Senior High Schools. Challenging Heights seeks to promote children’s rights and envisions “a world where every child is in school and lives in a loving and caring family”.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, Daily Graphic reported that three girls at St. John’s Grammar Senior High School in Accra were prevented from writing their Christian Religious Studies paper in the ongoing WASSCE, due to their bushy hair. Interestingly, the acting Director-General of GES was quoted to have said that the school should register the students in the upcoming November/December edition of the WASSCE at its own cost.
We want to know who is responsible for following up and making sure the girls are allowed to register again, and how can their situation be prevented in the future.

Sadly, we have had several cases were students were sacked for failing to pay all school fees. Though the GES issued a directive that no child should be sacked during the WASSCE on the grounds of not paying their full school fees, this continues to happen. It appears that it is a standard practice in schools that students who owed part of their school fees are canned and cautioned before being allowed to write exams, on a daily basis. In cases where students are caned and made to wait outside before they start their exam, there is no doubt that the children are not able to perform their best, considering the loss of exam time, plus psychological and emotional distress endured.

How can we, as a country, expect children to perform well on their final exams immediately after suffering physical violence or caning – or when they are denied their right to properly sit papers, at no fault of their own? These children are plagued with fears, tears, anxieties and stress, which does not provide the right psychological frame to write and excel in any academic test or examination.

We are particularly concerned about what becomes of their future, destiny and the investment that their parents had made into their lives – both for the individual children and for the loss of benefit to our country’s economy.

As of now, Ghana Education Service has not openly expressed their plans to address these breaches, or to enforce the very directives issued to prevent this from happening next year and in the years beyond.

For interview contact:
David Kofi Awusi, Advocacy Manager, Challenging Heights
Cell: +233 244 515 761 or advocacychghana@gmail.com



Caring community members watch out for child trafficking

“We have devoted ourself to do this work, so that our children’s future will be better.”

Rev. Isaac Odoom sees his role as a volunteer member of the Challenging Heights Child Community Protection Committee (CCPC) as one to improve children’s lives, and therefore, improve conditions in his community.

Challenging Heights relies on volunteer community members in different communities across the region to be on the lookout for what could be child trafficking. Most neighborhoods are relatively small and some religious or local leaders, like Odoom, are able to notice if they have not seen a certain child for a while. When they hear word that a child has not shown up to school, or didn’t come home after a couple days, they can then inquire within the family to see where the child is.

Parents may tell members of our CCPC that they accepted money in exchange for traffickers taking their children for what they’re told is a limited time. They say they need the money to provide for their families, but may not realize that their child could be exposed to hazardous work conditions and forced labour.

Recently, the Challenging Heights Field Team met with various CCPC groups in their respective areas. The volunteers tell our staff about any struggles they face, including things like needing some sort of business card or credible identification to present themselves to families.

One member in the Sankor-based CCPC said he recently stopped a mother from selling her son after hearing from others that she received money from a trafficker. He warned the mother that she would go to jail if she did not give the money back and send her son to school. The CCPC member will now check up on the family to make sure the child is home and that the mother has not decided to sell him after all.

Knowing that some families in the area can’t even afford breakfast, the CCPC volunteers, by way of Challenging Heights, offer to pay for food for them, as long as they don’t send their children to work on Lake Volta. Rev. Odoom acknowledged that many parents don’t have the love for their children as they should, and that children could be sent away for very little money.

While many of the children Rev. Odoom and his team are looking out for are from poor families, he says he knows how education can play a major role in changing their life direction.

“So if we help the children to have a good start in education,” explains Rev. Odoom, “when they grow up, they will know and do better.”



Creating a promising life with soap suds

Just one week after learning how to make liquid soap through the Challenging Heights Livelihoods, Women’s Empowerment Programme, 23 year-old Victoria Abraham pooled together resources, created labels and began producing Western Premier Liquid Soap.

Victoria is in her second year as a student at the University of Education, Winneba. As she works through basic education coursework, she needed to find work that could pay for her studies. Challenging Heights gave her the skills to create her own.

In late March, Victoria joined nearly 40 other young people, ages 18-30, for a training session in how to make liquid soap, hosted by the Challenging Heights Women’s Empowerment Programme. Many of the attendees were students; some sold small things in the market and others were unemployed.

Victoria wasted no time in putting her new skill to use; she began making soap on her own in the evenings after classes.

Filling two different sized bottles with bright green liquid soap, Victoria says, the hue will be her trademark, “I like this colour!”

The soap can be used for hand washing, mopping or dish washing, and is sold at competitive prices. Victoria offers a bargain as she tries to build her name and credibility.

As Victoria pounds the pavement selling Western Premier to local shop owners to sell to customers, she enlists the help of another woman she met at the Livelihoods training. Julie had been unemployed, but now she sells Victoria’s wholesale product to local shops in other nearby towns. If not for Victoria’s venture, Julie would not have had product to sell. Victoria gives Julie the soap product to sell to vendors, and only after Julie makes a profit, does Julie pay Victoria back.

It’s this partnership that the Challenging Heights Livelihoods Programme encourages. In the coming weeks, Challenging Heights plans to give seed money to a cooperative of those who participated in the soap making training. With that, a small group of new entrepreneurs can work together to buy ingredients, make soap, sell soap, reap profits, and grow a true business.

Livelihoods Programme staff is speaking with local chop bars (restaurants) and establishments to garner interest in the soap made by the cooperative. Those shop owners will test the group’s soap, offer it to their customers, and decide if they want to buy more as time goes on. Challenging Heights staff hopes to create more cooperatives of soap makers to build lasting earning potential.

Victoria hopes to expand Western Premier. She needs it now to get herself through school, but once she graduates and has more capital of her own, she imagines creating a larger family business and wants to establish a lasting legacy for generations.



Winneba Celebrates the 2015 Aboakyir Festival

Much excitement filled the streets of Winneba during the first weekend in May. The annual Aboakyir Festival brought thousands of visitors from other places to enjoy all the town has to offer.

Aboakyir is a celebration by the Efutu people of Winneba. In order to honour their tribal god, Penkye Otu, which is thought to have helped the people settle on this coast land and protect them.

People throughout Winneba, including Challenging Heights staff, students and families we serve, belong to one of two Asafo companies, the Dentsifo and Tuafo, which are divided by clans. Men from both teams go on a deer hunt in the bush to be the first to bring back a live deer to their chief, before sacrificing it to Penkye Otu.

Historically, the tribesmen hunted and brought back a live leopard, but after many years of the leopards hurting or killing people, they appealed to Penkye Otu to accept a deer as a replacement sacrifice.

Throughout the week, the two teams, which dress in red or white, faced off in different competitions. Tuesday, the fishermen from the Penkye fishing district raced a regatta with their fishing boats.

Wednesday, football players from both red and white teams played matches on Challenging Heights’ Winneba United Park. Sponsors of the game wanted a nice field for spectators to come and cheer on their respective clansmen. Winneba United Park has lush grass, as opposed to dirt or rock ground, which made for a perfect venue. Challenging Heights was excited to be a part of the festivities.

Thursday, parades and celebrations began and they continued throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Huge crowds of people came to visit and participate. Corporate sponsors set up booths along the main corridors and people ate and drank and danced in the streets.

Children danced as they waited for the judging of a cooking competition on Friday afternoon. As the afternoon continued, small parades of friends and families dressed in red or white paraded through the streets. Many of them stayed out all night, and met together at 3 a.m. to pray before setting off for the deer hunt.

Around 6 a.m. Saturday, first the red and then the white team ran through the centre of Winneba, splashed with special water meant to protect them during their hunt.

A deer was captured first by the white team, which brought it to present to the chiefs waiting at Humphrey’s Park. The chiefs, however, weren’t there yet, so the white team took a lap through town carrying the deer on the way to Penkye Otu’s shrine. A few hours later, the red team also arrived with a deer and paraded it through the park where hundreds of spectators cheered and danced.

The winning white clan chiefs rode a horse statue through town as team members paraded and danced through town Saturday afternoon. Celebrations continued through the night and into Sunday.

On the last day, the red and white teams come together and sacrifice the deer to their Efutu god, Penkye Otu.

Families that Challenging Heights serve have participated in Aboakyir for generations. The yearly celebration is one of pride for Winneba, where traditional culture is highlighted and preserved.



17 Rescued Children are Reintegrated with their Families

Friday morning, the Challenging Heights bus rolled out of the Hovde House with 17 children and the Challenging Heights Field Team. The children are on their way home to their families after months at the rehabilitation shelter, after years doing forced labour on Lake Volta.

