Fifteen-year-old Kojo Ibrahim was a pupil at Laterbiokorshie Basic School in Accra. His dream was to become an electrical engineer.
But that dream suffered violence about a decade ago when his parents fought, leading to his mother packing out of the house. The separation of the marriage also marked the beginning of a separation between Kojo and his dream.
Kojo’s father, Kofi Akalinya, a night security man at Ashfoam Company Limited in the North Industrial Area in Accra, had difficulty taking care of him.
Pushed against the ‘financial wall’, Kofi Akalinya decided to take his son to his hometown. That is how Kojo’s dream to become an electrical engineer was electrocuted. His father truncated his education in Accra at Basic Five and sent him to Kalaxi, arguably the most deprived community in the Sissala East District of the Upper West Region. Here, there is no electricity.
The distance between Kalaxi in the northernmost part of Ghana and Otengkope-Dawa in the Ningo-Prampram District in the Greater Accra Region down south is over 800 kilometres.
But Melody Nartey and Abraham Dadibo, who live in Otengkope-Dawa, have much in common with Kojo of Kalaxi. They are united in deprivation, and their aims of reaching their dreams through the bridge called education are dimming before their young and helpless eyes.
At 18, Melody’s dreams of becoming a nurse to save lives, while 15-year-old Abraham dreams of becoming a pilot.
But with the dying prospects of education at the moment, Melody’s future is under threat and Abraham’s destiny is in jeopardy.
The fates of Kojo, Melody and Abraham reflect the world of many children across Ghana.
Kojo’s life at Kalaxi
Kalaxi may bear some semblance to Galaxy, a popular Samsung mobile device, in spelling and pronunciation. But Kalaxi is the exact opposite of the sought-after Samsung mobile phone brand, with nothing to crave for except, perhaps, tuo zaafi, a popular staple in Northern Ghana.
Sticky, starchy, and full of carbohydrates, tuo–zaafi, which in Hausa means ‘stirred (tuo) hot (zaafi)’, is made by cooking maize or millet flour with water, and it is traditionally served with slimy okra soup.
On a daily basis in Kalaxi, Kojo stirred hot this meal on a traditional firewood stove. He did this to serve a family of nine. At the same time, his dream of becoming an electrical engineer that could enable him to handle sophisticated electrical gadgets gave him a cold stare.
Kojo had hope that his father, who was serious about his education, would return home one day and take him back to Accra to continue schooling and live his dream. His father did return home a year later, but he died before anything meaningful to Kojo’s dream could be made.
Having lived with his uncle and grandfather for the past six years at Kalaxi, located in the south-eastern part of the Sissala East District and farthest from the municipal capital, Tumu (60km away), Kojo’s dream to become an electrical engineer appeared to have died with his father.
He is willing to go back to school, but no one is listening to him; not even his uncle and grandfather.
“Anytime I tell them I want to go to school, they don’t take my words seriously. They don’t pay any attention to my pleas and rather tell me to go to the farm. When I was with my father in Accra, he was serious about my education and did everything possible to keep me in school,” he reflected on his past and present circumstances.
Kojo knows his mother lives at Glefe, a slum at Dansoman Last Stop in Accra, and she could offer help, but he has never seen her ever since she packed out of marriage and home.
“Even if I get someone to take me to school without giving me anything, I will be very content with that. The person should not give me anything. I only want the person to sponsor my education. That’s all,” Kojo said prayerfully.
According to him, he had the technical ability to repair electrical gadgets when they go faulty, a claim that only defines destiny, as he looks for an opportunity to flee Kalaxi and free his galaxy of dreams.
River Kunkono, a barrier to Kalaxi’s development
The people of Kalaxi are mainly farmers of food crops such as maize, millet and beans, but since they do not have access to fertiliser to boost crop yield, they only farm for subsistence.
At least two hundred people dwell in Kalaxi. 65 of them are children of school-going age.
