July 20, 2024
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Trading Dreams for Education: Students in Dambai showcase unwavering dedication and sacrifice

In the bustling town of Dambai, nestled within Ghana’s Oti Region, a remarkable tale of determination and sacrifice unfolds.

Every market day, approximately 500 young pupils, some as young as 10 years old, put aside their textbooks to embark on a unique journey that combines lessons in perseverance and the pursuit of their educational dreams.

The Pupils’ Inspiring Mission for Education

As dawn breaks, anticipation fills the air, and the vibrant local market sets the stage for an extraordinary story of ambition and resilience. These eager faces belong to students who temporarily trade their formal education for tubers of yam and other market goods to raise funds for their educational needs.

Joe Tinwha, a bright and ambitious student from Lakeside School, currently in the sixth grade is one of such students. Joe’s pursuit of knowledge recently encountered an unexpected obstacle: a torn school uniform. This seemingly minor setback momentarily disrupted his educational journey, highlighting the persistence and resilience that define Joe’s character.

Unable to attend school in his torn uniform, Joe found himself in a predicament. Fueled by his thirst for learning, he decided to seek help from his family, specifically his father. With a heavy heart, Joe explained his situation to his father, who, with an air of concern, gently informed him that the family was experiencing financial constraints and was unable to afford a new uniform at that moment. As if the odds were stacked against him, Joe’s mother was away on a journey, making the situation even more challenging.

Despite these obstacles, Joe’s determination to continue his education remained unshaken. He set his sights on a singular goal: to return to school as soon as he could acquire a new uniform. This young student’s unwavering commitment to his education is a testament to the incredible spirit that can be found in the face of adversity.

“I have come here to work so that I could raise money to buy the uniform,” he said.

Another student, known as Kojo, faced the daunting task of obtaining essential books, each priced at 30 cedis. For him, this financial hurdle poses a significant challenge, one that many students can relate to. His parents played a vital role in his life, providing the love and support needed for his educational journey. However, the burden of purchasing expensive textbooks has created a dilemma. Whenever Kojo gathers the courage to approach his parents with the request for money to buy his school supplies, they meet his plea with scepticism.

Their belief that he merely sought money to spend, rather than for educational purposes, added another layer to the financial obstacles he faced. Undeterred by these challenges, Kojo channelled his determination and resilience into a remarkable endeavour. He took it upon himself to find a solution to his financial constraints, leveraging his spirit to secure the funds needed for his books.

“While my father is at home, my mother is currently at the market. Whenever I request money to purchase my school supplies, my parents accuse me of simply wanting money to spend.”

Twelve-year-old Yesutor Kwadwo is a young girl with dreams as big as her heart. She’s not your average student; she’s determined, and her journey to education is laden with resilience and hard work. Yesutor’s life story is a testament to the lengths some students go to in pursuit of their dreams.

Education was her priority, despite the financial hardships that come with it. Yesutor found herself facing an uphill battle – the cost of school books. Her family, like many others in her community, struggled to make ends meet, and buying the necessary books was a heavy financial burden. However, Yesutor was not one to be deterred by life’s challenges. She knew that education was her ticket to a brighter future, and she was determined to do whatever it took to get there. With a heart full of hope and a resolute spirit, she took matters into her own hands.

Yesutor embarked on a unique journey, quite literally, to secure her place in school. Every Monday and Tuesday, she balanced a stack of yams on her head for consumers and buyers. The money she earned from this gruelling work was her lifeline, providing her with the means to buy the essential books required for her education.

The physical impact of carrying yams on her head was glaring, but Yesutor knew it was a small price to pay for the opportunity to learn and grow. She displayed a level of dedication that was nothing short of inspiring. The weight of the yams was a metaphor for the weight of responsibility and determination on her young shoulders.

“My sister always asks my parents for money for my upkeep, but they both complain about not having enough money. In that case, my sister will invite me to join her at the market so that she can add some money to whatever I earn, and we can use it to buy books,” she said.

This commitment was shared by hundreds of other young students, each with their own unique story and aspirations.

Another student, who chose to remain anonymous, had a clear goal in mind as the school doors swung open once more. With a voice filled with determination, she stated, “We have resumed school, but I need to make some money by carrying these tubers of yam so that my sister can use it to buy books for me. Specifically, I need eighteen exercise books, but I am uncertain about the cost of the notebooks. Each pack of exercise books costs 60 cedis.”

These words encapsulated a profound commitment to education that radiated from within. Carrying one hundred tubers of yams, she earned seven Ghana cedis, a valuable contribution to their cause. It was not only a matter of personal achievement but a collective effort, as she worked alongside her sister, who also engaged in various market jobs to support their shared mission.

“My parents live in the village, and when we ask them for money, they are unable to provide it. My sister also takes on various jobs in the market, and we pool our earnings to buy my books. I am currently in class six, attending a government school.”

While some students excitedly returned to their classrooms, eager to dive into their studies, others like Joe, Yesutor, and others embarked on a different journey. Carrying yams on their shoulders became a daily ritual, as the weight of these tubers symbolized the burden of securing a brighter future through learning. Their devotion to education was inseparable from their dedication to their family.