This reintegration comes with much anticipation. Challenging Heights staff spent months with the children, helping them catch up in school and prepare to join their families after they had been working in often dangerous conditions with fishermen on the lake. It also took time for our Field Team to monitor the families, to make sure they are ready and able to provide and care for their returning children.

There were tears of joy on Friday, as parents and family members hugged the children who had been gone for so long.

Two days earlier, just before lunch on Wednesday, a regional social worker arrived to the Challenging Heights Hovde House check on the 17 children who were ready to leave the shelter and get back to their families and communities.
During a brief meeting, he let them know they would be saying goodbye to their current classmates and roommates, but hello to their mothers, fathers and care givers, on Friday. Screams, shrieks and squeals rang out across the courtyard as giddy children ran to tell their friends and siblings they were going home.

By lunchtime, others, however, were hit hard by the news. One girl arrived to the dining room late, explaining that she was sick, but she began sobbing after just a few bites of food. She told the shelter care staff that she wanted to go home herself, and that she will miss the younger children, whom she’s enjoyed learning and living with.

In the afternoon, one of the teachers at the shelter came back with his barber kit. He called out the names of the 17 children who were to be reintegrated so he could cut their hair.

While the children were preparing to go back to their homes; their parents and care givers were, also. The Field Staff held an open forum on Wednesday to let care givers know what to expect from their children, some of whom have been working on the lake for five years. The lifestyle on the lake, teaches many children aggressive behaviours or reactions. While shelter staff believe these children are ready go back to their families, some of their past experiences may affect the way they interact at home.

The Field Staff also assess the families’ economic well-being. They want to make sure that families do not consider re-trafficking children in order to make money. Micro-grants are available to families who would like seed capital to start a business, so they can provide for their newly reintegrated families. The intention is to allow families to sustain themselves and prevent child trafficking in the future.

As staff at Hovde House waved goodbye to 17 children, they welcomed 12 more on Sunday who had been rescued by Mercy Project.

The rehabilitation shelter is only a stop on the children’s path to rejoining their communities and participating in society as they grow. We want the children to get back to their homes and lives as soon as possible, but we do our best to prepare them for a successful future.



Youth Empowerment Programme Graduates Eager Entrepreneurs

“In your own one corner, you can start something that in the near future will guarantee something better.” 

These words, spoken by John Degraft Sam, were part of an inspiring graduation ceremony as students who completed the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) set out to forge careers and seek new opportunities.

Sam, a former Challenging Heights student, now being supported to qualify as a teacher, reminded the graduates that their learning is not complete. He and their Information Communications and Technology (ICT) teacher, Sir Isaac, expressed the Challenging Heights mantra, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” They hope newly developed computer and leadership skills will translate into entrepreneurial ventures and future opportunity

“You might not think you have much, but it is enough!” Sir Isaac told the graduates. He said he has only provided the first step in training, but the students should not feel that they’re unqualified or unable to learn more and get further in life.

Florence, 29, is a teacher at Challenging Heights School. As a YEP graduate, she appreciates the leadership skills she now has, including experience in how to communicate with people and manage money and resources. Florence hopes to start a local market in her area, Waterworks, which currently does not have one.

Thanks to ICT training, Florence expects to be able to find a good site, raise money for the business, and figure out how to price products to sell. She wants to be able to offer job opportunities for others in her neighbourhood once she expands.

Computer skills are what Asemani Kwamene, 19, is glad to have mastered. He is the first in his family to go to senior high school, and he plans to be the first to go to university. He said programs like Microsoft Publisher and CorelDRAW will help him in future studies. Asemani wants to become a teacher or lecturer, so he can share knowledge with others. As the oldest son, he wants his ICT training to be an example for his younger siblings to follow.

Florence and Asemani, along with nearly 50 other students, are part of the 7th graduating class in the programme aimed at empowering 15 to 25 year olds.

The program is free, thanks to Empower as the partner sponsor, and young people have already started signing up for the next session.



“Roll of Honour” encourages good behaviour without corporal punishment

Challenging Heights School rewarded its best behaved students with prize packs with storybooks, stuffed animals, pens, pencils and more just before the Second Term Break.

Prizes were presented by Senior James and teaching staff in charge of the positive behaviour programme. They want to show every student the benefit of acting, dressing, and speaking appropriately while they learn. Teachers like Lewis Osei say they heard other students promising to behave better next term, because they want to be awarded prizes, too.

Some children call Sir Lewis, “Roll of Honour” as they pass him at school, since he is one of five teachers on the behaviour committee. Students know that when Sir Lewis is in their classroom, he watches their every move. He and other teachers keep an eye out for those who strictly follow the student-created Code of Conduct, so they can be rewarded.

Sir Lewis says that his committee, lead by School/Head Teacher, Eric Asamani, ran a workshop with student representatives from every class to come up with their own “rules,” for their peers to follow as the Code of Conduct. Two students from each class were selected to create the rules which would govern themselves and their peers. Those chosen were often poorly behaved themselves. The idea behind this was to get them involved in creating their own expectations at school, and the results so far have been promising

The Code of Conduct focuses on showing respect for teachers, staff, other students, and visitors, as well as avoiding fights and being kind to others. Students are expected to speak only English at school, as well as staying attentive in class, and keeping classrooms and their own uniforms neat and tidy.

If students misbehave, we stay away from violent punishment and give children boring tasks that they must complete alone. Discipline may range from picking up trash around campus or cleaning the washrooms, to students having to write repetitive lines. Older students may be told to join the preschool classes and complete their lessons.

Teachers recommend students for Sir Lewis and his colleagues to monitor over a period of time, and the committee chooses who qualifies for the Roll of Honour.

Rewards vary based on age level and the three tiers of the Roll of Honour: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Students who are placed in the bronze level will be awarded extra time to be in the school’s library or play games on the computers in the Information Technology Centre.

As students progress through the silver and gold level they are also afforded time with Senior James and other CH staff, go on special trips, or watch movies with snacks. The children are given special badges to identify them as a good student, which we hope will motivate others

Once they reach the silver level, half of students’ tuition is paid by Challenging Heights, and the gold level students are also afforded time to spend with CH authorities, go on special trips, or watch movies with snacks. The children are given special tags to identify as a good student.

Prizes awarded to students at the end of the term have been donated as generous gifts from overseas visitors to Challenging Heights. If people bring items throughout the year, we usually save them for occasions and ongoing projects like this, to share with as many deserving children as possible.

The Roll of Honour is part of a positive behaviour programme. Challenging Heights does not believe in violent discipline, which we consider immoral and a breach of children’s rights. Sadly corporal punishment is still widely accepted in Ghana, with caning practiced in most school, despite research showing it to be the least effective way of managing behaviour. Challenging Heights School has a no-caning policy and we are working hard to spread the message in 2015 in the hope that others will soon follow suit.



Diary of a Rescue

The Challenging Heights team successfully completed another rescue trip to Lake Volta, bringing back eighteen children undertaking hazardous labour in the fishing industry there. Here one of our dedicated Field Operations Officers shares the experience with us

 

Saturday 14/3/15

4:30AM. After nearly 10 hours of driving we made it to our temporary shelter in order to prepare if for the rescued children. Here is where they stay until we begin our journey back to our rehabilitation centre. After cleaning and another 2 hours of driving we finally made it to our destination at Yeji and met the District Police Commander to brief him on our rescue mission for the coming week.

Sunday 15/3/15

6:20AM: We began our day with brief meetings to discuss the day’s activities and make necessary arrangements which include serving letters to heads of government agencies such as the Social Welfare Department, Mercy Commander and the police.

11:20AM: We travelled to the neighboring village to gather information which will help us to rescue a child. The Community members cooperated but the trafficker we were looking for was not found.

5:30PM: the rest of the rescue crew, the boat operations team, arrived at Yeji shore from where it is held outside of rescue missions. Work is done on the boat to prepare for the coming rescue mission.

Monday 16/3/15

Major Rescue Operation begins!

10:05AM: The rescue team set off to a community known as Number 4 to rescue the first child on our list.

After nearly four hours on the lake we arrived to the community where we were met by a local fisherman who took us to the opinion leader of the community, fante-sab chief. As we discussed the mission with the chief we were told the trafficker we were looking for was the fisherman we met at the lake shore.

After talking and making negations the trafficker promised to give the child to us but to our surprise he conspired with his wife to take the boy away. When we tried to locate them we were unsuccessful so we decided to seize the traffickers’ outboard motor.

Tuesday 17/3/15

11:00AM We successfully rescued a child who was trafficked one year ago. She was mainly forced into domestic servitude by the trafficker.

She said that she was very happy to be rescued because her dream is to go to school-something she has never done before.

Sleeping was difficult this evening as we experienced a heavy down pour from night to dawn.

