Diary of a Roll-Out

Date Publish: 
Ghana / Africa and Middle East

Tuesday March 19, 2013

Today has been a long time coming. We’ve created a pilot Child Protection toolkit – with a special emphasis on counter trafficking/child protection - based on self-empowerment from within the communities. The information has been gathered not only from loads of research but from long and numerous discussions with, not only the Ghana Police Service and District Officers for Health, Social Welfare, and Education, but ultimately, and most importantly, from the communities themselves: the Chiefs and elders, the women, the men, the teachers and the children.

The plan is that today we paint a mural on the school wall of the Tree of Life – the community’s contract with themselves and with us, of their buy-in. We arrive at Agbagorme community at our pre-arranged meeting place and time – under the big tree to the side of the school grounds. We’re excited, ready to go and with a truck full of paint.

No-one’s there but us. We find out that not only are the teacher’s on strike but it’s market day. “Nothing will tear them away from market day,” says Doris, IOM’s Counter Trafficking officer and, for now, our head mobilizer. Yikes. We wait. And wait. A group of mothers arrive and sit near us but not with us. It’s something. Only it’s not – they’re here for another meeting. We wait some more. Finally, in dribs and drabs we get a rather large group of maybe 200, including  school kids, parents and elders, the Chief.

Doris asks the community if they know what their responsibilities are as parents, as children and as elders. Our advice that the men should help with the parenting brings uproarious laughter – we’re a comedy act! Clearly, we have quite a journey ahead in the Responsible Parenting department, but the ice has been broken and we have their attention.

Next we ‘break ground’ on the wall: we paint a big white square – the empty canvas. Next the parents, one by one paint some roots – symbolizing that they will provide steady roots for their children in the form of Protection; the Chief and a teacher, plus a couple of elders paint the trunk – their buy-in for keeping an eye on things and taking action where necessary; then some women, chief/elders and a school teacher paint the branches;  and then everyone, but particularly the school kids paint the leaves and fruit with their handprints – their signature.

It was a hectic and happy day, which left the team hot and exhausted but pumped. We’d begun…

Wednesday March 20, 3013

Today we head out to Sikor. The teacher strike is still on so and this community is one of several satellite communities, where the teachers and many children walk a long way to get to school… so… we’re not sure who or what to expect today. But the kids and teachers are at school – and very excited about completing their All About Me Books, which we trialled in the information collecting 6 weeks ago. These little books are like passports to the dignity of Identity: in them, the children had written their full names; birthdates and places; parents' names; siblings’ names; what makes them happy and so on. This was easier said than done. Some children in Ghanaian communities don’t have their birth certificates and have never celebrated their birthdays, some don’t even really know how old they are, and others are orphans or live in child-headed households while their parent(s) disappear in search of seasonal work. Today we were returning with their ‘passport’ photos to stick on the front. Probably these were the first or only photos that some of the children had of themselves. Not one child had lost their little book since we’d seen them last and, although school wasn’t officially open because of the strike, the kids were all there, bar about 4… who gradually trickled in… obviously as word had spread. “Did they have their Little Books?” we asked them. All the books were produced un-crumpled and safe. The shy smiles were contagious, they were so proud.

Next we talked about how Child Protection starts with Self Protection. This included a chat on nutrition; hygiene; uniforms; attending school; and not having unprotected sex. The ages of the kids ranged from about 8 to 20, the older kids playing serious catch up after a life already lived as a fisherman, having been trafficked at very young age, but despite the age difference, no-one seemed uncomfortable about the talk about sex.

To change the mood a bit, we talked about stress and some simple techniques that were preferable to hitting; shouting and lashing out; we did some deep breathing and strong shoulder shrugs. They did it happily but thought it was very funny. Well, giggling certainly releases stress, problem solved!

Finally we drew two drawings: one of life NOW and one of their dream life. Or at least that was the idea. For a good 5-10minutes the kids shuffled around nervously, they were NOT used to drawing. One little girl spent the whole of the next 20minutes drawing a pencilled circle and rubbing it out again with the eraser. We got some cute drawings in the end: girls drew themselves doing chores – their dream was to play; boys drew themselves playing football – their dream was to score… and many drew themselves as they were but their dream? To go “abroad” in a plane.

Then it was time to scare the whole community!! We then moved to Memodzi to meet with both communities.

