|© UNICEF Ghana/2005/den Dulk|
|In Ghana’s capital of Accra, Hayley Westenra met with teenage girls employed as porters and saw their working and living conditions.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK CITY, 11 April 2005 – UNICEF’s youngest Goodwill Ambassador, New Zealand ‘s 17-year-old singing sensation Hayley Westenra, has just completed a visit to Ghana to get a first-hand look at UNICEF-supported projects in child protection, education, and sanitation. While in Ghana, Ms. Westenra also launched her own UNICEF-sponsored fundraising project, aiming to provide girls with bicycles so that they can attend school.
Ms. Westenra’s visit was inspired by the UNICEF New Zealand campaign ‘Strong Women for Strong Women’, which addresses three issues – child protection, gender parity in education and HIV/AIDS – and how they affect girl children.
Peer education for job and life skills
In Ghana’s capital city of Accra, there are thousands of children living and working on the streets, and the number is growing. This is a result of increased urbanization and the difficult socio-economic circumstances rural families are experiencing.
|© UNICEF Ghana/2005/den Dulk|
|Adelaide, a schoolgirl from Jamestown, a poor and densely populated area in Ghana, is an experienced peer educator. She uses her skills to teach others about HIV/AIDS prevention. Hayley Westenra participated in a session led by Adelaide.|
Many of the children on the streets are migrant adolescent girls from the northern part of the country, known as ‘kayayei’ girls – a local term which literally means female head porter. They are often seen carrying large loads on their heads in the various market places in town. Like other children living and working on the streets, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and may face a higher risk of exposure to HIV. Ms. Westenra met with some of these girls on her UNICEF visit.
UNICEF Ghana is trying to keep children from winding up on the city streets, by supporting vocational skills training programmes. In addition to basic job skills, children in the programmes also learn life skills which can help them take better care of themselves and their families. They are taught about sexual and reproductive health issues in order to help them make informed decisions to be able to avoid HIV/AIDS.
The sessions are led by peer educators – young people who are approximately as old as the students. Ms. Westenra participated in one of the training sessions, which was led by Adelaide, an experienced peer educator who has conducted many such sessions.
Hayley Westenra’s bicycle project
During her four-day visit, Ms. Westenra also had opportunities to see other UNICEF programmes in education, child protection and water and sanitation. She learned about the Guinea Worm disease in Ghana and how UNICEF is helping the government eradicate the parasite, which is transmitted through drinking water and can leave its hosts in pain, unable to work and open to infection.
|© UNICEF Ghana/2000/Pirozzi|
|Going to school by bicycle. For these two girls from northern Ghana, the dream of getting an education has become a reality.|
Ms. Westenra also launched a fundraising project to provide bicycles for girls to help them attend school (learn more about the bicycle project supported by Ms. Westenra). Since 2001, UNICEF has supplied over 5,000 bicycles to young people. A study has shown that the bicycles have helped raise school enrolment and attendance levels, improve academic performance and reduce drop- out rates.
Ms. Westenra is hoping to raise enough money to provide another 5,000 bicycles and 1,000 tricycles for disabled children: “I think every little bit helps and I hope I can go back home and raise the money to donate towards UNICEF’s projects, especially this bicycle project,” she said.
The bicycles and tricycles will go to 6,000 girls in upper primary and junior secondary schools in the 40 most disadvantaged districts.
Accompanying Ms. Westenra on her trip were family members and UNICEF New Zealand's Executive Director, Dennis McKinlay.
Ghana’s government is now implementing a number of different programmes and projects in order to reach its ultimate goal of providing free and compulsory universal quality education for all children, including both boys and girls. Gender equity is now considered a key education priority here. Ensuring that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling is one of the Millennium Development Goals.