Wednesday 18/3/15

5:30AM: We set off on the lake despite the rain for we will not let it deter our rescue operation for the day.

After nearly 2 hours driving on the lake we arrived at the next community. Through negotiations we successfully rescued 3 boys from trafficking.

5:30PM: The first part of the rescue mission came to an end with 7 children on board and will head back towards Yeji.

6:00PM: We arrived at Yeji and the children were transported to our temporary shelter with several staff members as there care-givers.

8:30PM: We ended our day with the children safely at the shelter and exhausted from the trip. As the children stayed at the shelter under proper care the rest of the rescue team went back to Yeji in order to prepare for part II of the operation. Ending the day full of excitement for the children we have already rescued.

Thursday 19/3/15

6:10AM: A brief meeting is held to plan for the next part of the rescue operation.

7:15AM: Several members of the team head to the Yeji Police Station to get a police extract and letter of authorization to enable us to carry out the rescue mission to the areas we are seeking to go; in addition to also asking for police/immigration assistance when the need arises.

8:20AM: Other team members go to the Yeji Police Station and Social Welfare Department to assist in a child trafficking case that was reported to the police station. A mother was trafficking her 12 year old son to engage in child labour on the lake but the trafficking was intercepted by a Good Samaritan in the community. This led to the arrest of the trafficker and the boy’s mother who were sent to the Yeji Police Station. The matter is under investigations but the boy is safely attending school as a presiding member of the Yeji district Assembly has pledged to sponsor the child’s education while the boy’s Uncle has agreed to full responsibility of the child. They will continue to be assisted and monitored by the Yeji Social Welfare Department.

10:49AM: The rescue team set off to the lake to continue the rescue mission.

3:20PM: After close to four hours of travel on the lake we finally arrived at our next community in search of a trafficker and the child he was holding.

After several negotiations at the Chiefs Palace we were told the trafficker has returned the child to the source community. However, several checks from our sources have proven other-wise. By this time it is already night has fallen and we decide it is best to invite the Police at the next community to affect their arrest.

6:15PM: The boat finally arrives at the next town with a police station and we meet two police officers at the station in which we brief them about our mission and what we are asking. They tell us we should come the next morning

Friday 20/3/15

6:10AM: The team went to the police station to meet the inspector in-charge of the station.

They told us that they don’t have jurisdiction to make any arrests because they technically reside in the Volta region and the community it happened in is n the Northern Region. Yet, it takes over 3 hours on the lake to travel to where they told us we should go. After several more pleading attempts and discussing with them they finally agreed to give us one policeman in order to accompany us.

9:16AM: We finally arrive to the community where the incident from the night before happened.

With assistance from the police officer and some cooperating community members we were able to seize the traffickers canoe, out-board motor, nets, and their fishing implements.  And send them to the police station with the officer. The police agreed to release the boats and other items we seized after receiving information from us that the said child had safely arrived at the Challenging Heights shelter.

We took the opportunity to rescue another girl in the same community who has been involved in child labour on the lake for more than four years-although she found us. She ran into our boat pleading that we take her with us and return her home because of what she has been subjected to on a daily basis. We agreed and she joined the rest of the children on our boat.

11:50AM: We travelled to the next community in search of multiple children on our identification list.

News of our activities in the previous community had spread through-out the shore and various areas therefore traffickers easily cooperated with us. We were able to rescue 3 more children from this community.

4:10PM: We decided to end our operation for the day due to bad weather on the lake. Although disturbed by the weather we ended with lots of joy after being able to rescue five children today.

Saturday 21/3/15

7:20AM: The weather continues to be bad but we decided to begin our mission for the day.

Due to the extremity of the weather we were forced to stop on-shore for some hours before we can continue the rescue. Most of our belongings are now wet.

2:20PM: Three more children have been successfully rescued and safe on the Challenging Heights boat.

Sunday 22/3/15

We were hoping to bring our mission to an end today but we still have some children on our rescue list that due to the situations we have faced and the bad weather we have yet to be able to get. In addition because of the lake drying up several traffickers have relocated therefore we have to do follow ups on those cases in order to find them. We travelled for many hours gathering information about where they have re-located.  For some of these situations we were successful while, disappointingly, for others we were not. We will continue those investigations and they will continue to be on the list for our next rescue.

5:30PM: We arrived at the temporary shelter where we will be sleeping for the evening before continuing our journey home tomorrow.

Monday 23/3/15

6:20AM we embark on our journey back home overall full of joy and happiness. After a difficult rescue we were happy to have finished. We had 10 children with us and in additional to the six that were already sent to the shelter we concluded the trip with 16 children rescued and a promise of one more to be voluntarily returned to the safety of our rehabilitation shelter.

8:45PM: We finally arrived to the Challenging Heights Rehabilitation Shelter with all the children happy to begin their new hope of life.

After normal-formalities as the shelter the rescue team returned home tired and happy to meet our family and friends. In total the team brought back 18 children, but we are still expecting more to be come to our shelter as a result of investigations and community actions following our rescue trip.



The Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Was Not the Abolition of Slavery.

Today we remember the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the victims of this injustice, and those who fought to end it. Let us honour them but not forget that we are not rejoicing in the abolition of slavery. Slavery has never been eliminated.

There are an estimated 35.8 million people enslaved around the world today. 

In Ghana it is estimated that over 190,000 people are enslaved, that’s 1 in every 7,000 Ghanaians. Although, the system today may not be as brutally transparent as being chained and sold openly; victims are still being sold, trafficked and exploited. Every year thousands of children are being forced to work in hazardous child labour on Lake Volta and countless others are forced into domestic servitude. Many are sent away from their families, forced to work long hours doing strenuous work, given little to eat, and abused.

Just last week our field team embarked on a rescue mission to remove children from hazardous child labour, slavery, on Lake Volta returning them to our safe house where they will begin their rehabilitation before being reintegrated to their communities and families.

If you were to have joined our field staff on this rescue you would have seen young children, malnourished with overly muscled bodies. You might see the scars on their bodies from being hit with a paddle for making a mistake. Maybe you would notice the poor condition of their feet. You may see them being forced to dive deep into dangerous waters in order to untangle nets that have been caught on the tree branches under water. You might see them suffering from sickness as many struggle with illnesses too easily caught from working on and in the water all day. Early in the morning you wouldn’t hear them waking up to prepare for school but rather waking up to prepare for the day’s work as the masters are still sleeping peacefully.

Slavery still exists in many forms around the world. At Challenging Heights we rescue children who have been trafficked and forced to engage in hazardous child labour on Lake Volta. In Ghana and around the world, children, women and men are being exploited and denied their basic human rights…something we are seeking to change.

Let us remember this day to celebrate the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the victims of this grave human injustice but not be naïve to thinking that slavery ended along with it. Let us stand up and take our responsibility to see the end of slavery once and for all.

Be active, engage in the movement. 



CCPC Member Becomes Influential In His Community

Packed into a car in the middle of the night, 25 confused and scared children were unknowingly being sent to Yeji to work on Lake Volta. Just as they were about to start their journey from Senya, the vehicle is flagged down and a Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC) member of Challenging Heights (CH) intervenes.

Mr. Quansah received a call for assistance from his fellow CCPC colleagues and he wasted no time ensuring this bus would not leave Senya. Mr. Quansah entered the bus, counted the number of children, and made sure each one safely exited the vehicle and were reunited with their parents. He then worked with Challenging Heights to provide follow up educational support including books and writing materials, for the children. The success story continues, as all 25 children are still attending school and living happily with their families.

This is just one of Mr. Quansah’s successes being a part of the CCPC but one he is most proud of. He has been working to prevent child trafficking in his community since 2011. His passion and enthusiasm in protecting children in community has made him influential in his hometown of Senya. People feel comfortable confiding in Mr. Quansah- who always ensures proper action is taken.

Mr. Quansah takes pride in being a part of the CCPC because it gives him the chance to protect children in his community while also helping educate children and their parents giving them a better future. He has personally experienced working on the lake and says he doesn’t want children to go through the same thing he once did.

Becoming part of the CCPC gave him the opportunity to know why people traffic children and to be in a position to stop it, a position we are also grateful for. He is excited for the future of Challenging Heights because he believes that CH can be the one of the greatest organization in rescuing children from child trafficking and providing educational support. CCPC members and other community members like Mr. Quansah are vital in CH work to ensure no children are sent to Lake Volta.

When Mr. Quansah is not busy following up cases, making guest appearances on our radio programme, or stopping busses, you just might find him working on his farm or laughing and talking as he visits his friends.



