This is the 5th post in our Are you MaD–Are you Making a Difference?–series.
Today’s post focuses on young people, the leaders of the future. Unfortunately, in much of the developing world young people don’t have a voice. Many factors underlie this including socio-cultural norms such as “children must be seen and not heard” (Ghana), or there is no youth policy to address specific youth needs (Ghana, too).
If you’ve traveled in developing countries you’ll know that many children begin working from the moment they can walk. Here, where we live, I’m no longer shocked to see four, five or six year old girls carrying their baby siblings on their back, wrapped in cloth, while simultaneously carrying oranges on their head to sell for 5 cents in the market so they can make a few cents for the day. This is completely, abhorrently, normal. This also touches on education—denying these children an education because they’re outside making money trading on the streets.
Children working on the streets are at the mercy of abusive and aggressive people and of being kid-napped and sold into slavery. By now you can probably begin to see the complexity of the poverty problem. Young people are the most vulnerable and they need a lot of support, especially in education and in lobbying for the implementation of human rights to protect them. Stories of trafficking within Ghana hit the news every few weeks.
When living in Cambodia I witnessed the deplorable state of trafficked women and children from neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam—these two countries had cracked down on trafficking for prostitution but Cambodia had not, hence the women were funneled there. It is real and live, right now. Here are a few organisations that are doing their part to support youth development and protect the rights of children:
Stop Child Slavery: This is an organisation that provides a regular stream of information online about child slavery world-wide so that new readers can begin to grasp the situation. They give advice about action to take and also have an excellent resource of similar organisations.
Young People We Care. We declare off the bat that we work for this fledgling NGO so we may be biased. However, they’re doing good things on the ground here in Ghana in engaging youth in activities related to poverty reduction. Ghana has somewhat of a donor-mentality culture whereby people expect funding and “lucky breaks” to fall into their lap, but YPWC takes a different approach. It is largely youth run (aside from me) and engages youth to become proactively involved in making positive changes in their communities. The main vehicle for this is through Millenium Development Goals clubs that have been set up in different parts of Ghana where YPWC operates including Kumasi, Bunkpurigo (the Northern Region—very close to the Togo border and slightly south of the Bawku conflict zone), and here in Bolgatanga where we work with school groups. The amazing thing is watching these kids that are struggling themselves be so eager to get involved in some kind of community effort like regular clean up campaigns (there are few garbage collecting services and there are virtually no rubbish bins so plastic refuse abounds), planting mango trees for shade, fruit and greening the environment, participating in HIV/Aids awareness workshops, and many other projects. They also run an excellent online volunteering programme with satellite offices in the UK and the USA. You can get involved by volunteering online, volunteering in person here in Ghana, or donating to support one of their projects. Read more about it at YPWC’s site.
Operation Hand in Hand, Ghana. Many regular readers are probably bored to death reading about this organisation but it’s for a good reason: they’re excellent. They operate like a mini World Vision here in Ghana, whereby you can sponsor a child for a similar amount of money as WV at their orphanage for mentally handicapped children. If you think, perhaps, Godwin had it bad labouring in the cocoa farm, or the little girl selling oranges on her head has it bad, it’s even worse if you’re physically or mentally handicapped in a country where there are no social services, no welfare, and traditional beliefs deem you as being possessed by an evil spirit. Because of lack of education (there it is again), your family or village may expel you onto the streets or into a remote village so as to avoid the “shame”. Those are the children that live at Hand in Hand—their communities and/or families either rejected them or were too poor to care for them. Yet many of them are bright, autistic or Downs Syndrome young adults who make a positive contribution to the organisation’s bead making workshop; the products are sold at fair trade organisations in the Netherlands from where the founders hail. It’s one of the most inspiring places in Ghana. You can visit their site to read more about the sponsorship programme, make a donation or get involved. They even run volunteer programmes in Ghana where you come and work with the children for a minimum of 3 months.