Concerns of Parents and Local Teachers

In Dambai, a local teacher named Isaac Baba has become a symbol of concern for the welfare of his students. On market days, the community is abuzz with activity, and Isaac has witnessed a heart-wrenching situation unfold. Many of his students forgo the classroom and venture to the market in search of sustenance, displaying remarkable determination to provide for themselves, a situation that is both inspiring and distressing.

For these students, education is a cherished opportunity, but the harsh realities of their daily lives sometimes disrupt it. On Mondays, classroom seats remain empty as the students who should occupy them are conspicuously absent.

Isaac, a dedicated teacher, laments this situation. He reveals that these resilient and driven young minds forsake their educational pursuits on these particular days. Instead, they navigate the bustling marketplace to secure their daily meals and cover essential expenses for the week.

“When you enter the classrooms on Mondays, you won’t find most of these students; they come to the market to secure their weekly sustenance,” he expressed.

The concerns raised by parents like Bridget Addo, Yaa Fra, and Sofo Abdul Rahman shed light on the prevailing spirit of determination and the harsh realities faced by the children of Dambai.

Bridget Addo voiced a poignant insight: “It isn’t the responsibility of a child to provide for the household, but in some cases, it’s unavoidable.” Her words resonate with countless parents who find themselves in circumstances where their children’s contributions are not only valuable but essential.

The unyielding grip of poverty has forced many families in Dambai to rely on the collective efforts of every member, young and old, to make ends meet.

Yaa Fra further highlighted the depth of the struggle, stating that “some of the residents in Dambai are grappling with poverty.”

In this setting, many children are thrust into a reality that necessitates self-reliance from a young age. They venture into the market, explore small opportunities, and work tirelessly to support themselves financially. Their lives epitomize resilience in the face of adversity as they strive to overcome challenges that could otherwise define their existence.

Sofo Abdul Rahman provides a poignant perspective, unveiling a hidden truth about the children who frequent the market: “Some of the children you see at the market are orphans, and they have to work to take care of themselves.” For these orphans, self-reliance is not just a choice but an imperative for survival.

Challenges and Concerns

Alhassan Zulkif Osman, the leader of all circuit supervisors, shines a light on this pressing concern, emphasizing the root cause that perpetuates this cycle of child labor: parental irresponsibility.

He reveals that about 500 children miss school every market day in the Krachi East municipality. Mr. Osman explains how some parents in the community rely on their children to contribute to the family income, sending them into bustling marketplaces at a young age, sometimes as early as six years old. These children, with their bright eyes and innocent smiles, carry heavy loads and sell goods, all while shouldering responsibilities that should rightfully belong to adults.

The Krachi East municipality hosts six market days throughout the week, causing the hopes of school-going children to attend their classes to wax and wane with each market day. These children, who should be immersed in their studies, find themselves sewing sacks or toiling away due to poverty’s unrelenting grip. Their childhood and the promise of a brighter future are sacrificed to meet the family’s immediate financial needs.

“Some parents believe their children must assist them at the market,” he said.

According to Mr. Osman, the area has witnessed a substantial number of dropouts over the past years. This concerning statistic casts a shadow of uncertainty over the future of both these students and the generations to come. The burden on the area, in terms of education and potential, grows heavier with each student who leaves school prematurely.

While education has been a recurring topic in the media, it appears that the situation on the ground has remained largely unchanged. Back in 2015, there were instances where students were detained for truancy. Their parents, burdened by poverty, failed to show up for questioning and guidance, leaving the Ghana Education Service directorate with the responsibility of caring for these children. Some parents fled, placing the strain of providing food for the detained students on the GES, further stretching already limited resources.

“A significant number of dropouts poses a burden to the area.”

Razak Benedicta Sakina, the Girl-Child Education Coordinator at Mepekope M/A Basic School, sheds light on the alarming situation of students fending for themselves. These challenges are pervasive and require urgent attention. Sakina states that on Mondays, parents from the area enlist their children in an unusual trade, transforming them into tiny fishmongers to help sell the daily catch. This practice may seem like a family affair, but for many of these young students, it’s a means of self-sustenance, a duty that falls on their small shoulders.

“On market days, half of the entire student population in the school doesn’t make it to their classrooms,” she observes.

The once-vibrant school halls are now filled with silence, with only a handful of students eager to grasp the knowledge that could reshape their future.

The situation has grown dire, leaving educators and community leaders searching for a way to turn the tide.

Sakina also points out that teenage pregnancy is another challenge that looms over the Mepekope community, affecting the lives of young girls. However, amid these adversities, hope emerges.

A dedicated group of educators, led by Sakina, has been working tirelessly for the past three years to reduce these alarming numbers. Through their combined efforts, they have witnessed a decrease in teenage pregnancies, offering a glimmer of optimism for a community navigating uncharted waters.

The Power of Education and Resilience

As these young students continue their incredible journey, they serve as a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of education. Their dedication and resilience are a testament to the potential that resides within every child. It is the collective responsibility of stakeholders to ensure they receive the support they need to thrive both in and out of the classroom.

Alhassan acknowledges that various efforts have been made, including meetings and discussions, but their impact is yet to be fully realized. The inspiring story from Dambai is a poignant reminder of the hurdles many students face in their pursuit of education and the remarkable determination that propels them forward. These young students hope that their efforts will inspire positive change and pave the way for a brighter future for all.

Source: Mahmud Mohammed-Nurudeen

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