Seeing the Positive Effects of Radio Advocacy in Our Community

As our radio programme, aimed at local, Ghanaian, audience, continues we have been excited to see the impacts it has made over the past weeks. 

Mr. Quansah, an extremely active CCPC member, joined Advocacy Manager David Kofi Awusi to discuss child trafficking in our communities. The week after Mr. Quansah, a Challenging Heights Student, Felicia, joined David Kofi Awusi to discuss how trafficking prevents children from going to school and the consequences.

But the most exciting part is the number of listeners who call asking questions, reporting cases, and seeking help.

While Mr. Quansah was on the radio programme discussing trafficking one man called to ask if somebody has his or her own child that they want to traffic, even if it was to get money to send them to school, why they should be stopped? We saw this as a great opportunity to discuss the law that deems trafficking as a criminal offence as well as the conditions on the lake and how it affects the children. Mr. Quansah explained that even if children are sent back they often have acquired some form of illness, curable or incurable. These illnesses become expensive and often parents can’t afford to properly treat the illness or if it is untreatable they don’t have the means to give the child the proper continuous treatment they may need, both ending in the suffering of the child.

What we found most impactful during Felicia’s session was that a man called who was listening to the show with his young nephew who refused to go to school and for Felicia to specifically share something with the boy about why he really needs to go to school.

Felicia maturely answered by directly telling this boy that if he wants to realize his vision and dreams he needs to go to school. School will teach him how to read, write, and give him the knowledge he needs to get a good job and to create a better future for himself.

In addition to the various questions asked in regards to the programme, the radio programme has enticed callers to share their own stories confirming that child trafficking exists in Ghana. Others have called to congratulate Challenging Heights on the work and giving words of encouragement to continue while others call to reach out to the government through the programme asking for laws that protect children to be enforced. While others have called to report cases, including a young boy calling to report his own case of child neglect. We have been able to take contact numbers and get this young boy connected with our programmes team to investigate his case.

Through these calls and the questions of the listeners we can confidently say that our weekly radio programme is impacting and creating awareness among a large group of people and are excited to see how else it impacts our local communities.

In the Winneba area? Be sure to tune in today and every Wednesday at 5pm on Radio Peace 88.9 FM



Changing Lives of Women and Youth in Our Community

This year we have been excited to continue moving forward with our various livelihoods programmes! More women and youth have been coming to Challenging Heights in order to become members of the various projects. With the addition of 2 new staff members devoted to the livelihoods projects we have been able to quickly move forward.

With various stipulations, three different areas of our empowerment projects can be joined including smoking fish, soap making and horticulture.

The fish projects are open strictly to women fishmongers who will be involved in the smoking of the fish and using the facilities to improve their fish business and receive micro-credit in which, over time, they will pay it back without interest.

In order for the women to be involved in the programme and receive the  micro-credit they must a care-giver, have a bank account, attend various meetings, and promise to never traffic their children and enroll them in school. As the women have been registering for the programme we have held meetings with them to discuss the agreement of receiving micro-credit, child and human rights and about child trafficking to Lake Volta. After the women have received the micro-credit we will continue to meetings, follow-ups, and monitoring to see how they are advancing with their finances, their savings as well as issues and difficulties that they are facing.

Many youth have showed interest to take part in the soap training which has led us to open registration to not only women in the community but for youth, male and female. Although no micro-credit will be given we will offer training on marketing their product, opening a bank account, and various other business techniques. Those registered to the soap making training will be taught how to make bathing soap, dish soap and bar soap for both bathing and washing clothes. The training is scheduled to take place this month with 50 trainees.

The horticulture project will be further established in the coming months as we further establish the programme.  Any youth interested in horticulture will have the opportunity to register for this project. We will be seeking restaurants, chop bars, supermarkets and market women who will be willing to buy the vegetables after they have been produced.

Those in the horticulture programme will also be given a seed capital as well as receive education on the benefits of vegetable cultivation and the best practices to produce the quality vegetables.We are very excited to see the direction this project is going and the great potential it has for the women and youth of the community.



The World Needs to Stop Discriminating Between Boys and Girls

16 year old, Georgina, is a powerhouse student at Challenging Heights School. Georgina is currently in JHS 3 and in her seventh year at CHS. She began schooling at Challenging Heights when she was in class 2. She was excited when CHS was built in the Sankor area because her previous school was too far away and in the bush. CHS was the only school in the area and it made accessing education easier for Georgina. Georgina has always excelled in school, even skipping class 4 due to her academic level. Every year she continues to come out on top of her class.

Not only is Georgiana active in academics but she has participated in a number of CHS clubs including choir, cadets, culture, the CDK and female child right’s empowerment.

Georgina is a strong girls and women’s empowerment advocate. She wishes the world would stop discriminating between boys and girls and listen to more decisions women and girls make. She simply says “there should be a woman president.”

Georgina not only is an activist for gender equality but actively breaks gender stereotypes as she wishes to become an army officer and a pilot once she completes her education because she wants to help create peace and stability in her country.

Outside of the classroom Georgina likes to eat her favorite food, banku and okro stew, play volleyball, watch movies, read books…preferably story books and folk tales. Currently her favorite book remains Oliver Twist but she is busy going through the books in the library and may get a new favorite soon.

Georgina is intelligent, confident, kind, and a role model to her peers. She advises her fellow students to always learn, respect their elders and have self-discipline.

Maybe one day we will see Georgina in the presidential race…she would surely get our vote!



10th Anniversary Celebration of Challenging Heights Speech Delivered

“The Chairperson, Nenyi Ghartey VI, Honorable Alex Afenyo-Markin (MP for Effutu), Reverend Professor Afful Broni (Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Education), and all of our special invited guests.

It is with pleasure that I welcome all of you to the 10th anniversary durbar of Challenging Heights.

We have chosen for our 10th Anniversary durbar to focus on the importance of education in protecting children’s rights. Education has always been at the heart of the mission of Challenging Heights, and remains a central part of our programming today.

Twelve years ago, in August 2003, I founded Challenging Heights club. This club quickly became a platform for about a hundred children who received various supports from me in order to go to school.

In February 2005, that is ten years ago, I proceeded to register what has now become Challenging Heights.

Challenging Heights is a child-centered organization aimed at providing support for the education of children in underserved coastal and farming communities along the costal regions of Ghana. The organization also provides support for families whose children are at risk of losing parental care due to poverty, and also work actively to prevent children from being exploited in child labour situations.

Currently, Challenging Heights runs several different projects, operates in 40 different communities across the country, and employs 94 staff working to provide various services and programs in all of our communities.

So far since Challenging Heights was registered in 2005 we have supported several hundreds of boys, girls, women and families to access various support services including educational support, rehabilitation, scholarships, training, micro-finance and micro-business management, and rescue programs.

In 2005, when Challenging Heights was officially registered, we supported 124 children and youth to go to access various forms of education such as basic, secondary and vocational schools. That same year we supported 10 women to start their own businesses in order to earn income to support their own children.

In 2006, when I had won the Barclays Group Chairman’s award, we increased our support to cover nearly 300 children and youth, and women.

In 2007, we established Challenging Heights school. Today, Challenging Heights school boasts of over 700 students between the ages of 4 and 17 from nurseries one to JHS three. The organization, Challenging Heights, currently pays nearly 70% of the cost of educating children in Challenging Heights school, while the parents of our children pay the remaining 30%. We have great aspirations to increase the number of students for whom we can pay 100% of the costs through our expanding overseas donors program.

Alongside the school, we continued to identify and support several hundreds of children in the Central, Eastern, Greater Accra, Brong Ahalf, and the Volta Regions, and we are grateful for the support we received that year from the Global Fund for Children.

Over the next few years we established and trained our first 20 Community Child Protection Committees, expanded the coverage of our support for women, and our youth focused programs.

In 2009, through our collaboration with various partners, we supported over 300 youth to access various vocational and technical skills, in addition to hundreds of children we supported that year.

Unfortunately Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations failed to pay Challenging Heights for the work they contracted us to do for them. I look forward for a judgment debt this year.

The year 2010 saw our support for women jumping from an average of 100 to over 250 women being supported to undertake various income generating programs. This significantly improved the incomes of the participants.

In the year 2011, Challenging Heights established a 65-capacity rehabilitation center, to provide counseling, and other psychosocial support for children we rescue from trafficking situations. So far several hundreds of children have been supported through this project.

We believe access to quality education for all is at the heart of giving every child the opportunity and dignity that they deserve, and essential for Ghana’s success.

In 2012, Challenging Heights commissioned a 30-seater capacity ICT center, to train 200 youth each year. And last year, we commissioned a 50-seater capacity community library for the benefit of both our school children and our community. This was followed by the ground-breaking for the commencement of the construction of a livelihood complex that includes a smoke house, a coldstore, and a women and children hospital.

