I met Janet 4 weeks ago. She had applied to be part of ATE’s vocational training program, VocATE.
Her application to become a hairdresser apprentice was a promising one, so we put her on the shortlist and went to meet her and her family in the rural community of Faalu.
Janet was waiting on the road when we arrived, she ran ahead of our motorbikes through fields of maize to direct us to the house. Although shy, she was obviously delighted to see us.
As we entered their compound I was immediately struck by the lack of activity. There was barely any evidence of farming – only a few bundles of maize hanging on the wall. There was no livestock and no food being cooked. Most rural homes are full of the hustle and bustle of country living; with women cooking, dogs barking, children playing and chickens scratching around for scraps of food. This house was silent and empty.
We were given an extremely warm welcome, and sat down with Janet and her ageing mother. They quietly explained that Janet had recently dropped out of school. They told us that she is an intelligent girl, someone who wants to learn, but that the family was unable to fund the uniform, exams fees or the textbooks that she needed to complete her basic education. She left the education system because her devastated family wasn’t able to raise the £30 per year it takes to put a teenager through school.
When we asked Janet why she had applied for our program, her eyes lit up as she said that she had always dreamed of becoming a hairdresser, she loves fashion and is extremely sociable. She hadn't ever imagined her ambitions would come true, until she had heard about VocATE on her fathers radio. Her mother was emotional as Janet talked, she then told us she would do everything she can to help her daughter complete the apprenticeship program, if she was accepted. She said she had been saving money to buy Janet a bicycle, so that she would be able to make the dusty 10km journey into town everyday.
This morning, I had the great pleasure of starting Janet on her three-year apprenticeship program. She beamed with delight as we presented her with the hairdressing tools that are required, and handed the cash payment to her Master. She was visibly excited and grinned enthusiastically as pictures were taken (Ghanaians usually have very straight faces in photographs – they are a serious business). I had tears in my eyes watching her wish become a reality.
If Janet works hard (which I am convinced she will), in under 3 years she will learn all that she needs to know about hairdressing, and then ATE will support her to set up her own small business. She will be able to make some money for herself, she will have an income to provide for herself and any future children, she might even be able to go back to school.
The hope in Janet’s eyes motivates me. It reminds me exactly why we do this work. She deserves this chance, a chance to change her future.
Sarah is the Chief Executive of Action Through Enterprise (ATE) For more information go to http://ateghana.org/