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Opinions of Saturday, 11 January 2014

Columnist: Akapule, Samuel Adadi

12 years of Action Aid Girls’ Camp

A Feature Story by Samuel Adadi Akapule

Bolgatanga, Jan 9, (Akapule) GNA- “At the Girls Camp I was encouraged to work harder in school as I realized that a woman’s life was not only about being married and staying in the kitchen and this has made me what I am today because in spite of the financial problem and lack of support and encouragement from my parents I have completed teacher training college and I am now a professional teacher and aspiring to go higher. I hope to get a degree in Basic Education by 2014 and a Master’s degree thereafter”, Ms Joyce Akiare a teacher in Talensi District and one of the beneficiaries of the 2001 Girls Camp shared these benefits of the Camp to this Writer.

Ms Rebecca Adunia one of the 2003 beneficiaries of the Camp and now a Fire Officer also remarked “the film on the HIV/AIDS at the camp helped me to abstain from sex and the opportunity to interact with women occupying higher positions made me determined. I had to fight off marriage plans by my mother who was non-literate and a single parent to complete my elementary education. I will therefore like to encourage Action Aid Ghana(AAG) to continue with the Camp as it is offers greater help to girls like me who need role models and encouragement to complete their education”
Interviews upon interviews from the beneficiaries of the AAG Annual Girls Camp including the information gathered from the Girls Child Officers from the Ghana Education Service who are the partners in the implementation of the Camp confirmed the enormous benefits accrued to beneficiaries of the Camp. For instance research indicates that majority of some of the beneficiaries have completed the Junior High Schools, Senior High Schools, Tertiary education and had entered into carriers such as teachers, doctors, immigration officers , arm forces , among others.
Speaking to the Programm Manager of AAG, Mr James Kusi Boama why the programme, he explained that AAG which is an affiliate of Action Aid International , a global federation considers education as one of the best ways of attaining its aim of ending poverty.
He said recognizing the socio-cultural practices and challenges girls face in the 32 operational areas of AAG in Ghana including the Upper East Region which turns to deny them access to education prompted his outfit to introduce the girls Camp in 2001.
The purpose of the overall goal of the Camp which reflects in each year’s event has been to encourage girls to develop a greater interest in schooling , increase confidence and develop higher aspirations for life in order to motivate them to stay in school and continue their education to the highest level possible.
Over the years, Camp activities have included lectures and discussions, mentoring by role models handouts on to activities and educational visits to relevant establishments. The lectures and discussions often centred on various issues including raising self esteem , making good friends , study skills , Information Communication Technology (ICT), prospects in technical vocational education , personal hygiene, reproductive health and sexual maturation , management of menstruation , good manners mannerism , entrepreneurship , HIV/AIDS and Children Rights and Responsibilities.
The mentoring sessions are usually led by women who have attained some status in life through education. These have included female lawyers, doctors, teachers , professors, bankers, engineers welders , mechanist, florist, decorators and as well as heads of institutions and organizations.
During the mentorship exercise the girls are inspired with the” yes, you can do vision” . Thus women can do whatever men can do and are encouraged to emulate the role models who give them the talk and indeed also encourage to surpass their achievements(role models)
Indeed it is also worth mentioning that field trips which form part of the package of the programme have been very educative in nature exposing the girls to places of interest and national monuments . A major learning trips was taken the girls to see how head porters(Kayaye), mainly from the northern parts of the country live in Accra. Other places often visited during these tours include , the University of Ghana , Tema Harbour, Tema-Accra Motorway , Kotoka International Airport, Akosombo Dam, Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum , Independence Square, National Theatre, Tetteh Quarshie Interchange , Agbogboloshie and Makola Market and the beach and sea.

The Selection process is done through two approaches including the school based and community based. Response from the District Girls Education Officers , Head teachers and as well as teachers show a pathway that have some structured criteria . In this structured pathway, the fisrt and foremost requirement in the selection process is for AAG programme and sponsored communities to consider which schools should be considered first. The explanation to this is that children from AAG communities constituted the source of funding. It is therefore only fair that children from these communities also benefit. The second critierial is selected based on public schools in the operational areas of AAG. The explanation given here is that the programme target girls from deprived backgrounds and a parent’s ability to pay for the fees for a child in a private school implies the girls from a relatively endowed family would not need the Annual Girls Camp to aspire academically .