In the last ten years, we have formed, trained and supported a total of 42 Community Child Protection committees in six different districts across the country, and distributed thousands of educational materials such as books, classroom furniture, uniforms and shoes to several thousands of children.

We have been a key figure at the local, national and international front, advocating for the rights of children, especially children affected by child labor.

As we work with various district assemblies to fight child labor, we also support government’s efforts at the national level to reduce the incidence of child trafficking. For instance our friendship with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service, and the Human Trafficking Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection is not in doubt.

Recently we have joined hands with Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church, to support his initiative to fight against human trafficking. We have also joined the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, on his global fight against human trafficking. We have also been involved in various forms with the US Department of States serving a key resource for America’s fight against modern slavery.

But we have also had our fair share of challenges. Limited resources, death threats, smear campaigns, and certain cultural attitudes that does not promote community and individual development, has been challenging for us.

In spite of these challenges, Challenging Heights continues to grow bigger each year, and we are proud of what we have created. This year we have began the implementation of our recently approved 5-years Strategic Plan. And we want the world to watch out for us.

We chose our motto, “to whom much is given, much is expected”, to guide us to do more each time we are presented with opportunities. When we started we did not have an office. Today, as you can see, we have completed our own offices. The facilities on which this program is being held is a product of Challenging Heights. In fact, there are many reasons why we can do more in the next ten years. So expect more.

“To whom much is given, much is expected”.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.”



The Evidence of Slavery in Ghana is Undeniable

The evidence of Slavery in Ghana is undeniable Another 17 children have been rescued from hazardous forced labour on Lake Volta by Challenging Heights. The Ghanaian NGO returned to the Lake following the successful rescue of 21 trafficked children in October.

Their experiences add to the mounting and irrefutable evidence that slavery continues to be practiced in Ghana in the 21st Century. We know that:

• children are exchanged for money or given as bonded labour to pay off a debt;

• Children are transported to places they have no hope of returning home from by themselves;

• Children are handed over by parents who genuinely expect them to return after a few years, whilst traffickers take great pains to make sure they are never seen or heard of again;

• Children are told they are going to a secure life of opportunity, when in fact they are physically and emotionally abused, neglected and starved, and denied an education and even their most basic rights;

• Children are forced to do hazardous labour that is detrimental to their health;

• Children often die from the dangerous work they do and abuse they suffer. Those familiar with our country’s history will recognize these stories. You can hear similar ones every day from the guides who show visitors around slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina.

They are the experiences of our ancestors. But they are also the experiences of thousands of children in our country today. Historic slavery may have ended, but modern slavery is very much alive in Ghana (as it is in many other countries around the world). People may not be transported across the seas in chains anymore, but the lives of trafficked children who become the property of “masters” are no different.

Cape Coast Castle carries a marble plaque with the words “In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who die rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustices against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this”. Yet a Government of Ghana ILO/IPEC report in 2013 estimated that there are 49,000 children working on Lake Volta alone, 21,000 in hazardous labour. This is not counting those trapped in domestic servitude or sexual exploitation and those in forced labour in mining or agriculture, which the Global Slavery Index estimates exceeds 190,000. So it appears that we have forgotten, and that we, the living, are failing to uphold a noble promise made in the shadow of our dark history.

2015 must be the year that this ends. We can only solve the problem if we first acknowledge it exists. When children are sold, trafficked, denied their freedom and forced to work for no pay then they are slaves. Let us not deny that this evil exists, but rather confront it so that we can eliminate it.

This will need committed action from all sectors of society. Every citizen needs to be vigilant for signs that children are being exploited. Every police officer should diligently check all vehicles for potentially trafficked children. Every faith and community leader should speak out and warn families of the dangers that face children who are sent away to work. If a child is seen outside of school during normal lesson hours – be it working in someone’s home or out on the street – then we must all recognise it as a sign that something is wrong and seek to intervene.

Our children are our future and to deny any one of them their inalienable rights to freedom, education and opportunity is a betrayal of our nation’s founding principles. Let us therefore seize the opportunity that a New Year grants us to each commit to ending slavery in Ghana forever, and secure freedom and justice for all.



The evidence of Slavery in Ghana is undeniable

Another 17 children have been rescued from hazardous forced labour on Lake Volta by Challenging Heights. The Ghanaian NGO returned to the Lake following the successful rescue of 21 trafficked children in October, and its continuing work with vulnerable communities to secure the voluntary return of such children.

Their life histories add to the mounting and irrefutable evidence that slavery continues to be practised in Ghana in the 21st Century. We know that:
• children are exchanged for money or given as bonded labour to pay off a debt;
• Children are transported to places they have no hope of returning home from by themselves;
• Children are handed over by parents who genuinely expect them to return after a few years, whilst traffickers take great pains to make sure they are never seen or heard of again;
• Children are told they are going to a secure life of opportunity, when in fact they are physically and emotionally abused, neglected and starved, and denied an education and even their most basic rights;
• Children are forced to do hazardous labour that is detrimental to their health;
• Children often die from the dangerous work they do and abuse they suffer.
Those familiar with our country’s history will recognize these stories. You can hear similar ones every day from the guides who show visitors around slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina.

These are the experiences of our ancestors. But they are also the experiences of thousands of children in our country today. Historic slavery may have ended, but modern slavery is very much alive in Ghana (as it is in many other countries around the world). People may not be transported across the seas in chains anymore, but the lives of trafficked children who become the property of “masters” are no different.

Cape Coast Castle carries a marble plaque with the words “In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who die rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustices against humanity. We, the living, vow to uphold this”. Yet a Government of Ghana ILO/IPEC report in 2013 estimated that there are 49,000 children working on Lake Volta alone, 21,000 in hazardous labour. This is not counting people trapped in domestic servitude or sexual exploitation and those in forced labour in mining or agriculture, which the Global Slavery Index estimates exceeds 190,000. So it appears that we have forgotten, and that we, the living, are failing to uphold a noble promise made in the shadow of our dark history.

2015 must be the year that this ends. We can only solve the problem if we first acknowledge it exists. When children are sold, trafficked, denied their freedom and forced to work for no pay then they are slaves. Let us not deny that this evil exists, but rather confront it so that we can eliminate it.

This will need committed action from all sectors of society. Every citizen needs to be vigilant for signs that children are being exploited. Every police officer should diligently check all vehicles for potentially trafficked children. Every faith and community leader should speak out and warn families of the dangers that face children who are sent away to work. If a child is seen outside of school during normal lesson hours – be it working in someone’s home or out on the street – then we must all recognise it as a sign that something is wrong and seek to intervene.

Our children are our future and to deny any one of them their inalienable rights to freedom, education and opportunity is a betrayal of our nation’s founding principles. Let us therefore seize the opportunity that a New Year grants us to each commit to ending slavery in Ghana forever, and secure freedom and justice for all.

Contact for interview and further information:
+233 244 515761
infoCHghana@gmail.com



Challenging Heights Students Find Passions and Talents in After School Clubs

Challenging Heights School (CHS) students are staying busy as many participate in various CHS after school programmes.

At CHS students have the opportunity to be a part of activist, social, academic, discipline, and arts programmes. Such clubs include Girls Learn International, Culture Group, School Choir, Children’s Development Khazana, Drama Club, Fante Club, Cadets, Child Rights Group, and various other programmes. Many students chose to join multiple groups to stay engaged after school.

We often see these groups create confidence and leadership in the students. For some what get’s them excited is discussing the rights of children and learning about other places around the world, others love the discipline learned and practiced in groups like cadets, and yet others love to participate in clubs that let them perform for crowds.

Joining clubs help students discover their likes, dislikes and talents. Students may join several clubs but realize they found their passion in one particular club based on natural skill and personal interest. For several students this has really benefitted them in school, community, and personally. One young girl has been very actively involved in football club and through her passion, talent, coaching, and practice she was chosen to play for the Girls National Team (young girls still in school)

When students choose to stay after school and participate in these various clubs they are showing their dedication towards self-growth that their parents also see. Families then often support decisions the children are making and in some ways it has to steer them away from the idea of trafficking their child.

CHS clubs provide a safe environment for children to be in after-school hours, it allows students to be involved in various things that interest them, pursue their passions and talents and stay on a positive life track. We hope to see many of these students continue their passions after they complete their school at Challenging Heights and that in some ways these clubs help guide them



Get Involved This Anti-Trafficking Month

All over the world women, children and men are trafficked into modern slavery. In Ghana, over 190,000 people are estimated to be in modern slavery, many of whom are children trafficked to Lake Volta. January is anti-trafficking month dedicated to help spread awareness and end child trafficking. At Challenging Heights we hope to end the trafficking of children and see every child in school and a safe and loving famiy.

