Last Thursday, IJM Ghana gathered government officials, journalists from TV, print, and radio, well-known church leaders, American Embassy officials, and a wide array of NGOs working on behalf of children and against human trafficking for the largest PR event in our young history here. Her Excellency the 2nd Lady of Ghana Samira Bawumia (wife of Ghana’s new Vice President and current social media sensation) was our keynote speaker! She is sort of a rockstar in Ghana, particularly among the younger generations. She is very articulate (labeled the secret weapon of the MPP party) and stylish (I’ve seen many news articles detailing her outfits). We also featured remarks from the well-known Minister of Gender, Labor, and Social Development, the American Embassy, a well-known pastor, and IJM staff.
The event was the official “launch” of IJM’s baseline study, an in-depth 80 page report on the prevalence and nature of child trafficking on Lake Volta, based on research done by IJM before our office began work here. IJM always conducts a baseline study at the outset of work and then later a mid-line and hopefully and end-line study when certain benchmarks are hit. This event has been the main focus of my team (Outreach and Engagement) for my whole time here.
It went amazing! First of all, I was just grateful to be able to attend since I have been sidelined from work the last few weeks (I’ve got the kids while Joy recovers from surgery in the U.S.). An amazing 16 year old girl (also named Abigail) from the states (daughter of a pastor here who reached out to me) entertained my kids at our house with charades and other fun games while I was gone! Thanks teen-Abby! My kids all list her as one of their favorite people in Ghana!
Back to the event…
IJM is not as well known in Ghana as it is in the United States or in countries where it has operated for a long time like India or Cambodia. We’ve got a good working relationship with the police, department of social welfare, and ministry of gender, children, and social protection, but we’re not at all well known to the community at large. So this event was a huge public relations breakthrough to say “We’re here.” It is also an important event to get the research out about the realities of life for kids working on Lake Volta (which is also unknown to most of the population).
I served as a sort of all-purpose rover. I arranged tables and chairs, nagged the hotel food service, setup lights for the speaker’s podium, hung IJM banners, greeted guests, guarded a door, ran a microphone around the room for Q and A time, arranged the lunch room for the dignitaries, showed the 2nd lady’s security team the route we’d walk, escorted the the 2nd lady to the lunch room, and kept her company there, along with a few other IJM staff and a couple of dignitaries. I sat right across from her during the lunch and so got to chat quite a bit. It felt really good to be making some kind of contribution to the team after weeks at home.
The highlights for me were the Q and A time and in particular when the 2nd Lady asked to answer a question addressed to the IJM staff about whether it is really wrong for a child to be “learning the trade of their parents in the traditional pattern”. She took that question and with great moral clarity denied any correlation between the abusive system of forced child labor we are fighting and the traditional pattern of children working with parents. She also emphasized the prosecution of criminals, which is key to IJM’s model, but which is rarely emphasized here. You can see below for links to articles about the event and a facebook post the 2nd Lady made a few hours afterwards.