The deprivation of Kalaxi is ‘proudly’ sponsored by many factors, including lack of electricity, market, health facility, school and social amenities. Not even aid from the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) sniffs at Kalaxi.
The only facility Kalaxi can boast of is a borehole, which was drilled in 2005 by Moses Dani-Baah, a former Member of Parliament (MP) for the area.
In order to access the essentials of life they lack, inhabitants of Kalaxi like Kojo need to scale a water barrier by crossing the ox-bow-shaped River Kunkono. In short, survival at Kalaxi largely depends on crossing River Kunkono.
There is one dilapidated canoe shared by all the communities along the banks of River Kunkono. This means whenever the canoe goes to one side of the river bank, anyone seeking its services may have to wait patiently for its return, which can take hours.
The canoe snails on sail because it is man-powered, thus prolonging the journey across the water. Apart from enduring such prolonged voyage, sailors also use containers, not as a paddling device to aid velocity, but as a safety weapon to constantly scoop out water seeping through openings in the dilapidated canoe.
This, undoubtedly, is a risky venture for inhabitants of Kalaxi, who cross the river on a daily basis, but it is riskier for them not to do so because that could spell death. In some instances, pregnant women due for delivery and need to be transported across the river to access health facilities in other communities, spend long hours waiting for the arrival of the canoe and sometimes their babies arrive before the canoe arrives.
Talata Alumsinya lost her husband six months ago when he drowned in River Kunkono, imposing a huge burden on her as a single mother of five.
“He was returning from the farm with three other persons when he fell into the river, and although he managed to swim out, no one knows what pulled him back in and got drowned,” she recalled the sad event.
With the burden of catering for five children as a single mother now, Talata wishes for a school to be established at Kalaxi so her children and others in the community would not have to go through the risk of crossing River Kunkono before going to school.
“The widows here do not have any form of assistance. Those with older children can farm to help themselves but those who are young cannot do so. Such families suffer from hunger,” she said.
Why girls perform better than boys
The danger posed by the mode of transportation, coupled with the distance from Kalaxi to the bank of River Kunkono (about 3km), is a major disincentive for children at Kalaxi to attend school at other communities across the river. The river sometimes dries up in the prolonged dry season.
Although River Kunkono had dried up when The Fourth Estate visited in March 2, 2022, only two girls from Kalaxi attended school that day.
Alumsinya Doris, a Form 1 junior high school (JHS) student, and Ajuidiok Juliana, a Class 6 pupil, had to trek a long distance to Kanjarga to school because it offers better prospects than the Musidema Basic School at a nearer community.
According to Shadrach Asumang, a Class 4 teacher at Musidema Basic School, one major challenge the school faces is low enrolment and attendance rate, as well as lack of teaching and learning materials.
“When it gets to the rainy season, when the parents start farming, they want the male students to leave school and support them on the farm.
“So when it gets to the rainy season where there are a lot of farming activities, only the girls come to school. That is why academically, the girls perform better than the boys in this community,” he said.
The Musidema Basic School has a population of less than 200 with its share of the deprivation. In some of the classrooms, there is no furniture at all.
“Some of the pupils have to sit on the bare floor and stoop over before they can write or copy what is on the board,” Mr Asumang said.
Why the people will not vacate their community
The Chief of Kalaxi, Kwame Aspuru, bemoaned the neglect of Kalaxi, claiming that not even a mere visit by government officials had happened because it is cut off from the rest of the Sissala East District by River Kunkono.
He said anytime it rained heavily, Kalaxi got flooded and all their food crops and homes were destroyed by the rains, adding that River Kunkono also overflowed its banks, making it impossible for schoolchildren to cross it and go to school.
Chief Aspuru said although they had petitioned the Sissala East Municipal Assembly for help, no one had responded to their plight.
“Since I was born, I have never witnessed the government bringing us any relief items before. No help comes from anywhere.
