After spending a few weeks off with our families in North Carolina, we transitioned back into “project mode” in Washington, DC while staying with friends the week of Fourth of July. After two years of living in Northern Virginia, we finally got to spend the Fourth in our nation’s capital, with the most incredible fireworks show over the reflection pool in front of the Lincoln Monument. It was a wonderful send off and then it was time to head back to Africa. We also were excited to see an awesome exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum to prepare us for our journey, which was a photography exhibit called Into Africa.
Then on the fifth of July (which is not typically as exciting as the Fourth), we were off to Ghana! By God’s grace, we did not experience jet lag at all once we arrived — nor have we our entire missional year! We were ready to begin our next project, our fourth and final project with Free the Slaves, which would focus on child labor in gold mining.
Gold mining is one of Ghana’s major industries and gold exports provide the country’s economy with one of its top sources of export income. In 2013, 40.7 tons of gold were exported from small-scale mining sites at a trade value of US $1.7 billion. However, at many illegal galamsey mining sites, children are exploited as workers — in some of the worst forms of child labor there are in Ghana. Galamsey comes from the words “gather and sell” and due to its illegal nature, is completely outside the laws and regulations placed by the government regarding mining operations. In Ghana, 22% of children are involved with child labor, and 14% are involved in hazardous work. None of the children that we saw working in the galamsey mining operations were in slavery though, the children we filmed willingly chose to go to work earning only $1.50-$6.25/day (which could be 14 hours), in order to earn money for “free” school that Ghana’s government offers. Unfortunately, these government schools are considered free on paper, but there are all kinds of extra fees so many parents cannot earn enough money to send their children to school and this leads many children to the mines. The children do various jobs at the mining sites, most of which are detrimental to their health. Whether it’s going down into pits that have been known to collapse, carrying heavy loads of stones (gold ore), handling mercury with their bare hands to separate the gold or burning the mercury off to leave raw gold while also inhaling dangerous invisible mercury vapor — “it’s no job for children or any human being,” one survivor told us.
Free the Slaves educates communities about these hazards associated with this form of work, the worst forms of child labor laws, and in some instances, sexual exploitation of children at these small-scale illegal galamsey operations. Then, communities are empowered to devise their own corrective action plans on how to tackle these issues. Watch the video below that we produced for Free the Slaves about this strategy.
As you can see from the above video, Free the Slaves couldn’t do the work they do in the countries where they work without their grassroots organizations on the ground and vice versa. The below video we produced explains how Free the Slaves works with these local partners to build them up and to end slavery and worst forms of child labor in Ghana.
In our two weeks in Ghana, we saw a large portion of the country. We went to four different regions from Accra to the Cape Coast and around the gold belt areas of Sunyani and Kumasi. Ghana isn’t as beautiful as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Rwanda in our opinion, but it had its own perks like having baked beans for breakfast (not actually a perk), or if you’re really lucky, the sweetest pineapple ever. One very unique experience was meeting a chief of a tribal village. In the Ghanian villages we visited, the chiefs wear completely different clothing than everyone else. This chief sat facing us in his wooden chief chair embellished with jewels, where everyone else was seated in plastic chairs in front of him. It was surreal!
On our last full day in Ghana we visited the Cape Coast Castle, the site of the Door of No Return, where millions of Africans passed through to be loaded onto ships and shipped into slavery during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, never to see Africa again. The castle was a reminder to us that there is still hope — a hope that modern-day slavery will someday too be a thing of the past, and that we should continue to fight for that and pray for that every day.