Grace was recommended by the community chaperon to be one of the most active girls in the club and showed interest and availability to participate in a case study.
Grace participated in a group evaluation and also in a non-structured interview and the life line with the consultant. The interview and the life-line exercise took place outside in a rural community on 20th June 2010. We were sitting next to a school building.
Grace wears a simple but neat dress and seems to be in good health. She is excited to participate in a case study with the consultant. She is a bit coy in the beginning, but not self-conscious. At first, Grace gives the impression to have difficulties understanding the questions. After spending some time with her, however, it becomes clear that she just takes time to gather her thoughts and to formulate her ideas. Despite her time in the club, her expression capacity is limited and her English skills not particularly strong.
Grace is 16 years old and from the ethnic group of the Fantsy. She lives with her mother and her step-father in a rural community in Ghana. She has one older sister who has already left the house. Grace has been through periods of economic hardship after the divorce of her parents at the age of eight. She and her mother often had to struggle to get enough money together to pay the school fees and food. Grace and her sister have been supported by teachers and Plan (her sister received a scholarship from Plan) at the most difficult periods. She is a practicing Christian. Prayer activities have been a source of resilience for her in the past. Her mother got recently married again and her new husband provides sufficient support to Grace and his own children.
Grace was motivated by her older sister to become part of the R.O.C club in her community. She had admired the club members for their good English and public speaking skills for some time so she decided that she would like to become like them. She signed up on the list for potential club members in 2008 and was accepted as member in the same year. Since entering the club, she has participated in numerous activities (in addition to the trainings) : clean up exercises, anti malaria campaigns, swine flu sensitizations (drama), radio broadcast on VAC, workshop participations and dissemination among peers, organization of quizzes in between two club of different communities.
As a long term club member, Grace has realized that adult chaperons are not always more advance in knowledge than the children. She deplores the lack of knowledge of the new club chaperon who started working with the club about a year ago.
“Our new chaperon is only out of school since three years and she knows much less about rights and responsibilities than we do. She cannot teach us much. I would rather recommend Plan to have senior club members facilitate the club once they have finished school. Otherwise we risk loosing a lot of knowledge.”
Grace defined important life events with the help of the life line tool. Her life stages are written down as narrated by her. 1st flower : “When I was 4 -5 years old, my father loved me a lot and whenever he left the house, he would take me with him. I also remember how I liked the breast milk of my mother. I felt well taken care of ; my parents made me very happy. I had one older sister who was also nice to me.”
1st stone : “I was 8 years old when my parents divorced. All of a sudden, my mother and I had no place to stay any more. My mother could have stayed in a room in our old house, but she said that she could not live there any more. So we slept some time on my grandmother’s veranda, just my mother and I. My sister stayed with my step-mother because my father had quickly married someone else.”
2nd flower : “When I was 12 years old, a friend of my mother started inviting us over to his house for evening prayers. He was from the Adventist church. We went there every evening and I found it very comforting. The prayers made me happy.”
3rd flower : “My mother became sick and was hospitalized. I was about 13 years old. One of the teachers asked me to pay the school fees. When I told another teacher about my ill mother, he paid the fees for me and gave me food to eat. Every day. I helped him with household chores on Saturdays (washing laundry, fetching water). I felt relieved and grateful that someone assisted me during this period.”
2nd stone : “I went to see my father and I asked him for money to pay a book for school. My father said that he does not have any money to buy me something. That made me very sad : my own father who gave birth to me tells me that he does not even have a small amount of money to buy me a book. I felt that he did not care about me. I was 14 years old around that time.”
3rd stone : “I was still 14 years old, when one day one of the teachers asked us to bring a cutlass to school for weeding the compound. We had no cutlass at home ; my mother had borrowed it to someone else. So I could not follow the teachers’ order. The teacher caned me badly and I felt sad and discouraged.”
4th stone : “Some children from another school came to our teachers and told them that some the students of the school had said that the teachers only sleep in school. They accused me to be among the children who had spread the rumours. The teacher caned me and some other children very badly. I felt bad because I had never said anything like that. But who would listen to us ? I was 15 years when this happened.”
