The lure of paid work is overhwelming when the alternative is desparate poverty. But many young girls in Ghana are being lured into a life of captivity and mistreatment. Asana had no idea what awaited her when she moved to another part of the country looking for work
On the corner of the street, a girl stands balancing an empty metal bowl on her head. She greets Portia, our Kayeye Ministry Coordinator, with a smile. They exchange conversation for a minute or two before parting ways.
“We’re trying to help her out before she gets pregnant,” Portia says.
The girl is 18 years old. She, along with many others like her, lives on the streets of Kumasi, Ghana, where the promise of a paying job drew her from the northern regions. But what she found, as most women who moved south in search of decent earnings have, has left her alone and trapped in a cycle of abuse and struggle.
The empty metal bowl will be filled with heaps of maize meal, wood, fruit—and any number of other heavy items. Without the bowl, she will carry bags of rice on her head, or car parts, such as tires; anything she is ordered to carry by the people in the market who pay her.
It may seem like a fair deal: do your work, get paid. But for nearly every girl, the loads get heavier and heavier, and the money rarely—if ever—comes.
For the Kayeye (a slang term originating in southern Ghana, meaning “going [to carry]” and used uniquely for the girls who carry heavy loads on their heads), the cycle begins in the predominantly-Muslim north.
Asana came to the south out of necessity. The third of six children, she watched her parents divorce because of her father’s mental illness; her mother and older sister travelled south to work as Kayeye. At 10 years old, Asana did the same.
Asana’s sister recognised immediately that Asana was too young to carry such heavy loads on her head. Instead, she found Asana a job as a dishwasher for a woman who sold waakye, a popular Ghanaian dish, on the side of the road. The woman agreed to pay Asana 5 cedis (approximately US$1.25) at the end of each day. As time went on, however, Asana learned that the woman had no interest in paying her more than once a week—and even then, she only gave her whatever spare change she felt like giving her.
Cheated of her payment and alone, Asana found herself trapped on the street for more than a year, caught in a web of abuse and mistreatment.
A better future
But then one of our project workers introduced herself to Asana and told her about our home for girls in Kumasi where she could live free from fear and where she could go back to school. Her family agreed that she could go.
Now 12 years old and living at the home, Asana is once again in school and is at the top of her class. She is starting to dream of a better future; she plans to become a nurse and return north to help the mentally ill, like her father, where basic health care is inaccessible.
This home for girls in Ghana not only provides schooling to young girls, it also offers young women the chance to learn a skill such as hairdressing or tailoring to keep them off the streets and to empower them to live as freely and independently as possible.
Asana is now thriving. It is your gifts and the gifts of many other Freedom Challenge supporters that make this possible. Thank you!