In my last post I wrote about my arrival at the Sawla Vocational Training Centre in Northern Ghana and my experiences talking to the female students about their lives.
The next stage of my visit involved being shown the sleeping arrangements. There were 12 sets of bunk-beds in each dorm but more than 24 girls in each room; many more put mats on the floor between the beds to sleep. My tour progressed to the food storage area where there were boxes all with locks containing yams, oil, salt, rice and other basic cooking ingredients to feed the girls for the term. Seeing this triggered a flash-back to my own experience at boarding school, we had boxes like this but that was for “tuck”, we didn’t have to worry about getting three square meals a day. Instead we were concerned with chocolates and sweets, neither of which these girls are likely to treat themselves to any time soon. Most of these girls have travelled far from home to study at Sawla and, although it was their choice to come in order to further their education, simply feeding themselves so far from their families is difficult. For many of the students the contents of their food boxes will not last the whole term and they will need to find some part-time work to pay for additional food, this is on top of chores, revision, cooking, cleaning and homework.
In the end I stayed at Sawla for most of the day as I wanted to grasp an idea of what happens once lessons finish. As food is so scarce each girl cooks separately on her own charcoal fire using her own pan and utensils which she then washes up, dries and locks away in her food storage box. I can’t help thinking this could be done much more efficiently but when every last spoonful of rice counts you can understand this “looking after number one” mentality. After eating, some of the girls erected the volleyball net and started to play, desperate to show me how good they were. Most of them wore shorts and t-shirts but many played in their school dresses and shoes, slipping as they reached for the ball; the dry, hard ground meant grazed limbs were common.
I watched them play until the light started to fade and, when the time came, I was sad to leave. The conversations I had with these girls and the time I spent listening to their stories has filled me with hope that the future of places like Northern Ghana is in safe hands. Despite all the obstacles in their path, the will to succeed here is incredible, I just hope we can help them to reach their goals.