Kwasi spent three years in slavery on Lake Volta and was rescued in 2006 by the Association of People for Practical Life Education (APPLE), a small nonprofit organization that works directly with the fishermen and children.
Along Ghana’s Lake Volta, slave children work long hours mending, setting and pulling nets, cleaning and smoking fish, and rowing the fishing boats. Boys as young as six are forced to dive to disentangle nets caught on tree stumps below this large man-made lake. The fishermen tie weights to the children to help them descend more quickly. When the water is too cold or the children get caught in the nets below it is not uncommon to find bodies washed up on the shores. If sick or injured, the children receive no care or treatment. While most of the enslaved children are boys, some girls are used for domestic work and to sell the fish in the market. Like other trafficked girls in Ghana, they are likely to be sexually abused as well.
Lake Volta is one of the world’s largest lakes and used to be a source of fish for both the national and export markets. But in the 1960s a dam slowed the vigorous flow of water and destroyed the fishing potential of nearby communities. Facing a newly impoverished environment, some fishermen began to enslave children rather than pay adult workers. With schooling hard to obtain and family incomes around the starvation level, parents will sometimes agree to let their children go in order to gain an “advance” on their child’s labor. Normally, the fishermen promise that more money will be paid to the parents over the next year. The money never comes.
I am called Kwasi. I was with my father when one of my uncles came to ask for me to stay with him and attend school. When I came he put me in school alright but we normally woke up and went fishing at about 3am, and by the time we returned and I went to school it was already too late. It wasn’t my own decision to go to school late but we often returned very late and this was the routine. The teachers used to get angry and my master finally told me to stop school and concentrate on the fishing. Then we were made to go fishing at about 3am and only returned at about 1pm in the afternoon.
My uncle took me with my parents’ consent. But he made my parents believe that I will work and go to school. I was made to fish and farm, including throwing nets, diving, paddling the boat. Apart from the work itself my major difficulty was lack of proper food. We ate very little in the morning or sometimes none at all before going to fish and we were made to work long hours till we get back home before we are allowed to eat again. I will tell my parents that I was suffering a lot where I was sent. I was made to work for long hours and I never had chance to go to school.
I had hope that one day my father will come and to bring me back home. I was there one day when my master received a letter from my parents saying that the government is asking for me to come back and attend school. Now I am happy, especially because I no longer have to do the work I used to do. I hope to become a teacher. I believe that if I pay attention in class and I am serious, with God’s help I can become a teacher in the future.
Narrative as told to Jack Dawson, director of the Association of People for Practical Life Education (APPLE), October 2006, in Lake Volta, Ghana.