In lots of ways, my journey in life reflects the experience of many underprivileged young Ghanaians. However, it was also different because I grew up in a rural area with a single parent and siblings. The shoes of an absent father were difficult to fill, and I missed the touch and grooming a father usually provides. With my mum as the breadwinner and home keeper, it became obvious quite early that one had to begin assuming a position of responsibility. So much for the childhood fantasies of more privileged kids.
At the age of 10, I began to learn about my mum’s bakery business. This meant following her and my big sister (2 years older) to the bakery to prepare and knead the dough. The next step was to learn how to mould the dough into loaves for baking. Although this seemed interesting and fun at the onset, the reality was that it deprived me of time to play with my friends, and this soon started to affect me. In the morning I was equally supposed to hawk bread to households in the neighbourhood. This meant rising around 3am, helping with baking and doing my hawking before getting ready for school. As time went on, and as it seemed I was mastering the baking process and business, I was made to assume greater responsibility. During the period when I was between 10 and 15 years old, my mum diversified into other businesses including food vending from a spot in front of our residence. As always, food preparation entailed a lot of activity behind the scenes, and one could not but help out. An important task was fetching the water used in cooking from the neighbours’ wells and standpipes.
Whilst reflecting on this, I cannot ignore the fact that because of this work I had to double my efforts in the classroom to attain the needed grades in primary and junior high school. It also meant that the family’s income could not be put at risk by educating only one child. Hence, all three of us siblings had to attend public schools where education was less costly. Temporary liberation from this labour only began when I entered senior high school and boarded at the school. However, the process started all over again during breaks and holiday periods.
Sadly, this path is still being walked by a lot of young people. With difficulties staring them in the face they soon learn that poverty and hard labour are parts of the journey of life. However, I do hope that soon these kinds of experiences will no more be the bane of children in Africa.
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.
Stay informed with our regular email updates.Subscribe