By: Chris Long
Imagine a world where a child is sold into slavery when they are 6 years old. A world where that six-year old child is forced to work from 3am to 8pm every day of every month of every year. A world where the children are forced to dive down to the bottom of a lake to untangle a fishing net, hoping to not get stuck themselves. A world where a runaway slave that has been caught has a rope tied around their neck and are pulled around the village like a dog on a leash. While this world sounds foreign and like something out of a history book, it’s not, and this very situation is happening currently at Lake Volta in Ghana.
On Monday September 12th, James Kofi Annan, who was a child slave at Lake Volta in Ghana, came and visited students at an assembly during second period. Annan began the assembly by telling his personal story. The story of a six year-old child that was sold into slavery and was enslaved for seven years until he was thirteen. At that point, he escaped, returned home, and began to go to school. When he started school at age thirteen, Annan could not read or write, and had never been to school (even though it’s a law in Ghana that all school aged children must go to school). He started working full-time to pay for school, and he was successful in his school work. Annan went on to get a masters degree, and then he began working for a national Ghanian bank. As a well-off man in Ghana Annan was able to use his influence the immense amount of childhood slaves that existed in the area, and he felt a calling to try and stop the problem.
In 2003, James Kofi Annan started an organization called Challenging Heights. The main goal was, and still is, to end childhood slavery in the Lake Volta region. They do this by removing the children from their traffickers and bringing them to the Challenging Heights rehabilitation center. At that time, the children receive the basic necessities of life including food, clothing, shelter, and basic literacy. Depending on the situation, the child will stay at the rehabilitation center anywhere from three to nine months. After Challenging Heights contacts the child’s family and determines that the family is ready to re-receive the child, the former slave will be released back to their family. After the child goes back to their family, Challenging Heights’ workers will frequently visit the child to make sure the child is fitting back into society, and to provide some supplies to help the child have success in school.
To date, Annan and Challenging Heights have helped at least 15,000 children escape from slavery, and while they are proud of that feat, they have lofty goals for the future. “We believe we are making a huge dent in the situation,” Annan told his audience on Monday morning. However, Annan doesn’t want to be content with what he has done thus far. In five years, his goal is to end all slavery in the Lake Volta region and have all the freed slaves attending school.
Annon ended his talk by finishing his personal story. He now travels the world, coming to schools like Heritage where he spreads the goal of Challenging Heights to students all across the country. He concluded the talk by informing the students on how they can help. First and foremost, Challenging Heights needs more funding. The money would go toward helping fund the rehabilitation center, resources for the children at the center, and supplies to give the children after they are returned to their family. Students can get involved with Challenging Heights through Project Wisdom and Mr. Macleod. Annan told the students that “someday you will be able to tell your children that there was a time when childhood slavery existed in Ghana, and that you helped stop it.” He concluded the presentation by telling students, “After 5 years we can join hands and celebrate because we made a difference in this world.”
After Mr. Annon was done speaking, Mr. Macleod urged all interested students to come to upcoming Project Wisdom meetings to learn more about how they can help Challenging Heights. Project Wisdom meets on Wednesdays from 2:30-3:30.