So, you’re wondering how can you be involved in helping end child trafficking? Here are a few tips to join the movement in ending child trafficking.

Many children are trafficked throughout Ghana on public transportation. Sign our petition to ensure every vehicle is screened for unaccompanied minors traveling in order to prevent more children from being sent to a life of modern slavery.

Become a Challenging Heights advocate, either by joining one of our advocate programmes or becoming an advocate in your hometown:

Get informed!

  • According to the l Slavery Index Report over 35.8 million people are enslaved around the world.
  • Over 190,000 people are enslaved in Ghana alone.
  • 49,000 children are working on Lake Volta ((ILO/IPEC) Analytical Study onChild Labour In Lake Volta Fishing in Ghana)
  • 21,000 of those children are considered to be involved in hazardous child labour- many of whom have been trafficked from different communities through-out Ghana.

Write to your local government representative to push for legislative measures that allocate resources to prevent child trafficking and that offer victims of trafficking support. Also sign the Walk Free petition to prioritise slavery in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Become a voice and a resource in your community. Get involved in local anti-trafficking/slavery organizations near you.

Donate or create your own fundraiser to help sustain programmes that support the direct rescue of trafficked children and that prevent more children from being trafficked.

YOU can become a part of the movement to end child trafficking in Ghana and around the world. How will you get involved?



Children Becoming Freedom Fighters

Our latest rescue that occurred at the end of December, through direct rescue, investigations and follow-ups have resulted in the rescue of over 20 children from Lake Volta…but this rescue has an especially heart-warming story.

The first 8 children who were rescued and returned were identified and located based on the knowledge and help of children who have already been rescued at the shelter. Essentially these children have rescued their friends and family from the same abuse they were once a part of.

After the October rescue and the children were being interviewed they were asked if they had anyone still on the lake they wanted rescued. Many came forward seeking help for a friend or sibling they knew were still engaged in child labour. As some of these children came forward with details about friends and family other children also started to provide information for people they wanted to see rescued.

Some children came to provide information because they knew of children who were in a worse situation than even their own. Other children wanted to be reunited with their siblings because they were trafficked and separated to different communities.

In many ways the information the already rescued children provided made the rescue operation easier for the field operations team on the lake. They were not only able to provide names and location of the children but the names or nicknames that were were being used (many children are given another name when they are trafficked to the lake) and up to date physical descriptions. For many parents who come forward looking for their children they may not know the exact location on the lake the child is or it has been years since they have seen them and an accurate picture of them becomes difficult. One of our field managers said the details children from the shelter gave made sure that people could not lie to them about the child they were looking for.

After the rescue, children were reunited with friends and family already undergoing their rehabilitation at the shelter. For some it was a relief to see their friends who they worked with on the lake also in safety. While for several siblings it was a long awaited reunion! Years have gone by since they were separated and have not seen each other…now they can go through their rehabilitation and be reintegrated to their family together.

Not only does this show the emotional bond these children have and their resilience to keep pushing forward but their desire to help other children get away from the hazardous labour they endured on Lake Volta. They have not been passive in their own freedom but active in seeking the rescue of others…they have already become, in their own way, freedom fighters. 



Celebrating 2014 and Welcoming 2015

As we all entered the New Year full of excitement and ready to take on the coming year, all of Challenging Heights staff, over 90 people, came together to celebrate and recap 2014.

Not very often are we able to bring all of Challenging Heights team members together, so not only is this annual celebration a chance to give thanks to everyone who has been working hard for Challenging Heights but also a chance for everyone to meet each other. Staff from our school, office, shelter, and programs team in Yeji all were able to be in the same place at once. We find this important because we want our staff to know each other and recognize the work that each person is doing.

In 2014, we cared for children through direct rescues, rehabilitation support, providing and monitoring of reintegrated children. We have increased our advocacy, created new livelihood programmes, and have seen many successes through our education programmes including graduating our first batch of Junior High School students and opening our new library.

At the annual CH due there was much chatting, dancing, and a nice meal. It was great to see everyone at Challenging Heights enjoying time with their co-workers, who they may work with everyday or who they just met. It also showed the structure and the people that hold the organization together, each individual taking on an important role that helps make CH run.

We give thanks to a great 2014 and enter the new year with new hope!



Rescued Story: From a life of work, afraid of drowning, to a hopeful future in school

Having seen another boy drown while diving into the lake to untangle a net caught on a tree underwater, Kow was very frightened that the same thing would happen to him as he worked.

With a slight build, Kow looks far younger than the 14 years he says he will soon turn. He’s been at the Challenging Heights Hovde House Rehabilitation Shelter for four months, after spending four and a half years in slave labour, fishing on Lake Volta.

He says he never got paid for very long days filled with casting fishing nets, dragging them in, being called to work on his trafficker’s farm, or hunting fish with other equipment.

Frequently, Kow says, he and two other children would work the farm, uprooting yam, corn, tomatoes and garden eggs (eggplant). After harvesting, he would take the produce to market to sell. All this often came on the same days he would head to the lake and fish in the mornings.

Kow says he ate four times a day, but his diet consisted entirely of starch. In the morning and the others would take koko, or a kind of liquid porridge; in the afternoons, beans, kenkey (a kind of dough made of maize) or garri (dried cassava), and they would have yam for supper. The children weren’t given the fish or vegetables they worked to catch or harvest.

While he was there, he says, he didn’t feel safe. He was severely beaten on a regular basis. One time, Kow said, his eyelid was even torn from the beatings.

Kow was made to fill barrels of water, but as an additional task, the trafficker, or master, would pour any unused water out on the ground and tell Kow to go and fetch more. Sometimes, Kow says he was given an especially huge net to carry on his shoulder. He said it made him very tired, but the net was never used for anything; it was only meant as extra and unnecessary work for Kow.

The abuse wasn’t just physical, but verbal and emotional, too. The master, Kow said, would insult his parents and even his extended family, calling them derogatory terms for genital parts. He would call Kow a “foolish child,” say that his parents were “irresponsible.”

Kow knows that he was there in Yeji because his mother agreed to trade his services for payment. The trafficker convinced Kow’s mother that no, she was not selling her son, but that he would be working and well taken care of.

Kow’s stay at the Hovde House is his first experience in any sort of formal classroom. Before the lake, Kow hadn’t been to school, and on the lake, he was not studying, either.

He says he misses his brothers and sisters, his mother. He says, he wasn’t even told when one of his siblings died at home while he was in Yeji. The trafficker promised Kow he would bring him back to his parents, but of course, Kow said, he never did. Kow said the master always had the final say, so when he demanded to be returned to his family, Kow was beaten.

Frightened by the mere sight of the master, Kow says he was not friendly at all to the children and they were always very afraid of him.

While in Yeji, Kow says he watched on as a child went into the lake to remove a net that had been stuck in a tree which was in the water. The child never returned to the surface alive. Having seen a boy, just like him, drown; Kow could not have been more scared of his own work. He said he did the exact same thing as the boy, diving in to remove nets that were caught. He became very scared that maybe one day, he would die, just as that boy.

Kow found his way to Challenging Heights after another child who had been rescued from Yeji told the field team that he was also working on the lake and wanted to go home. The field team tracked down Kow’s trafficker and brought him south.

His time at the Hovde House has been a positive experience but he continues to face struggles, even as he sleeps. In one nightmare, he says his trafficker taught Kow how to fish and Kow grew up to become a fisherman.

Since he had been beaten so often and so severely, Kow says whenever he even thinks of his trafficker or the beatings, his forehead itches.

Now, he’s starting school in Class 1 at Hovde House. Kow is happy to be away from the lake; happy to be in school; happy to be in a place where he is not beaten and has hope for a positive future.

(Kow’s name is an alias; we have used it instead of his real name to respect his privacy and dignity.)



Youth Empowerment Project Graduate Dreams Big

Henry, a recent graduate from CH’s ICT class, is known for his enthusiasm in the classroom and inquisitive nature. “For me personally, I like questions. I want to know things and I enjoy going to school.” After completing high school, Henry did not have the opportunity to attend university due to his financial situation. After learning about Challenging Heights through a friend, Henry was inspired by CH’s founder, James Kofi Annan and signed up for our remedial school.

Upon graduating, Henry is has been leading a business development plan with fellow classmates to address community health relating to malaria prevention. Henry’s proposal includes providing affordable priced mosquito nets to vulnerable communities. In addition, he wants to include an educational component to teach customers about preventive action and the systematic causes of malaria.

