Lake Volta’s Se­cret The shock­ing truth about life on the lake

Lake Volta, Ghana: the world’s largest man-made lake sus­tains thou­sands of lives, but its fish­ing in­dus­try is built on the backs of vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren – most un­der 10 years old.

Good - - CONTENTS - Words and pho­tog­ra­phy He­len Man­son

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

Lake Volta is beau­ti­ful, but has a dark un­der­belly: the slav­ery of thou­sands of chil­dren who 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 Ebenezzer’s.

“Shortly after I was born my mother died. My fa­ther had been killed months ear­lier 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, a rel­a­tive 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 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 come back 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 boys with pad­dles or bam­boo.

“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 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 for those years. She said 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 abuse and griev­ous in­juries. They are de­prived of med­i­cal at­ten­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and re­cre­ation. When they refuse to dive, they are pushed or blud­geoned over­board. When they fall asleep or move too slowly they are beaten.

Tear­fund New Zealand has been work­ing on Lake Volta and its sur­rounds through their lo­cal part­ner Com­pas­sion In­ter­na­tional to re­lease chil­dren from poverty through child spon­sor­ship. With more than two mil­lion chil­dren spon­sored world­wide, their goal is to make sure these chil­dren are known, loved and pro­tected. This means set­ting up projects within walk­ing dis­tance of the lake, en­sur­ing all the chil­dren in the pro­ject are placed in school, given nu­tri­tious food and have a safe place to play.

Now in his fi­nal years of high school, Ebenezzer hopes to be­come a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer. For now he’s pro­tected by the pro­ject, liv­ing safely 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.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on spon­sor­ing a child tear­fund.org.nz

Fi­nally free Left: Ebenezzer spent three years on Lake Volta, work­ing thou­sands of hours for just $75. Thanks to the ef­forts of Tear­fund New Zealand’s lo­cal part­ner, he’s now in his fi­nal years of high school.

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