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Life as a child in Africa

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Contributed by Kathy Sullivan, Executive Director, Operation Dignity International.

If you were a child in Ghana this is how you would start your day.  If you were very young, your mother or older sister would put you in a tub and wash you from head to foot – all at one time.

If you were a little older like 9 or 10, you would wash yourself, outside, naked. Seem a little strange – no one would care, that’s how all the children do it. You might have porridge for breakfast and if you are really fortunate a big piece of bread to go with it.  Eat well, your next meal will be dinner before you go to bed.

When you are 3 years old, you start school in Ghana. Hopefully you will make it through at least 3rd grade.  In most schools there are no books, no computers, maybe a chalk board and perhaps even you are lucky enough for the teacher to have chalk to write on the board.

Children who go to private schools have composition books they do homework in. Very seldom are workbooks used. If the teacher has 30 children, then for each night she would write all the math problems in each student’s booklet for them to take home and do their homework. Sometimes they sell a drink of water at school…the bathrooms are outside.

Well, they are not really toilets, just a hole in the ground over which they can do their business. Each day you start school by singing the national anthem and march into the classrooms. If you mother or father happens to have a nickel or dime, you might get some extra porridge at school, most children don’t eat during the day. No snacks. No treats. No shared birthday cakes.

No holidays– The children are smart and learn well with what they have. They would so love to trade places with you for a day. When school is out children might go home, but more than likely they play soccer (they call it football) or just hang around town and get in trouble. By dark, most children go home, have their evening meal. That meal is most likely a bowl of rice with some soup broth, and perhaps even some bread. If you have to help your mother and father earn some money, you would not or could not go to school.

Children often don’t complete past the 4th or 5th grade for several reasons: 1) no money to pay for school books or uniforms (about $25 US dollars); 2) the need to help provide food for the family; 3) children are sometimes sold or left alone because the parents can’t feed them; 4) there are not jobs available so why bother with education anyway

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