ACCRA-In a small classroom overlooking Agbogbloshie’s yam market, Timothy Ngenbe leads the class in a journalism workshop.
”Now let us define child street hawking. And let us discuss how it impacts education.”
A student raises her hand, ”…if there is little money in the house a child might be told by her parents to go out to get money. Then there is little time for school.”
Mr. Ngenbe, 27, is a full time English teacher at Ethel BCG and a student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He founded and runs the Creative Writers and Debaters Club which meets every Saturday morning in the school’s staff room. After their meetings, students go out into the community and report on what they see and experience, publishing it in the blog Life in a Slum.
”As a student of journalism, I saw the need to raise awareness for the children and community” he says. ”I didn’t have the opportunity [as a child], so to be able to expose them [to journalism] I realized they would then be able to project courage upon their community.”
The students are enrolled at Ethel BCG, one of the many private schools located in Old Fadama, an informal settlement next to the Korle Lagoon in central Accra. The government doesn’t recognize the community and therefore refuses to provide schooling to the its estimated 80,000 inhabitants.
The community experiences various problems related to systemic poverty; overcrowding, domestic abuse, child labour, and lack of access to healthcare and education are only some of the many issues facing the people of Old Fadama.
The students present on this Saturday morning are well aware of the challenges but are determined to do something about it.
As the discussion moves from child labour to education and from domestic violence to the rights of the disabled, Second Form student Thomas Binanpur, 14, shares his reason for joining the club.
”I want to learn how to write articles and find stories about the problems in our community” he says. ”People with disabilities for example, cripples and the deaf, the problem is how the government can help them. They should provide them schools and education to get jobs and develop the country.”
Thomas enjoys the class as it has helped improve his English writing and debating skills. Through their journalism and debates, Timothy believes that change can come to the community.
”With journalism, society will improve, it creates advocacy, allows help to come.”
Another Second Form student, Benedicta Smith, has benefited much from the Creative Writers and Debaters Club. An outspoken young lady, the 14 year old has, along with another Bethel ECG student and Mr. Ngenbe, been selected to participate in CitiFM’s Hold My Hand Citizen Journalism Training Project. The six month training period aims to train professional journalists (and these students from Bethel ECG) to produce radio documentaries. The focus is community journalism and these students are perfectly poised to produce serious work. When done, their documentaries will air on CitiFM. Benedicta is happy she stuck with the program, without it, she wouldn’t have been part of the CitiFM project.
”When I came the first time [to the club], I realized that if I left I would lose plenty things. So I stayed” says Benedicta.
Benedicta is currently at work researching and writing her first radio documentary on child labour and street hawking, an economic activity in which some students at Bethel ECG are engaged. She has learned a lot from the club she says, and even more from CitiFM’s initiative.
Mr. Ngenbe is very proud of his students. He says they have a unique perspective which deserves to be heard.
”They are always interested in child abuse, domestic violence and child labour, because they’ve had experiences and are interested and willing to discuss those issues.”
The club allows them to take their perspective and apply it to life outside of the community.
”It gives them exposure to the outside, makes them think directly about their own situations and gives them background for other issues” says Mr. Ngenbe.
But Benedicta has another, more immediate reason as to why the workshop has improved her skills and perspective.
”I’ve learned how to come to school early. When you don’t come to school early, everybody will be looking at you when you come.”
Apparently, the threat of embarrassment can go a long way.