I am awoken around 04:30 each morning by the sounds of the maid setting the charcoal fire outside my window. She does this so our family has hot water for making breakfast, to do the laundry and for baths, it an essential part of each day. When I arrived in the village I was introduced to the ‘girl’ who assisted with domestic work while both parents were busy running a shop in town. I thought she appeared quite young, thinking she was maybe 16, the age most kids finish school at in Ghana. I later found out she was just 12 years old.
|Road Side Hawkers|
As per a recent local news story I read, up to 1.2 million children under the age of 16 are reported to be working every day in Ghana. Many of them harvesting and processing in agriculture, mainly the Cocoa that we turn into our beloved chocolates. Critics will tell you this number is exaggerated and that kids often help their parents when they return home from school and on weekends. It only takes a periphery glance to see that this is not always the case and that little bodies occupy much of the lower income work from street hawkers, to agricultural workers to domestic service.
|Grandma and maid making Fufu|
Our house 'girl' works every day helping with house chores and childcare. She sweeps the dust that surely settles on the floors each morning, wipes counter tops, chases after the children, does laundry and dishes and any other tasks as required by her household. Even the children who are 18 months, 3 and 6 call for her to fetch things for them and clean up after them. When the kids are readied for school each morning she too sets off to attend classes, she is in grade 5. She returns home around 13:30 and continues with her chores until the children return home from school. She works into the evening cleaning up dishes after the mother has cooked and other tasks as assigned to her. She is given a single bed in the corner of the kid’s playroom as her space. I have never seen her eat, as she is not invited to with the family. The way she is treated by her elders is very harsh to my delicate north American understanding of child care.
Having a ‘servant’ made me feel uncomfortable, to say the least. I approached my colleagues and asked questions to my host family about the circumstances that would make this situation just. They told me that since she is able to attend school it is a way for her to pay her school fee’s and for that she is fortunate, that my house family were doing the Christian thing by employing her. In a country where the minimum wage is just under $2.00 Canadian dollars a day ( a day!), sometimes there is no other alternative. My colleagues tell me our maid was lucky to find work and should be thankful for it. I see it as a sign of a society still struggling cultural norms that counter their development.
My main issue was that I was here to work in development with women. How could I work in development from one side and yet benefit from the labour of a child on the other? I realised that she is one of the lucky ones to find a home that allows her to study and work and is in comparison a happy environment for her to do so, the alternative is remaining in poverty and still needing to work as her parents could not support her. Her work further removes her from vulnerable situations that lead to child trafficking, child marriage, abuse and violence. If I were to deny her work I would be the oppressor in this situation, so I needed to just deal with it and accept a culture different than my own.
"It is vital that when we are educating children's brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts" Dalai Lama