I was raised in Ho, the capital city of the Ho Municipal District in the Volta Region of Ghana. The city lies between Mount Adaklu and the Atakora mountains in Togo. The people of Ho are predominately smallholder farmers and petty traders. I lived my entire childhood and some part of my adult years there.
My parents, both retired now, were public servants. My mum was a nurse, working in a community school clinic and my dad, an educationist. They both also had other part-time jobs. My mother was a petty trader, selling well sliced and refrigerated sugarcane in the community, while my dad was a smallholder farmer when he is not in the classroom. These part-time jobs helped to sustain daily household expenses.
I started assisting with house chores at the age of seven. When I was eight years, I was assigned to sweeping. In those days we lived in a one-bedroom flat and I had to sweep the living room and bedroom. I did this task early in the morning before going to school. I also fetched water for household use. Going to fetch water was always exciting because there was a flour mill en route. Sometimes, I stopped at the mill and spent about 30 minutes watching how one big muscular man operated the milling machine. It was a display of creativity and I found it exciting. My favourite water container was a Blue Band Margarine tin which I used for my trips. I would usually fetch at least seven rounds of 13 litres of water. I walked a long distance with water on my head, down a dusty road. After this, I had to take my bath, have breakfast and trek to school. I did this every morning task until I was 16 years old when we relocated to another house that had a piped water system installed.
The main household responsibilities that my sister and I had involved helping wash dishes do household errands and any other minor task that my parents needed doing. My sister and I purchased foodstuffs from the closest community market, fetching water and helping with the petty trading business. These responsibilities were assigned based on age, and since I was older, I was given more. Our parents did not perceive these tasks as ‘jobs’ – rather they came along with being part of the household and were a way of grooming us to become responsible adults. As we grew up, so the chores we were assigned increased and became more involved.
When I turned 12 and my sister was 9, when we were not assisting with chores in the house, I was helping our dad on the farm while she was attached to our mum. Some of the farm activities I was engaged in included, sowing, harvesting, clearing the farm footpath and conveying foodstuffs by head to the roadside for it to be transported home. The crops we grew were for household consumption. As I remember it, my sister and I enjoyed helping on the farm more than the usual day-to-day household chores. It gave us an opportunity to play and feast on some maize our dad helped us to roast. I also had a small garden behind our house where I grew cocoyam and cabbage.
No time for football
Aside from the fact that I enjoyed my dad’s company on the farm, deep within me, I wished I had the opportunity to play football like the other kids. My dad was quite strict. During our free time, my sister and I spent most of our time memorising and reciting the times tables. I only got to kick stones – a poor substitute for football – while on my way to fetch water. Memorising and reciting the times tables was quite easy and I could confidently chant them, but I tended to fumble over a simple question like two multiplied by eight.
Growing up was fun and exciting, the chores were usually easy, yet could at times be overwhelming. The only thing I did not like was how my father never allowed us to play with the kids at the community park. One of my best memories is getting flour from the men at the local mill and then persuading my mother to fry them into tiny pastries.
This mini-essay is part of the ‘childhood experiences of work’ series. As we prepared to launch ACHA we asked partners to reflect on their own childhood experiences of work. The prompt was simple and open: approach it in however you like; write as little or as much as you like, in whatever form you like; try to put yourself back into your frame of mind as a child; use 18 years old as a rough cut-off age, and think about harm.
Eighteen reflections were received from ten women and eight men aged from 29 to 70 years, who grew up in the UK (7), Ghana (3), Netherlands (2), Canada (2), Argentina (1), Brazil (1), Denmark (1) and US (1).
If you would like to share your childhood experiences of work please send a short narrative (under 1,000 words) to ACHA (ACHA-Enquiries@ids.ac.uk). All narratives that are published on the ACHA website will be anonymised.
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