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Church-run center in Ghana helps transform lives of street children

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KUMASI, Ghana — Asana Iyakana, 13, ran away from a woman she said was exploiting her, making her sell water every day without pay. Asana ended up living on the streets.

She said she and a friend went to a drop-in center of the church-run Street Children Project in Kumasi, a city of more than 2 million people about 150 miles northwest of the capital, Accra.

At the drop-in center, she met Sister Olivia Umoh, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who "told us that she could help us but had a fear that the woman who has been maltreating me will not allow us to do so."

"The positive and encouraging words from Sister Olivia made me decide to go to the St. Louise Vocational Training Centre of the Street Children Project with Sister Olivia, so that I will be free from abuse and exploitation," Asana said.

The decision changed her life, she said. She has caught up to learning at a third-grade level. "I am very happy because now I can read and write, a right I was denied when living with the woman who exploited me," she said. "There are many children like me on the street who are suffering every day and going through the same problems like mine.” She said she would encourage them to "stay safe and enjoy their child rights" by becoming involved in the Street Children Project.

Sister Umoh, director of the project, said, "These services have helped change the lives and fortunes of many street connected children by giving them hope for a brighter future and a dignified life."

"The lives of over 10,000 children have already been transformed from our little efforts ... while a good number of them benefited directly, others benefited from one-off assistance we gave them."

Officials estimate about 60,000 children live on the streets of Ghana; about 20,000 are on the streets of the Ashanti region, of which Kumasi is the capital. In 2005, the Archdiocese of Kumasi launched The Street Children Project. The vocational training center is one of its projects.

Sister Umoh said children on the street of Kumasi generally migrate from very poor rural communities in Ghana, particularly villages in the northern part of Ghana.

"Most of these children are from very poor families where parents continue to procreate without having the means to provide for their offspring," she said. "Confronted with so many children to care and provide for, these parents encourage and, in some cases, force their children to Kumasi to work and earn some income for themselves and their families."

However, she noted that on arrival in Kumasi, they face different types of problems, including exposure to dangers and abuses of various types. Often they are forced to perform tasks beyond their ages and capacities.

"They live rough and are exposed to antisocial/criminal acts such as drugs, alcohol, commercial sex work, pilfering, fighting," she said. "Children in street situations with no access to education or enterprise training are likely to grow up in poverty and give birth to children on the street."

She said there were "second- and third-generation street children; children of street mothers who are worse off because they never experienced growing up in a regular family/home setting."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020