First up was a two-person play by IOM staff: one played Oprah Winfrey, the other, a father whose trafficked children had been returned to him. It was based loosely on a real transcript of such an interview, but ad-libbed too. After a quick discussion, we then asked for two volunteers: this time they would play the part of a trafficker who was returning to a father who’d once spoken to him about the possibility of sending a child or two off with him. An opinion leader volunteered to play the father, and he gently refused the trafficker, saying he’d learned a lot from the rescues and visits from IOM and will take the route of educating his kids at all costs. Wow.

To seal the deal we painted the ‘Tree of Life’ mural on a main wall in the village – which also happened to belong to the same opinion leader – and the community member who took most ownership over the mural? .

The de-briefing / re-cap produced some amazing quotes from the community about how they really had learnt so much today and were really feeling empowered to make a change, as per the caption underneath the mural: One Community can make a Change.

Thursday March 21, 2013

So, it’s Day 3 and the teachers’ strike is still on and we’re headed to a community on the border with Togo; Anoenu community. It’s normal for some of the kids to walk 1.5hours each way, each day – for some, that includes walking across the border from Togo.

Again, the school is deserted. The village is too. We sit under the pre-arranged tree and wait, wait, wait again. A few people wander over and sit; one or two elders, a few women, some men, two teenage girls. Finally a swarm of people head towards us, beautifully dressed. Whew. I make sure all our props are in order for today’s chat, that we’re all on board with what we’re doing. I look up and the crowd has walked straight past us – they were off to a funeral! Meanwhile, we get the young guys who are hanging nearby on their motorbikes to help us prepare the side of the school wall across the way for the mural. They’re into it straight away, maybe 10 of them, all with advice for each other, all finding it fun and a bit funny.

Eventually we have about 30 people in our group so we start – once starting, of course, others drifted over and joined in. First topic: The Rights of the Child – especially in relation to the topic at hand. We ask who knows them. Turns out, most do actually know them, have always known them, these are old deep values. Food insecurity is a huge form of stress though, and can make everything else unravel.

We do a seed-planting demonstration (tomato seeds into a pot) using a member from the community (a father) – only we can’t find the pot so we improvise with a sawn-off water bottle. The idea is that any seed, whether for a plant or a human being, needs the right conditions for the seed to take hold and grow well. For both seeds, this is a critical time because not nurturing growth at this stage will cause stunting – physically, and for children, in their brain development.

This one’s a real ice-breaker because the white girl from the city actually gets the planting demo all wrong! You DON’T just put the seeds into the soil, it’s gotta rain first! Whoops, so we put the water in first, but we’re still not good to go! There’s no holes in the bottom of the bottle: “You can’t plant a seed in a river!” they tell me, so we put some holes in the bottom and the excess water comes out. Next the young man expertly tills the soil and drops in some of the seeds and covers them up. It was funny and they get it: good nutrition, rest and gentle exercise will all give their baby the best start.

The metaphor extends to early childhood, and to teenagers: children at this age are still seeds, they are growing people so… education is crucial from a young age. I even manage to slip in the line: EDUCATE A BOY AND YOU TEACH AN INDIVIDUAL, EDUCATE A GIRL AND YOU EDUCATE A COMMUNITY. We explained how a child can come back to the community as a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter and so on.

Then it’s time for the mural: third time lucky! It was calm, we had a good demarcation of where the work was going on and where people had to wait for their turn to paint and where others had to wash the paint off their hands. We even managed to get a pledge from each individual (bar the kids) about what their commitment was going to be in terms of this contract for self-empowerment.

The painting looked awesome, and everyone was so proud.

Children at school participate in the “All About Me Books” activity which gives them the Dignity of Identity: the children had written their full names, birthdates and places, parents’ names, siblings’ names, and what makes them happy. © Nicola Simmonds/IOM 2013
Children, parents, and teachers participate in the “All About Me Books” activity which gives them the Dignity of Identity: the children had written their full names, birthdates and places, parents’ names, siblings’ names, and what makes them happy. © Nicola Simmonds/IOM 2013
The “Tree of Life” mural that IOM staff painted together with the children and other volunteers on a main wall in the village. © Nicola Simmonds/IOM 2013
The “Tree of Life” mural that IOM staff painted together with the children and other volunteers on a main wall in the village. © Nicola Simmonds/IOM 2013
IOM staff together with children and other volunteers paint the "Tree of Life" mural on a main wall in the village. © Nicola Simmonds/IOM 2013