Many of us will celebrate Mass with African priests who come to the United States from various countries in Africa. While these priests are helping us and bring us the sacraments, at the same time many take advantage of educational opportunities in the United States with hopes to bring this knowledge back to their home countries. Father Francis Perry Azah, a priest from the Ghanaian Diocese of Ho, recently earned his M.A. in Pastoral Counseling at Fordham University, specializing in post traumatic stress disorder in children. From his dissertation research, Father Perry offers this encapsulation of some of the issues facing Ghana as it attempts to educate all of its citizens. The situation as it is encountered now is as follows, as described by the Bureau of International Affairs:
The majority of working children are unpaid and can be found on family farms and family enterprises. While traditionally, working on the family farm was seen as a means of training for adulthood, deteriorating economic conditions have led to an increase in the number of children working on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves or supplement family income. These children either forgo an education or combine work and school.
Deteriorating economic conditions in rural areas and conflicts in northern regions of the country have led to increased migration of children into urban areas, particularly Accra. This migration has reportedly led to an increase in the numbers of street children and working children in urban areas.710 In August 2000, Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare reported that out of 800,000 children working countrywide, 18,000 children were working in Accra. Seventy percent of these urban working children are estimated to receive no schooling, while 21 percent complete only their primary education.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report that children as young as 7 years old work as trolley and head porters, domestic servants, street vendors, rock breakers in quarries, small scale miners, farmers and fishermen. In May 2000, the acting executive director of the Ghana National Commission on Children (GNCC) expressed concern about the increasing use of child labor in inland fishing enterprises, especially in villages around the Volta Lake and the Volta River. Newspapers have reported that 10 to 12 year old boys often work for fisherman in exchange for a yearly payment to their families. This practice was found to be rampant in 156 fishing villages along the Afram River and in settlements along the Volta Lake in the Afram Plains. Small children are used to dive down to the riverbeds for oysters, and there have been a number of reports of children drowning.
While some of the situations above may be abusive ipso facto by Western standards, many of the children must work by necessity to support themselves and their families. A solution here will not come overnight, nor will it come through sermons and pronouncements, blaming or handwringing. Global education and discussion will hopefully bring about more awareness from which helpful approaches might be gained.
In the developed world, there are effective approaches for treating post traumatic stress disorder, and hopefully persons like Father Perry will be bringing these to Africa for application. However, the depth of the problem is woven into the culture in Ghana itself, where psychological interventions may pale in the face of the economic, social and cultural changes that will need to occur to create a better life for children.
For the past several months, the topic of economics has been debated with...er....keen interest on the blogs here. I bring this situation in Ghana to everyone's attention here and hope a discussion can ensue of possible ways to help raise the education rate in this country. There is no doubt that foreign aid alone will not be the solution; forces within Ghana will need to coalesce to generate a higher standard of living for everyone to protect the livelihood of all children. Ghana is rich in natural resources, but the politics are tricky. Do they need capitalism, Christian socialism, or some other system to create a working economy?
Father Perry and I together will answer questions about Ghana below, and I will attempt to guide any discussion of economic or politics which may be relevant, noting I am interested in how these relate to Ghana but lack technical expertise. In the Spirit of Blessed Newman I will take a leap in developing my own knowledge base with the assistance of more competent readers.
William Van Ornum