Henry and his classmate are working on a proposal to send to the bank to receive a loan to kick-start their business. Henry believes his education at the CH remedial school was essential to gain the necessary tool set, in both ICT and business development, to make his goal into a reality.

After establishing his business, Henry plans to continue his education at IMPC, a leading school in Ghana for IT education. “I see a brighter future and I have hope. This place has become a stepping-stone for me to jump to higher places.”



Holiday Travels

At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to travel, first to the Vatican and then to the United States.

On December 2, 2014 it was international human rights day and the day that some of the world’s largest faith leaders gathered to sign the anti-slavery declaration. I was shocked and honoured that they asked me to be the one to read the declaration just before the Pope signed his name to the declaration. It was an exhilarating moment and experience to be a part of. I was able to meet The Pope and the founder of Walk Free, Andrew Forest, as well as other major faith leaders as they came together to end the injustice that is modern slavery.

After being in Rome on the 2nd of December, I immediately had to leave to arrive in Grand Rapids for an event on the 3rd of December. Which was the start of many various events. I travelled to Michigan, New York and Illinois. There were various events held at advocates houses and churches. It was amazing seeing the support that people offered, some as complete strangers and others who continue to advocate for Challenging Heights after they have visited.

Thank you to everyone who came to the events and especially to all of those who took their time to organize an event opening up their homes or working with local establishments. I am looking forward to the next time.

Until the 31st of Decemeber you can help support a childs freedom and education and your pledge will be matched dollar-for-dollar!

Afehyia paa.



Receiving an Honorary Degree by Grand Valley State University

Over 11,000 people filled the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan to watch over 1,000 individuals receive their degree, I was happily among this crowd.

I am honoured to have been awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Letters degree from Grand Valley State University at their 2014 winter commencement. Grand Valley Statue University (GVSU) and Challenging Heights have a long history together.

For several years GVSU have been conducting a summer study abroad programme in which they bring students to Winneba for several weeks in the summer term. Many of the students chose to work with CH doing various forms of internships and projects that are mutually beneficial for their studies and the needs of CH. Through this partnership I have visited GVSU on several occasions; giving speeches, participating in programmes and I have always felt supported by the University. GVSU has graciously awarded me this honoris causa, “for the sake of honor” degree.

I thank GVSU for such a high honour, for giving me the opportunity to speak at their graduation ceremony and for the company I was surrounded by. The president of Grand Valley State University, Thomas Haas resonates humility and inspiration.

I also want to send another, personal, thank you to Joseph Verschaeve who offered me support the entire time I was at GVSU.

I hope that this leads more of the community to learn about Challenging Heights and create discussion and advocacy in their hometowns about the rights of children, specifically about education and child trafficking.

Medase pa, GVSU and I look forward to continuing our established partnership.



Reflecting on 2014…Thank You for Your Support

This year has been an exceptional year as we continue to promote youth and family empowerment and children’s rights to education and freedom from forced labour in Ghana.

  • We opened the Challenging Heights Hand in Hand for Literacy Community Library and graduated our first Junior High School (JHS) class in which all 15 students continued to Senior High School (SHS). We even see some of these students returning to the library to study as they prepare for their SHS exams.
  • We had an amazing group of hardworking individuals who participated in our first advocate’s programme- many of whom continued as interns offering their skills to help in our needs. We also welcomed several other groups of passionate individuals who helped in various tasks such as in the library and repainting the entire rehabilitation shelter. These individuals not only actively helped in Challenging Heights needs but also walked away as child rights advocates!

 

  • In addition to our lake operations in which we physically rescued children from forced labour on Lake Volta we also participated in a joint-operation with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service to prevent children from being forced into work on the lake. And we still are not finished yet! Plans are in place to conduct another rescue before the end of the year.
  • Our programmes team has been actively distributing TOMS shoes to local schools, 40,000 new pairs of shoes to be exact. It has not been easy through difficulties and the sheer number of the shoes but the team continues to go to local schools ensuring every child receives a pair of shoes.
  • We have actively been campaigning with Walk Free to create awareness about child trafficking in order to prevent any more children from being sent to a life of modern slavery on Lake Volta.
  • These are just a few of the major events we had in 2014 in addition to the everyday highlights of running Challenging Heights School, the rehabilitation shelter and livelihoods programmes.

So from the entire team at Challenging Heights we thank YOU for the support and belief you have in CH. We continue to ask for your advocacy and action in creating awareness about child trafficking and ensuring every child is in school and lives in a loving and caring environment. Get involved, spread awareness, create your own campaign. We all have the power to take action against injustice. 

If you want to support Challenging Heights consider giving a donation towards a child’s education and freedom. $1 helps support a child for 1 day of school.



Challenging Heights Spotlight…one young man who does it all

Emmanuel, or more commonly known as Ema, is a scholar, leader, singer and friend. He is 16-years-old with a bright future ahead of him. Ema carries happiness with him wherever he goes as he laughs and goofs around with his friends. He loves action movies, the color black, cooking, eating rice and kontombre stew, learning and attending school and singing at his local church. He is an outgoing and determined young man who exudes kindness, confidence, and leadership.

He has been enrolled at Challenging Heights since 2009 in which he was placed in KG2 but within the same year was moved up to class 3 due to his academic advancements. His favorite subjects in school include Social Studies, Science, and ICT. Ema is a very serious and bright student-finishing top of his class upon his completion of JHS 1. You will often find Ema carrying a new book, reading a dictionary and quoting statistics from the UN or World Aid. He is never shy to talk in class, answer a question, or give his opinion.

Not only does Ema excel in school but he also participates in a number of extra-curricular activities. Ema is an avid member of the Children’s Development Khazana and school choir. The CDK teaches financial literacy skills to children relating to savings, credit, banking, and democratic principles of cooperatives. Recently Ema has been elected secretary, which he explains that he is responsible for “taking notes during the meeting and notify the director if there are any problems that come up.” By using the CDK to help him save money he hopes to save enough to deposit in a local bank by the time he graduates from Challenging Heights.

Above all Ema loves to sing and feels he has an obligation in doing so. He is actively involved in the choir, sings at school functions, and in his church choir.

We are excited to see where the future takes this young man as he continues to excel in school, take on leadership positions, and pursue a career in singing. We know he will do great things and be a social agent of change wherever his dreams take him!

You can help support Ema and other children at Challenging Heights and make a donation through Friends of Challenging Heights-giving a holiday gift of education and freedom! $1 a day supports 1 day of school for a child and helps protect them from forced child labour. Thank you for supporting Challenging Heights this holiday season!



Radio Programme has the Potential to Reach Thousands of People

“Mbofra Banbo” meaning Child Protection is our new radio programme that is being broadcasted to local communities in the Central Region of Ghana. 

Every Wednesday from 5pm-6pm we go live on the air, in local language (Fanti or Effutu) with a host to discuss different aspects of child protection. It provides as a new form of community sensitization that has the ability to reach a larger number of people at one time.

It is designed to advocate for the rights of children while also providing protection resources to ensure their safety.

We want to create awareness about the issues of child trafficking, hazardous forced labour on Lake Volta and educate on other child and human rights topics.

We not only want to create awareness but be able to provide many perspectives including hearing from survivors of child trafficking and hazardous forced labour as well as from experienced community members.

We offer this as a chance to spread and advocate-to get talking about- the rights of children and to provide answers to questions the community may have.

The first three weeks have ben a way to inform listeners about Challenging Heights but as the weeks continue there will be various guests to offer unique perspectives and to answer questions that are called in by residents listening to the show. We want to discuss, debate, have student performances, provide information, and get the community engaged and excited.

We are enthusiastic to see where this promising programme goes and the impact it has in our local communities!



The 2014 Global Slavery Index report matters to you

The 2014 Global Slavery Index report has just been released and there are several reasons why you need to read it.
-Modern Slavery is happening near you.
-YOU can take action today.

Globally the report has estimated that 35.8 million people are trapped in modern slavery! Modern slavery was recorded in all 167 countries the report took place in,
it’s a global epidemic that needs to be addressed.

The GSI defines modern slavery as involving “one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal.” This includes such terminology as human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and sale or exploitation of children.

Since 2013 Ghana has dropped in the global rankings from 18th to 21st worst country for modern slavery. However, due to improved methodology during their research, the estimated number of Ghanaians in modern slavery has increased to 193,100, predominately in forced labour.

7 in every 1,000 Ghanaians are living a life of modern slavery..

This includes a large number of children – who are being exploited and having their freedom and childhood taken from them, children we are trying to rescue from forced hazardous labour on Lake Volta and prevent anymore from being trafficked to a life of bondage.

