Thursday, May 10, 2007

Child labour at the Liberian refugee camp

As I mentioned in an earlier post, once a week I go to the Liberian refugee camp outside Accra to work with reporters that publish a paper called The Vision. I recently had the privilege of helping a man named Abednego David publish his first-ever newspaper story. He was a quick study, researching and writing a draft of a story a week after our first meeting. It was on child labour at the Buduburam refugee camp and printed in the April edition of the paper. I've re-printed the story here for you to read. I hope to post some of the pictures in the next week. - Mark

"Children push wheelbarrows to survive in Buduburam"
By Abednego David

Samuel David, 14, a refugee child at Buduburam, doesn't go to school with other children. He goes to the Buduburam market at 6 am with a wheelbarrow, which was bought for him by his sister Mamie David.

David’s routine includes transporting heavy loads of vegetables and other goods to and from the market. He also makes deliveries to people’s homes in the camp.

He starts work very early in the morning and finishes at 6 pm. He said he can’t afford to go to school.

“I am not attending school because there’s no money for fees,” he said. “I give the money that I earn to my sister for food,” he said.

David is one of many boys who push wheelbarrows at Buduburam camp. Most of them do this work to survive and do not go to school. Many of them are also homeless or living with other children and no adults.

Aruna R. Kamara, 41, a Sierra Leonian refugee and Chairman of the United Wheelbarrow Association (UWBA), said his association has a membership of 50 persons. He said they pay 20,000 cedis (Ghanaian currency) to be part of the association.

He said 25 of them are children aged between 12 and 16 years. They are mostly Liberian and Sierra Leonian refugees, but there are also some Nigerians and Ghanaians.

Most children don’t have their own wheelbarrow, and rent on a daily basis for 12,000 cedis from business people on the camp.

“The children come to appeal to work for themselves,” said Kamara. “I cannot deny them, because they have to hustle for their living.”

Kamara said they have two types of child wheelbarrow pushers - the “regular and after-school pushers.”

The regulars are those children who work from 6am - 6pm daily. The after-school pushers report to work at the end of the school day.

Alhassan Adam, a 13-year-old Ghanaian who lives with his grandparents at Buduburam Village next to the refugee camp, said after the death of his biological parents, he needed to do something to survive.

“I started pushing wheelbarrow for the past five months, just to support my grandparents and myself,” said Adam.

Liberian refugee Jonathan Taryouway, 15, also said he does this work to survive. “I have to rent a wheelbarrow to eat, wash and pay my school fees,” he said.

Madam Jenneh Sandra Blay, Coordinator for Women’s and Children’s Affairs at the Liberia Refugee Welfare Council (LRWC), isn’t just concerned about the youth pushing wheelbarrows. She said they are doing other types of jobs as well.

She plans to meet with the children very soon, but she isn’t sure what can be done for them.

“For now the LRWC do not have any funds [to help] the children pushing wheelbarrows, washing pots and dishes for owners [of small restaurants] on the camp,” she said.

Blay said they have tried to help in the past by giving the children tickets for food at the UNHCR monthly food distribution centers.

She also said that many of the children don’t have families and that many of them live on the streets. She said it’s often difficult to integrate them into a new family.

“I believe they feel more comfortable on the street,” she said. “I have learned that some of them are going to Accra and other big cities begging for money.”

Madam Dorothy Kumah, a Social Welfare officer at the camp, said they have had some success, though. She said they rescued about 700 street children, and reintegrated them into a home where they enjoy parental care.

She said they’re conducting a study to find out how many children are still living on their own and in the streets at the camp.


Paul said...

That's a very powerful story, Mark. Having had the privilege to spend the day judging 15-17 year old Canadian kids' projects at the Canada-wide science fair, for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO prize for science for peace and development, my head is now filled with such a stark picture. A picture of two very different worlds, for two 17 year-olds, worlds apart, on the same planet.
Thanks for sharing.
Paul Black

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