As I walked down the dusty road towards the AgriCorps house I could hear the young children playing before I could see them. It was the first week back in school after the winter holidays and the students at the Tamale International School were running, swinging and catching up with their friends. Because this is a private school the students enjoyed a swing set, slide and seesaw rather than just a dusty soccer field. I always enjoyed walking past the squeals and joy, it made me reflect fondly on my time in elementary school when my biggest worry was whether I should spend recess swinging or playing tag with my friends.
On this particular day my fond memories were derailed when I looked across the street and saw a young girl resting under a tree. The girl, not more than 12 years old, sat with a bucket of tomatoes beside her, the towel used for a cushion still on her head. In Ghana it’s not uncommon to see young children hawking goods and produce especially during the school breaks and weekends. As I walked closer something in this girl’s face made my eyes swell with tears. She looked longingly at the other children her age running, laughing, being kids. I do not claim to know the narrative of this young girl’s life and to assume too much would be ignorant and hurtful. But I could tell by the look on her face that she was forced to grow up quickly and work rather than attend school full time.
As I continued back to the house I started thinking about how important the work is that AgriCorps does. Our primary focus is youth, teaching them leadership skills and the importance of agriculture as a science and a business. Helping youth develop life and livelihood skills leads to stronger and employed leaders. We also work with the youth’s parents, the famers, teaching them improved methodologies and connecting them to resources. If parents are able to sell their harvest and have dependable income, there’s more money available to pay for school fees. The last piece of the puzzle is the teachers. Training teachers on how to keep students engaged in the classroom and making learning hands-on not only helps the students learn the material but also makes students excited about learning and wanting to come to school.
Maybe (hopefully) this young tomato seller had access and support for schooling but there are many more like her in West Africa who live in a world where providing for their family is a necessity and takes precedent over education. Agricultural and education development is messy, frustrating and complex. We don’t have all the answers yet but if we can make a small impact with a student, teacher or farmer we are moving in the right direction. The impact might seem small but if it keeps one young girl or boy in school it makes a world of difference.
Gena Perry currently serves as the AgriCorps Chief of Staff. She was an AgriCorps Fellow based in Koforidua, Ghana during the 2015-2016 term. She has a bachelors and masters degree in Agribusiness from the University of Georgia.