February 14, 2007
When I walk to work in the morning it’s not uncommon to be accompanied by a number of small children, decked out in yellow shirts with brown shorts or a brown skirt. The girls wear white frilly lacy socks that as the week progresses become brown, the boys swing their Nike or Adidas backpacks proudly. Their backpacks hold books on Math, English and Environmental Studies and usually a treasured pen or pencil.
Their small hands reach for mine as we navigate the dirt road that leads to their school and ultimately to my workplace. All are eager for my attention, some want money, some want to practice their English and some, I tell myself, just want the company of a white lady for just a few minutes a day.
If I leave work early I often meet the same children that walked with me in the morning. I ask them what they learned today and sometimes they open tattered notebooks written in Twi. I ask them to read aloud in their language, most times they oblige, and most times I don’t understand. They teach me, and I hope I’m teaching them something in return. We smile, bid each other farewell and invariably we meet again the next day.
Compare this to the group of children I meet just five minutes from the school area. We lock eyes and no greeting is exchanged. I say good morning, they look away. They are of the same stature and same age, I presume, as the exuberant children just steps away, their eyes give way to a much different experience. Their small arms carry weight under which their legs seem to buckle, their eyes dulled by events and experiences I don’t understand or bear witness to. Many are unloading goods from a truck or packing bowls full of the day’s merchandise to load onto their heads and then hopefully unload onto buyers. Many of these children are girls, many are accompanying their mothers, some are alone walking between cars on the busy highway beginning their sales for the day.
Although school is mandatory and free up to a certain grade in Ghana, hundreds of thousands of children will never enroll. A 2003 report by the Ghana statistical service survey shows that about one million of the country’s six million children are engaged in child labour.
This is one of the stories I am continuing to work on with colleagues at LUV FM in Kumasi. To read and find out more you can visit www.jhr.ca and click on foreign correspondence.
“Knowledge is like a baobab tree. No one person can embrace it with both arms.”
- Ancient Ghanaian proverb.