“As for election times, they do everything possible to get here but right after the elections, we don’t see them again,” Chief Aspuru lamented.
However, the Sissala East Municipal Chief Executive, Fuseini Yakubu Batong, said the district assembly made efforts earlier to relocate the inhabitants of Kalaxi to Gbenebisi, a nearby community, but that was not successful.
“When we are pleading with them to help us relocate them closer to Gbenebisi, they are also dragging their feet and reluctant to do so,” he said.
The Chief of Kalaxi explained their reluctance to relocate, saying, “we cannot leave our land to go and settle on someone’s land. What if someone else comes to claim our land?
“They should try and bring us the needed help because my people will not agree to leave their land and settle on another man’s land,” he said.
He pleaded with the authorities to come their aid and provide them with road, electricity, school and health facility to end their suffering.
According to the Sissala East MCE, however, it would be difficult to connect Kalaxi to electricity, construct a health facility for the people of Kalaxi due to River Kunkono.
“It’s a difficult task but we are looking at how to relocate the people so that when they are across the river, help can easily reach them,” he said.
Reality check & reunion
Over the years, about 200 inhabitants of Kalaxi have relocated to Kalaxi Number 2 in the Builsa South District in the Upper East Region in order to escape deprivation.
According to Chief Aspuru, his people recently approached him to suggest a relocation to Kalaxi Number 2 since their kinsmen who left Kalaxi to settle at Kalaxi Number 2 had been provided with electricity, a road, a school and health facilities.
“I have no option than to allow them to relocate if they insist; and when that happens, and the community becomes empty, I will also be forced to leave and there will be no more Kalaxi,” he said softly.
If there would ever be any relocation, it is obvious Kojo would prefer Glefe down south, where his mother lives, to Kalaxi Number 2, up north, where his kinsmen may sojourn. But he knew little about how to locate his mother. All she knew was that she lived in Glefe Last Stop and that she is called Yaa, and she sold groundnut.
Three weeks after returning to Accra from Kalaxi in the Upper West Region, The Fourth Estate , armed with that scanty information, went to Glefe to look for Yaa, the groundnut seller.
It took only about 10 minutes to search and find Yaa, the groundnut seller and mother of Kojo Ibrahim.
A week earlier, Kojo had already found his mother, Lamisi Yaa Abadankade, and mother and son reunited, 10 years after a separation between his parents put them (Yaa and Kojo) apart.
“Since he has been able to safely come back, I will try my best to enroll him in one of the schools in the community so he can continue with his education,” Yaa promised.
It was a promise to reunite Kojo and his dream of becoming an engineer.
Gloom future for schoolchildren at Otengkope-Dawa
Unlike Kalaxi, Otengkope-Dawa has a school, but Aggressive Academy is a caricature of a school on the verge of death. And it is dragging along the dreams of Melody and Abraham.
Otengkope-Dawa is about one hour drive from Ghana’s capital, Accra, but the school structure with crack-walled, potholed floored, and doors and windows yet to be fixed, is not different from what is seen in some of the most deprived communities far away from the capital.
It is in that dilapidated school, badly hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that lie the destinies of Melody, Abraham and other children at Otengkope-Dawa.
Otengkope-Dawa is a farming community in the Ningo-Prampram District. Its population of about 900 inhabitants grow mainly vegetables such as pepper, okro and tomato.
The community did not have a school and so children had to cross a highway separating the community from another town to attend school. On many occasions, children were knocked down and killed by speeding vehicles.
Parents in the community then decided not to expose their children further to the risk of crossing the highway, and that deprived children in the community of education until they were eight years, when parents deemed them mature enough to cross the highway safely.
The lack of education for the children at an early age especially, is an affront to the 2004 Early Childhood Care and Development Policy, which promotes holistic early childhood development and programme packages that address the physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual needs of the child.
A native of Otengkope-Dawa, Beatrice Adelah, driven by strong desire and passion to help address the problem, established a community school for the benefit of children in her native home.