The GSI also rated countries based on how their government responds. Ghana has received a mediocre ranking, CCC, which is echoed by the Trafficking In Persons report. This means that although there have been some initiatives put into place such as the 2005 Human Trafficking Act. The government has been recognized for making efforts to combat trafficking and modern slavery but enforcement of such acts and prosecutions continues to be the biggest challenge.

Learn for yourself about the findings in the Global Slavery Index report and take action. Write to your government, push for resources to be allocated to departments crucial in ending modern slavery, create awareness among your community and help support organizations involved in the fight to end this world wide atrocity.



How shoes are bringing joy to students in our community

The Challenging Heights bus pulls up to the school filled with boxes of new TOMS shoes and children all look out their classrooms while erupting in applause. Cheers, smiles, and clapping are coming from every classroom. The students know their school is next to be receiving their shoes. It never fails to put a smile on our faces knowing how excited the students are to receive a nice pair of shoes…maybe their only pair of shoes.

We begin with the kindergarten classrooms and as soon as their respective teachers let them out they sprint with smiles on their faces to line up for their own pair of shoes.

Some children run to the line with one shoe on and one shoe in their hand, others throw their shoes to the side and still others come to the line with no shoes but simply because they do not have any.

Recently, a headmaster at a local public school commended the work we were doing in distributing TOMS shoes. He said that students used to come to school with broken slippers (flip-flops), or worn out shoes, while sadly others wouldn’t have any. He says he saw those same children feel ashamed of not having a pair of shoes and he sees those same children now walking around with more confidence and pride. “I’m going to have my whole school write you letters.”

We see these children with no shoes or whose shoes have holes in the sides and soles, with their laces tied together through scraps of other broken laces…To see their faces light up and to know that this child can finally have a new pair of shoes is worth the hardships in delivery such a huge amount of shoes. We know that children will feel better about coming to school and there is some financial relief for the parents.

We began with 40,000 pairs of new TOMS shoes and we would be lying to say that it has been easy in getting them to so many children. Day after day our field operations team embarks to distribute the shoes at different schools. When the delivery truck broke down the team still found a way to get shoes to the school.

One of our field officers said that her favorite part about the distribution is when the students come for their new shoes and they get so excited they forget about their old shoes. “We sometimes have to call them back and remind them they are still their shoes too.”

One young boy in class 5 at a local school was so happy to have a pair of shoes. He only had a pair of worn down slippers. He also said they would be nice for when he is playing outside on school break because things won’t hurt his feet so much. After receiving the TOMS shoes he promised to polish them and keep the safe.



Women’s Economic Empowerment Reduces Poverty and Improves Family Care

Unequal opportunities between men and women exist in every country. At Challenging Heights we not only see how this plays out in our communities but also how it affects the well-being and safety of children. The development of women rights and the opportunity to generate an alternative and sustainable income directly affects the quality of life and care of their children. We understand that many women spend much of the day having to carry out domestic work and don’t have the same opportunities or resources to generate a sustainable income. Helping women become economically empowered helps speed up development and overall reduce poverty.

There have been many studies to show that women will spread their income beyond themselves, typically reinvesting a higher portion in their families and communities than men. Economic empowerment does not only improve the livelihood for themselves but directly affects their families well-being and the safety of their children. We understand that if we want to reduce the attraction to traffic one’s child in exchange for money then economically empowering women is vital. This is why when we work with families of children we reintegrate we work closely with the mothers to obtain a seed-capital.

The idea of the seed capital is for women to be able to use it to invest in their own income generating opportunities. A few examples of how our beneficiaries have used their seed capital include improving their fish market sales and starting a firewood business.

We also are developing our Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme in which we work with women fish mongers to improve their business and allocate them more resources in order to increase their income. Through these opportunities we are seeing women in our communities become more economically active in development and the care of their families, including their children’s education, increase.

At Challenging Heights we do more than rescue children trafficked to Lake Volta – we work towards ultimately ending child trafficking because no child should be sent to the lake in the first place and investing in the women and mothers of our our community does just that!



21 trafficked children rescued from hazardous forced labour on Lake Volta by Challenging Heights

A rescue mission funded by the Hovde Foundation has enabled Challenging Heights to save 21 trafficked children from hazardous forced labour on Lake Volta, adding to the estimated 1,200 children freed by us since 2003.

During the operation, which ran from 10th to 18th October, the rescue team had to deal with angry traffickers as well as the perils of the Lake. Three young victims were snatched back off the rescue boat by an angry mob of slave-masters (what else should we call someone who keeps people captive and force them to work for no pay?) and the children’s safety only secured with the support of Ghana Police. Their intervention resulted in the arrest of Kow Eyindah of Center Community for trafficking, with the detainee now helping police with their enquiries to identify and arrest all those involved in the attack. The Community Chief, Nana Kojo (Joojo), has promised to hold a durbar to ensure anyone holding a child in Center returns them to their family voluntarily.When news of the operation spread along the shore, some children ran from the communities they were held in to try and find the Challenging Heights boat. Those freed were able to guide the rescue team to other victims of trafficking, and the NGO will continue to gather information on children in need of rescuing with the help of families and former slaves. All the rescued children were discharged into the temporary care of Challenging Heights by Social Welfare, and are now being looked after at the Ghanaian NGO’s rehabilitation shelter. Challenging Heights staff will work with the children’s families and local communities in the coming months to find safe permanent homes for them all.

Thirteen boys and eight girls, some as young as six or seven, were liberated from remote communities around the Lake or rescued directly from fishing boats on the water. According to Government of Ghana/International Labour Organisation/IPEC, however, another 49,000 of Ghana’s children remain on the lake, with 21,000 of them being forced to undertake hazardous labour there [1].

Children made to live at the lake are denied their most basic rights, such as access to safe water or the opportunity to go to school. Instead they are forced to undertake dangerous work catching fish from leaky boats. This includes being made to dive into the murky water to untangle nets from submerged jagged branches, and it is unsurprising that many lose their lives before reaching adulthood. They are amongst the more than two million children identified by the Ghana Population and Housing Census as being economically active[2]. Even more shamefully, they are amongst the estimated 181,000 Ghanaians trapped in a life of “modern slavery” today, ranking us the 18th worst country in the world [3].

We call upon the Government for stronger enforcement of our laws, to ensure these are a proper deterrent for traffickers and perpetrators of child abuse. This requires the release of funds to the Human Trafficking Board that were committed to in the last budget and full resourcing of the Anti Human Trafficking Unit of Ghana Police. There is also a need for a coordinated effort to implement the National Plan of Action (NPA) for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, if we are to have any chance in achieving this by the target date of 2015.

References

[1] The International Labour Organisation/International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour (ILO/IPEC) Analytical Study on Child Labour In Lake Volta Fishing in Ghana (August 2013) estimates that there 49,000 Children working on in the fishing industry on Lake Volta, with 21,000 forced to undertake hazardous child labour.

[2] According to the 2010 Ghana Population and Housing Census, there are over 2.4million “economically active” children (between the ages of 5 and 17) in Ghana.

[3] An estimated 181,038 (170,000, 190,000) Ghanaians live in conditions of modern slavery, as calculated in the 2013 Global Slavery Index.
The GSI ranks countries according to prevalence of modern slavery by population, child marriage, human trafficking, and places Ghana as the 18th worst country in the world for slavery (out of a total of 162 reviewed).



Convention on the Rights of the Child

It will soon mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The UNCRC was a treaty that resulted in the fastest and most widely ratified treaty in international human rights history. It allocated that all children (17 years and under) have a clear set of rights.

Since the ratification of the UNCRC I believe that children have become better off in Ghana and all over the world but there is still a lot of work to be done. Much of our work at Challenging Heights is even in accordance with the UNCRC as we work to ensure every child achieves their right to education and are protected from hazardous child labour.

Ghana was the first country to ratify it and in addition created the Children’s Act and included article 25 in our Constitution. Article 25 states, “all persons shall have the right to equal education opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realisation of that right.”

Many of the children we have worked with are not only denied an education but have been denied a loving family environment. At Challenging Heights we believe it is compulsory for the children to be taken care of by both parents regardless if they are married, divorced, or born from wedlock. This is very important for the children because it creates an environment in which they can thrive and ask for what belongs to them…their childhood.

Children are the development of our future. They may become teachers, lawyers, politicians, doctors, journalists – their voices will be heard and be the next generation of social change. All of us have a duty to protect our children. I believe that we should use the UNCRC as a guideline for all children.

As a society, we have a duty to act on the UNCRC to ensure children have their right to life, education, and a loving family, and hope for their future. Internationally and in your own community you can help make a difference in the lives of children.
All of us must rise in the protection of our children.