Friday, October 5, 2018

Good Magazine Story - October 2018

It is an honor to have my work featured in this month's Good Magazine.

Lake Volta in Ghana is the world's largest man-made lake. It sustains thousands of lives - but its fishing industry is built on the backs of vulnerable children, most under 10 years old. Compassion and Tearfund are there to stop that.

View the Good Magazine story as it appeared in print here. 

The online version is here 

 His name was Ebenezzer. And as I sat next to him on the rickety bus rumbling its way down some red dusty roads in West Africa, we got to talking. Turns out that at 19 years old, Ebenezzer had spent three years of his life on the lake we were now heading straight towards.  But for those thousands of hours of labour and heartache he was paid a total of $75 NZD for his work. He was a child slave. 

Ghana hosts the largest man-made lake in the world. It's absolutely beautiful, but there's a dark underbelly to its beauty. The slavery of thousands of children that are brought here to work on it. They are recruited as young as five for their little fingers to untie nets, their ability to hold their breath for long periods of time and their inability to fight back. Behind every net is a story. This, is Ebenezer’s.

“Shortly after I was born my mother died. My Father had been killed months earlier by the witch doctor and so my Grandmother came to take me. I was one of nine grandchildren in her care and she found it difficult to take care of me. When I was six years old a distant relative came to our home.
He promised a good job, a steady wage, enough food and a safe place to sleep for young boys who would work with him. Those first few days I was so scared. I would dream at night about going back to my Grandma but I had no way to reach her. We used to wake up at 4am each day and then comeback by midday for something small to eat. Then we would work again until nightfall cut up fish, bait them, put them in the water, collect the nets, bail water out of the boats, untie knots and dive deep. Sometimes the man who owned the boat would beat the other boys with paddles or bamboo on their backs.”

“One day our boat capsized in a thunderstorm and the man who took me to the lake could not operate his business anymore. He called my Grandma to pick me up and she spoke to (Tearfund’s partner, Compassion) the local project in our area about helping to get me back and into a school.  When my Grandma came to get me she began to cry as she realised what had happened out there on the lake for those years. She said that if she had realised what was going on she would have never sent me with that man.”

Trafficking is illegal in Ghana. But on the water, there is no law. Children like Ebenezzer are routinely beaten with paddles, heavy ropes, and electrical cables. Many have spoken about sleep deprivation, malnutrition, sexual assault and abuse, and grievous injuries. They are deprived of medical attention, education and recreation. When they refuse to dive to free the tangled nets, they are pushed or bludgeoned overboard. When they fall asleep or move too slowly to do their masters' bidding, they are beaten. When they complain or try to escape, they are denied food and water. They are slaves.

Tearfund New Zealand has been working on Lake Volta and it’s surrounds through their local partner, Compassion International to release children from poverty through child sponsorship. With over two million children sponsored worldwide, their overarching goal is to make sure these children are known, loved and protected. In every developing country that comes to life in a slightly different way. But in Ghana, on Lake Volta it looks like setting up projects within walking distance of the lake. It looks like ensuring that all the children in the project are placed in school, given nutritious food, and a safe place to play aware from the allure of evil traffickers preying around their villages. And if a child is ever unwittingly taken, they work relentlessly to ensure their immediate and safe return.

Now in his final years of high school, Ebenezer hopes to become a mechanical engineer one day. But for now he’s protected by the project, living safely back with his grandmother and encouraged by his sponsor. "I have suffered enough in my life and so I don't want my family or my future children to suffer. I want them to acquire some knowledge so they can lead a better life, If not for Compassion, I would be on the lake still. But because I am now with Compassion I can talk about what happened and my future with confidence.”

As I reflect on the week I spent with Ebenezzer and his friends on Lake Volta, untangling their stories and listening hard to learn what life was like for them -  I couldn’t help but think how every child on these shores should be sponsored. Needs to be sponsored. Deserves to be sponsored. As a Mum of three children, the right to a childhood for my own kids and countless others is something I’ll fight for all my life. Join me.

Helen Manson is a Kiwi humanitarian photographer and storyteller living in Uganda.
For more information on sponsoring a child visit 
Please note: Other than Ebenzzer and his grandmother, the children pictured do not work in the fishing industry; they recreated scenes of life on Lake Volta willingly and with permission.

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