4th flower : “When I was 16 years old, my mother got married again. Her new husband is a good man : whenever he spends something on his own children, he will spend exactly the same amount on me and my sister. I am getting books and pocket money just like the other children in the house. He provides for all of our needs. I can finally study without being worried about fees, supplies and food.
After probing if any experience associated with the R.O.C club should figure on her life-line, Grace takes some time to think and then shakes her head.
During different trainings and meetings, Grace accumulated knowledge on child rights and responsibilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Millennium Development Goals. Since the initiation of the VAC project, she reports to have learnt about different forms of violence against children such as child labour, female genital mutilation, abuse and child trafficking. She understood that parents should not force their children to work after 8 pm, but has also seen that the reality at home is often different. According to her, the activities enabled her to be less shy, to express herself in public and to improve her English. For Grace, the most impressive event within the youth media projects was her participation in a 5-days training in the capital. She was proud to be one of the club members to be selected for the trip and gave the following testimony about her experience :
“The biggest change in my life that I experienced with the club was my trip to Accra for a training session. I spent five days there with a group of other children from different communities. We learnt about violence against children and went to the street to interview people what they know about the topic. Some talked about girls sleeping in the street, others talked about girls who have run away from FGM. Some did not know anything about it. They were also some who talked about forced labour. We also learnt how to use a camera and a camcorder. The facilitators taught us songs when we were bored. I liked that a lot. They did everything to satisfy us and they gave us meals on time. The trip was my first time for me to be far away from home, see the capital and meet a lot of new people. It was exciting and a bit frightening at the same time. I felt well cared for by the facilitators and it was fun to be with the other children.”
We asked some further questions how the experience impacted on her life, but Grace just repeated that she learnt aspects related to knowledge on violence that children are subjected to. Once we asked her if the knowledge helped her to improve her own life she said no. We learnt later in the interview that Grace had been repeatedly and violently caned by a teacher, but she did not seem to link up the training content on VAC and her own experience of abuse. When continuing the discussion on how the club changed in her life, Grace remembered that her behaviour toward boys has changed :
“Before joining the club, I was having a boy lover and spent a lot of time at night outside. Since we talked in the club about early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, I have stopped seeing him.” Her chaperon confirmed that most of the girls in the club had stopped “going around the boys” and preferred focussing on their studies now.
Grace has different ideas on how her future could look like : “I want to complete school and then enter a vocational school for learning about cooking and food catering. I would like to be a cook and provide food for events or in big hotels. I would maybe also like to be a journalist and I am trying to focus my studies on that and to practice.”
Grace is an example of a girl who has had a lot of benefits from the club. She enjoys the activities and had the opportunity to travel to the capital for training and to other communities for exchanging with other clubs. She has built up her human assets and her agency to some extent (improved English, self-esteem, public speaking and expressiveness).The club has not, however, empowered her to a degree that she starts using the knowledge for herself or the community. If something bad happened to her or her sister, she has never used her knowledge or the support of the club to change the situation.
She is still in a receiving position : if the club offers something, she accepts it without giving it a further thought. She has not taken initiative yet to influence things that concern her or other children. Intellectually, it seems like she has not been able to make the transfer of the theoretical concept of children’s rights and the abuse that she experiences and witnesses in her own community. The origin of her passiveness can be at least partially explained by her childhood experiences. Grace went through a lot of hardship and adversity while growing up. In case of difficulties, she has learnt to resort to prayers and to trust in the mercy of God and lenient adults in order to access basic necessities.
This case study is a typical example of a child who makes visible achievements during youth media activities, but who does not manage to “to take the human rights concepts home”. Her accomplishments are fragile : once Grace is confronted with a situation of abuse, she will not know how to protect herself or others. In her own perception, she is still more a recipient than an agent of change. Unlike children who enter the project with more assets and agency and who obtain within a year or less enormous progress, Grace needs more time and capacity building. As her participation in the project continues, it can be hoped that Grace will receive the support she needs to strengthen her creativity and her ability for abstract and critical thinking and problem solving.
Figure 1 : Grace’s life line drawing