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.