December 7, 2012 6:10 pm

‘This is something we should do’

Mentors at a correctional centre in Accra advise young women on how to do ‘good things’ when they leave
Nana Yaa Appiah

Nana Yaa Appiah

Afia has received few visitors since she began her two-year sentence at Osu Junior Girls Correctional Centre in Accra. The bus journey to Ghana’s capital from Brong Ahafo region in central Ghana, where her family lives, is long and expensive. Her brother last came to see her two months ago. But, at least once a week, the shy 17-year-old and others at the country’s only juvenile facility for girls, receives a visit from a group of professional Ghanaian women, including bankers, pharmacists and executives. As well as basic education, explains Afia, these visitors provide “advice on how you can do good things if you leave this place”.

The mentorship programme, which is run by Ghana Women’s Voices, is sponsored by the Global Fund for Children, a charity that supports grassroots organisations which work with some of the world’s most vulnerable children and is the Financial Times’ partner in its seasonal appeal. About 50 girls have been mentored since the programme began two years ago. At present, there are just six girls at the facility in Accra. Neither the facility nor the girls – mostly from poor backgrounds – are keen to go into detail about their crimes.

The girls are wary at first, says Nana Beecham, a 43-year-old mentor, who works as a manager of Seatec Telecom Services. “It is a huge commitment. You know you are impacting on someone’s life. You can’t stop and start,” she says.

The meetings can provide a window to a new world for the girls. “Many of them are not aware of the opportunities that are open to them,” says Beecham.

Mentors try not only to lift the girls’ esteem but to improve their literacy and numeracy skills. Nana Yaa Appiah, a 39-year-old pharmacist, who founded Ghana Womens’ Voices in 2007, recalls her initial shock at finding that the work she did with the girls in the correctional facility was not dissimilar to what her own children were learning in kindergarten.

“For me it was critical that [the mentors] were Ghanaian,” she says. “The girls who are here, they are Ghanaians. This is something we should do.”

Key to their ultimate rehabilitation will be family support. But Afia already has plans. When her time is up, she says, she will return home and study accounting.

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