Ekua’s voice cracks with emotion as she describes her son’s journey into slavery.
Several years ago she left her violent husband but Samuel remained in his care. Only when her husband died did she discover that Samuel was working for his brother in Ghana’s Lake Volta, home to a lucrative fishing industry staffed by thousands of children. Often they are sent by their parents in search of education and a better life. Instead, they endure long hours, hardship and abuse.
Ekua wanted to bring Samuel home but she was sick and her family didn’t want her to go. She still has regrets. “I believe that when my family did not want me to go, I should have sent someone to get him.” Over time, however, she managed to piece together information on his whereabouts and, two years ago, passed it to Challenging Heights, an organisation that rescues and reunites children with their families and educates them.
Challenging Heights is supported by the Global Fund for Children, which backs grassroots organisations that work with vulnerable children and is the Financial Times’ partner in its seasonal appeal. James Kofi Annan, once a child slave on Lake Volta himself, set up Challenging Heights in 2003. Since then, he says, thanks to GFC’s financial help and management advice, the organisation has grown and he has become an advocate for children’s rights in Ghana.
For Samuel, now 17, the three years he spent on the lake were “hard and terrifying”. When Challenging Heights rescuers arrived in the village of Malagascar, he feared a trap. Reassured by the fact they knew his mother’s name, he went with them and was taken to a shelter before he was reunited with her.
Ekua recalls how she “felt so happy” at their reunion. Challenging Heights has lent her money to set up a fishmongering business – financial hardship forces many parents to send their children to Lake Volta – and Samuel has benefited from subsidised education.
Her son has recovered from his ordeal, she says. He wants to be a soldier, an ambition she is confident he can achieve. Challenging Heights, with the help of GFC, has helped put her family back together.
More articles on the Global Fund for Children are at www.ft.com/seasonalappeal