Finding Hope for the Future: Martha's Story

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In Danger of Dropping Out

A group of girls gather on a long bench under a mango tree in Yipelagu, a neighbourhood in northern Ghana. A tutor arrives and begins unpacking a bag full of workbooks and colourful learning resources. Martha, the oldest girl in the group of friends, leans over to whisper in excitement as the tutor begins a math lesson and leads the group through games and playful exercises designed to help them retain the concepts. This will be their first lesson since COVID-19 caused schools throughout the region to close more than two months beforehand.

The longer school closures went on, the more Martha and her friends gave up hope that they would ever return to the classroom. Their parents couldn’t afford to hire at-home tutors on their day labourer wages, and there was nothing for the girls to do at home except chores. Martha knew that an older girl from their community had dropped out of school before the pandemic to find work in Accra as a kayayei, a kind of porter. She was envious that the girl had her own money and was able to help support her family. Frustrated and bored, the group of friends decided to head to the city and try to find work.

“When our schools were shut down due to COVID-19, we were sad because we thought we would not return again. My friends and I planned to travel to Accra to work as kayayei to raise money for ourselves and our families.” – Martha

A Change of Direction at the Bus Station

It is estimated that more than 160,000 school-aged children in Ghana work as kayayei. Girls in major cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Sunyani, and Takoradi spend their days carrying heavy loads of goods for shoppers and traders in exchange for small fees.

The girls who work as kayayei are often migrants with little education. They take on the role just to survive. School closures and the financial strain caused by COVID-19 forced even more children to abandon their hopes of education and go to work as kayayei.

Martha and her friends packed their jute bags and made their way to the local bus station to find work in Accra. A teacher named Alhassan noticed them and struck up a conversation. Trained through Right To Play’s Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program, Alhassan knew how to identify children who were at risk of going into child labour. He knew that if the girls dropped out of school now, they might never return. “When I learned about what they were going to do, I asked them to take me to their parents,” says Alhassan.

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When COVID-19 closed their school, Martha’s friends Abiba, Mariama, and Georgina thought they’d never return to the classroom. But, through Right To Play’s free at-home tutoring sessions, they were able to practice their math and literacy skills throughout lockdown.

Alhassan told the girls and their parents about the supplemental learning program offered by Right To Play. Active in five districts across Ghana, the supplemental learning program started in response to school closures in March 2020, engaging more than 500 volunteer teachers to bring Right To Play’s experiential learning approach to the homes of more than 4,000 children. The free at-home lessons were designed to help children practice their math and literacy skills so they could go back to school when restrictions lifted.

“The parents were pleasantly surprised to hear the news. They couldn’t believe that they would not have to pay anything for the at-home lessons,” remembers Alhassan.

The parents agreed that going to work as kayayei would not be in their daughters’ best interests, and they supported the girls to start attending weekly tutoring sessions. Martha’s mother, Ayisha, was happy that her daughter could continue learning instead of going to work. “The intervention was timely. I wouldn’t have allowed Martha to go to the city if I had known about the activities of Right To Play in the community.”

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A Right To Play-trained volunteer teacher presents Martha with a school bag and learning supplies to prepare for a return to the classroom.

Finding Hope and Sharing a Love of Learning

The girls were also thrilled that they were able to attend lessons. “When we saw the volunteer teachers at our homes, we started to be convinced that it would be possible to go back to school. The teachers were very helpful, they taught us many things including how to use vowels and consonants.”

Now that schools have started to reopen, the four friends are happy to be back in the classroom, playing with their classmates and taking their studies seriously. They’ve started a campaign to discourage other girls in the community from going to Accra and other cities to become kayayei. “Anytime we come across some friends who are planning to go into kayayei as we did, we always tell them to concentrate on their schooling since that is a good stepping stone,” says Martha.

“Anytime we come across a friend who is planning to go into kayayei, we always tell them to concentrate on their schooling because it is a good stepping stone.” – Martha

The supplemental learning support offered to Martha and her friends is part of the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program, which is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda since 2018, the GREAT program uses Right To Play's play-based learning approach to remove barriers to education, especially for girls, and to build teacher capacity to improve learning outcomes.