A field Survey conducted in 2010 from the national records revealed that retention and completion rates favour boys more than girls who are more vulnerable to non-retention and non-completion in most communities in Ghana. But the situation showed significant different in some of the key regions AAG had worked over a long period on issues concerning girls. In the Upper West and Upper East Regions for instance retention and completion rates at the basic school level had been for some time now in fovour of girls. The Upper East Regional records show completion rates of girls to be 84.8 per cent as against 81.2 per cent for boys in primary school. The trend also repeated itself at the Junior High School levels in the two regions.
In interviews with head teachers and teachers in the Upper East one of the operational areas of AAG, they described the level of retention among Camp beneficiaries as very high. They confirmed that girls who participated in the Camp from theier various schools became regular in school, active in school activities and have all remained in school whilst some have completed. In view of the teachers some of the issues that kept the girls in schools included their desire to continually share various lessons learnt at the Camp with their colleagues and their aspiration to achieve higher laurels.
“Colleagues of the Camp beneficiaries are often seen gathering around these Campers and the Campers are most of the time seen discussing issues or answering questions from their colleagues during break times, and sometime on the way back home after school”, Mr Alhassan Akolgo, head teacher of Tindongo Junior School in Talensi District told this writer.
The School authorities also mentioned that the academic performance of the Camp beneficiaries improved drastically after they return from the Camps, an element which might be of higher motivation to the girls themselves and might have encouraged them to stay in school. According to the Head teacher of Anafobisi Junior School in the Bongo District, Mr Proper Adongo all the girls who participated in Camp last year passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination with very good grades and had gained admission into Senior High Schools
The Upper East Regional Girl Child Education Officer of the GES Ms Rose Akanson who is a partner to the programme described the girls enthusiasm to remain in school to study and to complete their studies as very high , mainly because of the lessons and experiences acquired by the girls at the Camp .
The Paramount Chief of the Bongo Traditional Area Naba Baba Salifu Aleemyarum who is also a Gender Advocate said he was very impressed about the AAG Girls Camp and told me that one of the very striking features of the Camp was the drastic change in carrier goals and aspirations of the beneficiaries from the traditional “women’s jobs’ like hair dressing, sewing and nursing to carriers such as being lawyers, bankers, engineers, journalists and doctors.
AAG Girls Camp has received some acknowledgment and patronage from government officials to the extent that Ministers of State have participated in some sessions of the programme . To date the Girls Education Unit of the GES has been the main collaborator . Plan Ghana and World University Service of Canada (WUSC) became part of the Camp experience in 2007 and 2008 respectively, having noted the positive effects of the Camp experience, requested to bring girls from their program areas to participate in Camp. This year’s AAG Regional Girls Camp which was marked in the Upper East Region coincided with school vacation period and brought together girls from all the basic schools from all the 13 Districts in the Region to Bolgatanga to attend the 10 days Camp. The Upper East Regional Minister, Alhaji Limuna Mohammed-Muniru who was the Guest of Honour for the occasion did not miince words when he lauded the AAG for the programme. What touched my heart most was the remark he made that the programme had reduce the majority of the school children travelling on vacation periods to the southern parts to do menial jobs only to return back with pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
The Camp has been accepted and discussed as innovation, bridging the gender inequality gap, promoting gender mainstreaming and also developing human capital. It should be pointed out that with this significance in mind there should be a concerted stakeholders meeting to ensure the institutionalization of the concept of the Girls Camp in Ghana. This would ensure the multi-sectorial support for a national structure strategy, funds and programming which would enable the Camp to be properly organized at the District , Regional and the national level. Duplication of the programme should be encouraged. All hands must be put on one platform to ensure that the programme is more viable now that there was donor fatigue . Gender inequality can only be broken if all stakeholders attach seriousness to fighting against issues affecting women..

It is very interesting revelation to note that so far since the inception of the programme, over one thousand three hundred and ninety –two from the nine regions of the country had benefited from it. In fact it should be pointed out that after the 12 years of implementation of the AAG Annual Girls Camp enrolment, retention and the completion of girls’ at the basic levels have increased considerable than before. There is no doubt that the AAG Annual Girls Camp which started as an organizational efforts towards promoting assertiveness , self esteem, retention of girls in school and lifelong education whilst reducing marginalization and vulnerability of the girl-child has assumed the position of national importance due to the international demand for inclusive education. The centrality of girls’ education has also assumed international status mainly as swift response to addressing inequality and as well as promoting human central development. Discussions about the impact of the Girls Camp by the girls themselves, their teachers, head teachers, GES, parents and traditional rulers among others had shown that the AAG Girls Camp had made significant contributions towards positive changes in lives of the beneficiaries. Though some few shortfalls, there is every reason to applaud the AAG Girls Camp and its Organizers for introducing the programme particularly in its 32 operational areas which cuts across nine regions in the country..
To quote from the Programme Manager of AAG in charge of the Upper East Region, Mr James Kusi-Boama “we cannot stand aloof when women and girls face all forms of violence including discriminations every day. We must do all it takes to support our Girls Camp graduates to become critical masses that will make the changes we need to see in gender equality in Ghana a reality”
Let us as all stakeholders particularly parents, teachers , traditional rulers, politicians , the Media , Civil Society Organizations support critically to champion the cause of the gender equality.