The Aggressive Academy currently has a population of 110 pupils and with four teachers, including the founder.
However, when COVID-19 struck the country, Aggressive Academy reeled under the severe aggression of the pandemic. Some of the teachers and caregivers, unpaid for a long while, abandoned post to seek better jobs elsewhere.
Even Borwin Addo, the eldest daughter of Ms Adelah, who left her pursuit of nursing to read education in order to support her mother’s dream of providing education to the children of Otengkope-Dawa, is in deep reflection now.
“I sometimes want to leave because there is nothing good here. I need to get something doing that can earn me some good money for my future and my kids,” Miss Addo said.
Due to the seasonal drought and poor crop yield, many parents do not have money to buy books, uniform and other essentials for their children. As a result, some of them have dropped out of school.
Current situation Aggressive Academy
Aggressive Academy lacks facilities such as furniture, teaching aid and toilet, compelling students to attend to the call of nature at a nearby public place of convenience, while the younger ones defecate in bushes around.
The school has five classrooms, which accommodate pupils from Nursery 1 to JHS 2. One room is shared by JHS 1 and JHS2 classes, while classes 4, 5 and 6 also share one classroom. Classes 1, 2 and 3 occupy one room. Nursery 1 and 2, as well and KG 1 and 2 share the remaining classroom.
Plea of students and parents
Berzo Sampson, 16, and Kwenortey Ruth, 15, both in JHS 2, are deeply worried about the deteriorating state of the school building.
“Because our classrooms do not have windows and doors, while learning, animals like goat and fowls enter the classroom. This distracts us. There are cracks in the walls of our classroom and because it is built of mud, we fear that one day it may collapse on us,” Sampson said.
“As we are in Form 2, we have to join another school for Form 3 because there is no classroom for Form 3. We wish to have extra rooms so we can transit easily to Form 3,” Ruth added.
Faustina Kwetey, a single mother of three, who is also into pepper and okro farming, said: “We want our children to have a better future, and Madam Beatrice has done well over the years, but we need help to upgrade the school to ensure the safety of our children.”
A Senior Programmes Officer of Child Rights International, Jennifer Nartey, said there was the need for schoolchildren to learn under good conditions. He said the absence of a safe and supportive environment amounted to deprivation, which was against the child’s rights as stipulated in the Children’s Act.
“It is sad that in this day and age, children have to go to school in this condition. These are some of the very important things we need to address immediately. If we say children are the future leaders, then we need to provide them with all the needed facilities and items to enable them grow and develop well,” she said.
A Way forward
The District Chief Executive for Ningo-Prampram, Al-atiff Tetteh Amanor, said he had heard about Aggressive Academy, but the deplorable condition of the school had not been made known to him.
“What touched my heart was the fact that children had to suffer the risk of being knocked down by vehicles in their bid to access education,” he said.
The elders of Otengkope-Dawa are also concerned about the dilapidated structure of the school and the challenges of education in the community but they seem helpless about the situation.
“Even though we are aware of the present difficulties in the school, our financial constraints have been a major challenge, so we have not been able to assist as we wish.
“We are mainly vegetable farmers and the absence of a dam or alternative source of water means we farm only one season within the year (May – August) which fetches us a little to feed our families,” William Adelah, a chief of the community, recounted.
He was, however, optimistic when he said, “We wish to see Aggressive Academy as the best school in the community because the students do well in their academics in spite of their depravity. So we call on all and sundry to assist.”
The founder, Madam Beatrice Adelah, is not giving up hope.
“The thing that is giving me the morale in this school is these children; some of them will become nurses, teachers and others, and they will say, ‘It was Madam Adelah’s school that I attended’.
“If I do not get help, this school might collapse and all my efforts will be in vain.” she said solemnly.
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The writers of this report, Joseph Kwaku Kpormegbey & Deborah Pokua Bempah, are Fellows of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.