Children being trafficked into slavery remains a significant problem in Ghana, despite legislation passed nearly ten years ago outlawing the worst forms of child labor. Over a million are victims of child labor, with nearly a quarter of those involved in hazardous labor. A large proportion end up in the fishing industry, although mining, palms plantations and to a lesser extent cocoa plantations are also implicated. I started Challenging Heights in 2003 as a child's rights club. What began as a small group of children has now blossomed into seven different projects including a rehabilitation shelter that can accommodate up to 65 rescued children at a time and a school for over 700 children. The focus of our work is to ensure that all children receive their rights to education and a secure loving family. In the coastal fishing communities where children are at risk of being trafficked, we seek to tackle the root issues of poverty and illiteracy. Through community awareness programs we explain the realities of sending children away to work, and the enormous benefit of education. Our women's economic empowerment program provides income-generating opportunities for parents, enabling them to look after their children, and thus prevent trafficking. Our school provides education not only to rescued children but to some of those most at risk of being trafficked.
My theory of change focuses on empowering families from the beginning to facilitate successful reintegration and establish a permanent, loving family for each child that has been trafficked. The process of reintegration starts long before rescued children leave the rehabilitation shelter, and monitoring of their progress continues long after they have returned home. It is complex, difficult and expensive work, only made possible by committed, caring staff.
Challenging Heights continues to be inspired by the amazing children we work with. I am proud of how the organization has grown and the holistic approach we take to ending child slavery in Ghana. In 2013 Challenging Heights directly supported over 2,410 children and young people, including 109 physically rescued from slavery, and provided economic support to 261 women to enable them to provide adequate care for their children. We communicated directly with over 32,000 stakeholders, including actively supporting 14 Community Child Protection Committees, establishing 10 new Child Rights Clubs, and engaging pupils at 80 schools with the issue of children’s right.
I'm humbled and honored to have won a number of awards for my work, including the World's Children's Prize in 2013. Above all it gives me strength to know that we are not alone in our struggle, but joined by like minded individuals across the world striving for the same goal.
Challenging Heights was formed in 2003 and registered in 2005 by James Kofi Annan, to give back to children who faced challenges similar to his. At six, James was forced to work along the Volta Lake for seven cumulative years. James later rose to become a university graduate and also rose to become manager at Barclays Bank of Ghana. In 2007 James resigned from Barclays bank to dedicate attention to the mission of Challenging Heights. The mission of CH is to ensure a secured, protected and dignified future and life for children and youth by promoting their rights, education and health.