Ghana’s Upper East Region (UER) is home to just over one million people, 65% of the population are classified as poor (using multi-dimensional poverty indicators) compared with 8% in its capital, Greater Accra. It’s a region where 22% of households have children failing to attend school (compared to 3% in Greater Accra). Challenging the disparity in poverty levels between the north and south of Ghana requires persistent effort and a holistic approach.
AfriKids is a multi-award winning child rights charity working in the region and is one of Aberdeen’s Emerging Market charity partners. In the UER, poverty prevents many children from being able to attend school and acquire a basic education, so imaginative projects, like the School of Night Rabbits (SONR), have been devised to bring educational opportunities to the most marginalised children – those who live and work on the streets.
Working towards sustainable development means education is one of AfriKids’ key priorities, “improving the life chances of the next generation is crucial here if we are to break the cycle of poverty that exists for many families” (Nich Kumah Director of AfriKids Ghana).
SONR is a project based in the capital of the UER; Bolgatanga, a small lively town with a strong sense of community. In a one room local school, from 7-8pm, SONR provides evening classes for children who live and work on the streets. Literacy and numeracy classes are taught for one hour, twice a week (enough time for children who have been working all day to concentrate and learn). The evening classes are the first step on the ladder to full time education for many of Bolgatanga’s street children and give AfriKids’ staff a forum to get to know Bolga’s (as it’s known locally) street children. Staff work to earn the trust of some of the most hard to reach children, many of whom have been used to fending for themselves for too long. Once trust is established, the complex process of making contact with families, re-settling children back home and enrolling them in full time school begins.
SONR started in 2004 and to date has supported 690 street children. Since the start of the current academic year in September last year, 43 children have begun the process of re-settlement and 23 of these are now permanently living with families and attending school. As a charity committed to ensuring sustainable development, re-settled children are followed up for up to five years by AfriKids. Their families are supported to engage with school, they can get support to access national health insurance and, if relevant, they may be linked into one of AfriKids women’s led co-operatives for access to micro-finance.
Challenging the disparity in poverty levels between the north and south of Ghana requires persistent effort and a holistic approach.
Taking education to street children one step closer and crucially on their own terms, saw AfriKids open a new drop-in centre in Bolgatanga’s main bus station and lorry park - where the majority of its street children earn a living. Typically, working children carry luggage, wash buses, and run errands for the businesses based there. The new drop-in centre provides valuable support and the chance for children to get to know how AfriKids can help them. It’s a relatively comfortable space, with air-conditioning offering children respite from the soaring summer temperatures. There’s also clean water and a few games, giving children the chance to play and relax. The centre is run by Seratu, a talented member of the team who has strong skills in engaging street children. She’s a mother figure to the children there; she says “some of the older ones have my mobile so they know they can contact me in the night if they need to.” Seratu has built trusted relationships with the most hard to reach children including those who have been living on the streets for a number of years and for whom attachment to a trusted adult is a new experience. Her role has helped solidify relationships between children and encouraged more children to attend the evening class, and she has built new links between children and their families. This new initiative has been successful; since the drop-in centre opened in August 2014; enrolment in the evening classes is up from 90 to 131 children.
Ghana’s Upper East Region is one of the world’s poorest regions; support and intervention is very much needed to tackle poverty and improve key indicators such as children’s access to education. With the right kind of intervention, transforming the lives of vulnerable children in northern Ghana is completely attainable.