I grew up in a small town called Bibiani in the Western Region of Ghana. Life in the community was normal. My now-deceased father was a farmer and a tailor while my mother worked as a petty trader selling smoked fish (and she still does today). At the age of seven, I started accompanying my father to the family farm and also assisting my mother at the local market. As well as these activities I was involved in household chores including fetching water, assisting with cooking, disposing of waste and running errands. I was made to understand that this was all part of my upbringing. The death of my father in my early years meant we abandoned farming. However, I continued to assist my mother in selling her fish. There were numerous occasions where I would carry smoked fish on my head, taking it around the neighbourhood to sell. This enabled my mother to take care of my education from primary through junior high school. There were occasions when I used my weekends to work on other people’s cocoa farms – the wage I earned helped with my upkeep.
The junior high school I attended had a farm and I remember undertaking weeding, sowing, planting and harvesting. On several occasions, and particularly at weekends, I worked on the headmaster’s farm together with other male schoolmates. I gained admission to St Thomas Aquinas Senior High School in Accra after I had successfully finished my junior high school education. I was sent to stay with my Aunty: the arrangement was that I would assist her with domestic the work while she would take care of my school needs. For the three years that I stayed with her, I did all kinds of work including sweeping, washing, cooking and running errands. My Aunty had a nursery school, and I also assisted with different tasks at the school.
I would always get stressed with all the work. I would cry while undertaking the domestic work because my Aunty had a daughter whom I felt should also be involved in these tasks. There were several occasions when I wanted to return to my mother in the village, but that would have meant risking my education. I, therefore, needed to focus.
My Aunty counselled me not to see the work I was doing as punishment but as part of the process of building myself up. She once said that one day I would appreciate the training I was being given. It was when I entered university and travelled to the UK for my postgraduate degree that I really did appreciate it: and particularly the fact that I could cook delicious Ghanaian dishes for myself.
I was a very good footballer and I loved playing. Football was central to my childhood days. I was the school captain during my primary and junior high school days. I joined a local team in the neighbourhood where we stayed and would go for training every day after school. I was selected to be part of the district’s under 12 and under 15 teams and participated in a number of regional and national competitions both. I really wanted to combine football with my education, but this dream was curtailed when, on the verge of entering SHS, I was told by my Aunty and other family members to choose between football or school. While I had successfully combined them through junior high school being forced to decide ended my dream of playing football at the highest level. I chose education, and it has served me well, but I still wish I had been able to pursue it alongside football.
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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