Beautiful Lake, Ugly Stories!
I am writing to you from Kete Krachi, a town located along the shores of Ghana’s Lake Volta. I am visiting with a good friend of mine, Jason Hackmann. When one stands on the shores of the lake and casts his or her eyes across the expanse of water, it is a beautiful sight to behold! As we traveled on a
small canoe across the water to visit some of the islands on the lake, we were welcomed by a beautiful sunrise, calm waters and the cool breeze as we soaked in the tranquility and the beauty of God’s creation of the surrounding landscape. But that was short lived. We soon came across other small canoes with children paddling hard and working hard to catch some fish. They were dirty and looked skinny and malnourished. In their eyes were a combination of fatigue and sorrow. I even saw one child completely naked. I also saw a small boy wearing a UNICEF t-shirt. It was such an irony that this boy who has been deprived of his childhood and an education was wearing a shirt bearing the name of the United Nations Children and Education Fund that promotes the exact opposite of what he was engaged in. Sadly, that was not the only irony. In the space of two hours, we saw more than twenty children working to catch fish on the lake. The sight of these enslaved children was an ugly contrast to the beauty of God’s creation. The presence of the children was an epitome of ugly stories of cruelty and inhumanity in the midst of God’s providence and lavish provision. It was like witnessing death in the midst of abundant life.
Many children in Ghana are working as indentured servants. This is especially so on the many islands on the Volta Lake. The Volta Lake is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. It was built in the 1960s when a dam was constructed on the Volta River at Akosombo (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) to provide hydro-electric power to the nation. To date, the Akosombo Hydro-Electric Power Station is the largest producer of electricity in Ghana. Some of the electricity is also exported to Togo and Burkina Faso. When the dam was constructed, the waters of the lake expanded to cover a very vast area of land, thereby creating many islands on the lake.
Many trees were also submerged in the waters of the lake. The mainstay of people living along the banks of the lake and on the islands is fishing. Owing to poverty, some parents give up their children to serve the fishermen who fish on the Volta Lake. There are several different stories and reasons given for why and how a child becomes an indentured servant. However, the bottom-line is poverty – abject poverty.
Some parents give their children out to be indentured servants because they are unable to feed their children. Instead of helplessly watching their children die out of hunger and malnutrition, they give these children to the fishermen, called ‘masters’, who promise to give the children food and also train
them to grow up to become fishermen. The ‘masters’ also sometimes promise to pay the parents some money every year for the work done by the children while serving with the ‘masters’. These ‘masters’ sometimes pay as low as the equivalent of twenty U.S. dollars ($20) a year to the parents.
At other times, parents may owe someone an amount of money and be unable to pay their debt. A ‘master’ will then pay the debt for the parents and in return be given a child of the parents to serve as an indentured servant. These children who work as indentured servants work for many long hours each day – sometimes as long as 18 hours out of the 24 hours in a day, and then it begins all over again. They eat once a day. Having two meals a day is considered a luxury.
What works are the children engaged in? They mend broken and torn nets that are used for fishing. They are also used to cast the nets into the lake and to retrieve the nets hours later. Sometimes when the canoes used to fish develop cracks, water seeps through the cracks into the canoe. The little children who are not strong enough to cast a net are the ones who scoop the water out of the canoe when they go on a fishing expedition on the lake. By far, the most dangerous work these children do is that whenever the fishing nets get entangled in the stumps of the trees that have been submerged in the lake, they are compelled to dive into the lake to disentangle the nets. They have to stay in the water for several minutes to disentangle the entangled nets (without any protective gear). Most times they resurface after successfully accomplishing their mission. But, sadly, sometimes, after diving into the lake to disentangle fishing nets, they never show up again. On such occasions sorrow fills their other colleagues. When one interviews these children, they say their greatest fear is that one day when they dive into the lake to disentangle or retrieve a net, they will never resurface. They dread being asked to dive into the water but when they are asked to do so, they have no option but to comply.
They are too well aware of the consequences of disobedience – severe beatings and refusal of food. Some of them bear on their bodies the marks of brutal beatings and abuse. They are beaten if they do not wake up on time for the next fishing expedition (after working for 18 hours the previous day). They are beaten, when they resurface out of the water, if they fail to disentangle the nets. They are beaten upon the least offense and for the flimsiest of reasons.
None of these children attend school. Call them what you may – child laborers, domestic servants, indentured servants, etc. The truth of the matter is that they are SLAVES. Even in the twenty-first century and in this millennium, slavery is going on and these children are slaves. They live miserable and wretched lives. They feel unwanted and unloved. Their lives are dejected. The world has forgotten and rejected them. May the LORD help us not to do the same.
Servant of the LORD,
Hold Hope High!
Since 2006, Village of Hope has been caring for eighteen children who were rescued from the Volta Lake. They were rescued by a non-profit organization called Partners in Community Development (PACODEP) and sent to Village of Hope for care and education.
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