ACCRA, Ghana — The University of Ghana estimated in 1990 that there were roughly 4,000 street children in the capitol city of Accra, but the number has spiked dramatically since. The latest Census, as presented by The Department of Social Welfare, Ricerca, SAID and Catholic Action For Street Children estimated the total number of street children to have climbed all the way to 61,492.
Catholic Action for Street Children (CAS) was established in 1992 to help better the lives of street children and create a safe space for them.
CAS offers classes that are entirely voluntary for street children to attend or not. As the children attend more classes and prove that they are serious about changing their situation, they are given more opportunities.
Lack of education is a serious issue for street children. The Census in 2010 found that 41.6 percent of street children dropped out of school and 58.4 percent had never been in school.
Many of the students that come to CAS for classes are illiterate when they arrive.
Different levels of classes are provided in subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, English and social skills. Classes in music, drama and dance are also provided to be both educational and build the children’s self esteem.
Wes Markusfeld, an Environmental Sustainability and Social Awareness Major at the University of North Carolina at Asheville had the opportunity to volunteer at CAS last summer as part of a month-long study abroad to Ghana.
Wes and four other students spent time teaching guitar lessons to the children at CAS. He was most touched by the children’s positive outlook on their situations.
“All these kids’ smile and laughter, seeing that was so nice,” Markusfeld said. “Going there knowing these kids are in dire situations and what not, seeing them being able to enjoy themselves.”
Many opportunities are provided to the children, including a small library that serves as a space for students to practice their reading skills. If students complete their classes, they are even able to use the computers for educational games and the Internet to expand their knowledge.
The children that attend classes are also able to pick a trade to begin learning. CAS introduces trades through demonstrations, videos and excursions to workshops or factories.
In a life that is so moment-by-moment, many children lack the patience to learn for long periods of time and continue vocational training for the normal three years needed. Because of this, the program offers 18-month training programs in trades such as carving, hairdressing, sewing and cooking.
At first, the program tried to place younger students in regular schools but they were stigmatized by the teachers and not treated well by the other students. Some children are second-generation street children and have never known what it is like to not live on the streets, making it extremely difficult for them to sit down in a classroom environment and behave respectfully.
CAS offers a space for street children to change their futures if they so desire. With hard work, these children can receive an education, a vocational skill and a better life.
– Kim Tierney