Readers of the FTS Blog may remember the heroism of Ghanaian slavery survivor James Kofi Annan. He received a 2008 Free the Slaves Freedom Award for his work to rescue children from fishing slavery, as well as his work to educate children to prevent the spread of slavery.
Now, James has been nominated for a World’s Children’s Prize. The award promotes children’s rights and global educational programs. Candidates for the prize are nominated by children aged 10 to 18 throughout the world. Then, kids vote for who will win. The online ballot box is now open. Voting ends on October 1st, 2013.
James certainly deserves the nomination and hopefully he’ll win the prize. He lost his childhood at age 6. James’ parents sold him into slavery because they felt they could not afford to feed or school him. He worked under horrible conditions in fishing villages from sunrise to sunset. He was barely fed and hardly had any shelter.
At age 13, James escaped. He befriended children in a school and used their books to learn to read. He worked to feed himself and put himself through school, eventually earning a master’s degree. He became a banker, but decided to leave banking to work full time helping free kids from slavery.
“By rescuing others, I feel I’m rescuing myself,” James says. “I feel that I’m correcting the injustice that was done when I was young.”
James’ organization is called Challenging Heights. It operates a rescue shelter for more than 60 children and a school for 700 students of different ages, and helps communities organize to resist child trafficking.
“James is a passionate advocate for children and dedicated to ensuring that no child ever ends up enslaved as he was,” says FTS Ghana Manager Christy Gillmore. “He understands the root causes of slavery and works to empower communities and children to protect themselves from slavery. He brings children home and makes sure they never go back.”
In another development, James has been selected as a “Change Leader” for an organization called Reach for Change. The group promotes social entrepreneurship as an instrument to advance children’s rights. They support “passionate, result-driven, competitive and involved” people who give their voices for change for children.
James certainly is that. Congratulations to James on his recent honors.
Ghana celebrates 55 years of independence today. As the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve autonomy from European Colonialism, it has much to take pride in. To most Ghanaians, this day symbolizes freedom.
Ghana may be politically free, but not everyone can rejoice today. Like in most countries around the world, slavery still exists in Ghana. As tourists visit the castles and dungeons of Cape Coast to hear the horror stories of the ancient slave trade, many Ghanaians remain enslaved. The practice survives in many forms: child trafficking in fishing and domestic servitude, debt bondage in gold mining, child labor in cocoa farming, and sex trafficking and forced prostitution.
But Ghanaians do not sit idly by as these terrible acts occur. Free The Slaves supports grassroots efforts to end slavery in the country.
FTS partner Challenging Heights, headed up by Freedom Award winner and survivor James Kofi Annan, works with communities to identify and carry out daring rescues of children in fishing slavery along Lake Volta, supports them as they recover, and reunites them with their families.
Two FTS partners, Social Support Foundation and the Network for Community Planning and Development, are hard at work in informal mining communities helping small-scale miners gain access to land and legal licenses so that they can lift themselves out of debt bondage. Alongside this work, FTS is undertaking groundbreaking research on violence against children within small-scale mining communities.
Twenty-five organizations comprise the nascent but strong Ghana Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Coalition, which is currently leading efforts to raise awareness and carry out interventions against sex trafficking.
Today we salute you, Ghana, for starting a wave of political and economic liberation in Africa. We also salute you in your efforts to end modern-day slavery, and we await the day we can all celebrate the eradication of slavery in Ghana, Africa and beyond.
A terrific opportunity has come from our friends at the Global Fund for Children. To help raise awareness about modern slavery, and to help child slavery survivors, the fund will donate one book to the Challenging Heights rescue shelter for every book that you buyby December 24.
Challenging Heights was founded by former slave James Kofi Annan, recipient of a Free the Slaves Freedom Award for his courageous work to rescue children trapped on dangerous fishing boats in remote Ghana. His shelter helps kids regain their dignity and playful nature—as well as catch up on their class work. His school educates hundreds of kids, providing them with options in life that make them less vulnerable to slavery.
The Global Fund will send up to 500 books to Challenging Heights. It’s a two-for-one offer that will mean a lot for vulnerable kids in Ghana.
CNN covered how Free the Slaves staff and partners work to alleviate modern-day slavery despite challenges like extreme poverty. Ghana director Emmanuel Otoo shares his gratitude for his mother’s choices and his motivation to continue his work. “We observe a lot of situations currently where out of poverty, out of need, out of desire to give their children the basic necessities, parents tend to traffic their children – give them out or sell them out,” he told CNN. “So I compare this to our relationship with our mother that in spite of the difficult times, in spite of the lack, the need, and the want, she did not give us out. She could’ve done that, but she did not.” The story also touches on our recent trip to Congo. You can find the report on the extent of slavery in the Congo mines and the full video here
Editor’s note: Free the Slaves College Coordinator Laura Murphy recently visited FTS programs in Ghana. This is the first of her four-part blog on her reflections. To learn more about how you can start a Free the Slaves chapter at your school, you can contact Laura at email@example.com
Last month, on June 13, Ghana celebrated the World Day against Child Labor by unveiling their new National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Ghana. Representatives from the ILO, UNICEF, the US Embassy, Free the Slaves, and our partner Challenging Heights gathered along with over 400 people, including Ghanaian school children, to celebrate Ghana’s increased commitment to end the most hazardous forms of child labor by 2015.
The highlight of the event was a speech given by Dominic Impraim, a twelve year old student at Challenging Heights School who aspires to be a musician. His dream was almost lost after spending nine years in slavery on Ghana’s Volta Lake. He shyly spoke, in his native Fante language, of the horrors of his life as a child slave. He admitted that he was shocked when he learned through taunting by the slaveholder that his family had sent him to work in the fishing town of Yeji in exchange for only GHC5.00 (the equivalent of about $3.30). Living nine hours away from home and family, young Dominic was forced to work all day and all night and rarely allowed to sleep. The crowd gasped when he recounted how he was physically and verbally abused each day and especially harshly when he asked for food. He recalled instances when he was deprived of food for more than two days though he was forced to “work as usual” on Ghana’s Volta Lake.
But Dominic is an example of the success Ghana is having in changing the lives of child slaves. Dominic was rescued only one year ago by Challenging Heights, a major contributor to the National Plan of Action. Just after his rescue, Dominic was provided with rehabilitation services and reunited with his family. Because his mother is mentally challenged, he is currently under the care of his grandmother. His grandmother was provided with microfinance by Challenging Heights to expand her “kenkey” and farming business and she is now enrolled in a community microcredit group that will prevent her from sending Dominic back to work. Dominic is in school for the first time and excelling in his studies with full support from Challenging Heights for his school fees, uniforms, books, and writing materials. He credits Challenging Heights for the massive change in his life and the potential he is just now discovering in himself.
Kofi Awoonor, celebrated Ghanaian novelist and professor, remarked in his brief keynote address that, in fact, Dominic had said everything that needed to be said. It is stories like Dominic’s that make the work we do to eradicate slavery and child labor so urgent. And since approximately 70% of the funding Ghana receives to fight child labor comes from donors, organizations, and government agencies in the US, we need to listen even more carefully and act even more urgently.