Street Girls Project

This week's program is a transcription of a presentation made by Kay Bliss, who is Global Grants Chairperson for the Rotary Club of Ojai, my buddy club. At the end of the 2013-2014 Rotary year, Kay submitted a successful Global Grant application to provide vocational and entrepreneurial training for impoverished teenage girls who live and work on the streets in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. E-Club of One World Rotary is one of 13 Rotary clubs in D 5240 who contributed to this grant submitted by The Rotary Club of Ojai, CA (D5240) and Accra Legon East, Accra, Ghana (D9102). With that very brief introduction, here are Kay's remarks:

For the past 13 years I have been involved with a program that seeks to help teenage girls who live and work on the streets of Accra, Ghana, improve their lives. I became interested in this project after visiting Ghana in 2001 for a Polio National Immunization Day (NID). Because of the NID, I had the opportunity to see places off the beaten tourist track - day care centers, backyards, workplaces - as Rotarians and health care workers looked for kids who hadn't yet been immunized against polio. 
That experience led to a lifechanging discussion with Emma Amakye, whom I had met at a Rotary International Convention in 1999. Emma asked me to stay with her when she heard I was coming to Ghana on an NID, and we have since become close friends. In the evening after the NID, Emma and I talked about the moral obligation those of us who are "haves" have to help those who "have not," and Emma subsequently introduced me to the mission of Street Girls Aid, a local nonprofit organization. At the time I was new to Rotary and had no knowledge about grants, but I started raising money for the group and that lead to the Rotary Club of Ojai's first project with Street Girls Aid (SAid)



For those of you unfamiliar with Ghana, embedded in the map above are a few facts about this western African country. To the right is a view of Accra, the capital of Ghana, as approached by air. The other photos give you a feel for the areas around Accra.



Ghana is a country of contrasts. Northern Ghana is much drier and less populated since it's on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It is predominantly Moslem and there is widespread poverty. Southern Ghana has more resources, coastal and urban life, and most of the development and educational resources.

In both the northern and southern regions, as might be expected, there is also disparity between the urban and rural areas. In rural areas there is not a lot of cash, lifestyles are more traditional, and there is less opportunity for young people because there are not as many employment opportunities. This is especially true in the north. And despite a recent economic boom due to oil development, little of the benefits trickle down to Ghana's poor. A 2008 estimate indicates 28.5% of the population lives in poverty.

More than half (52%) of Ghana's population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban residents is increasing at a rate of 3.5% per year as people move to the city in search of better economic prospects.

Many of the girls served by Street Girls Aid come to Accra as part of this rural to urban migration. A 2011 census of street children counted 62,000 children under the age of 18 (57% of whom are girls), who are either born on street and live with a parent or parents on the street, or have migrated to the street either with their family or alone. They are poor urban children who survive working in the street, often alone because of a family breakdown or other reasons that have made it necessary for them to fend for themselves. About 75% of the Street Girls come from rural villages to escape grinding poverty. Those that come from the Muslim areas in the north generally have had fewer educational opportunities. They often encouraged by their families to go to the cities in order to earn money for their dowries, but arrive with no understanding of how difficult this will be.

Thus unaccompanied children come to Accra by bus or train and end up in the open air markets that surround the depots. They sleep in the lorry park or behind the public toilets. There is no adult supervision and their peers are their support system.


Most use their youthful physical strength working as porters – basically being treated like expendable beasts of burden in the marketplaces.So how do girls who have no skills, are illiterate, and have no adults in their lives support themselves?


Or they may work for someone else as a helper.

Fu fu pounding in market: 0:13 min:


Or hawk things in the middle of a busy road or at intersections.

Life is dangerous in these open places so sometimes they hook up with an older street boy for protection. Street children rent areas to sleep in front of stores, and have to be out by 7:00 a.m. and girls will sometimes share a boy's rental space in return for sex. The boys don't have any more resources than the girls and so if a girl finds herself pregnant she is usually left stranded and has to move on on her own. She may not be able to go home because often families will not accept a returning girl with a baby. Most girls in this situation wind up raising their babies on the street. And this is why we are concentrating our efforts on changing the lives of the street girls - to break the cycle.A few (1.8%) trade sex for money or other considerations.

We are doing this through supporting an agency that has been working with street girls since 1994 – Street Girls Aid. Street Girls Aid (SAid) believes that the most effective way to transform the lives of children on the street is to provide them with the opportunity to receive love and support from committed and trained caregivers. Therefore in all the programs the girls are empowered and encouraged to make changes that will make it possible for them to have a better life.

Prenatal care,Street Girls Aid does this through trained outreach workers who go to the places the girls live and work to connect the girls with various services such as:

  • Salvation Army clinics,
  • Health department services,
  • Family mediation, and
  • Literacy projects.

They also assess the girls' actions and motivations and to determine whether they would be good candidates for vocational training.

SAid also provides the Young Women's Support Center, where pregnant street girls may stay for one month prior to and three months following delivery. This provides them with a safe place where they can recover from childbirth and get a good start with their babies. They have support from older women who teach them how to take care of their infants, and they attend basic math and literacy classes while there.

Those girls who have demonstrated to caseworkers the desire and the determination needed to succeed are given vocational training. Street Girls Aid provides training to 80 girls a year in sewing, hairdressing, manicure and pedicure, catering, and cooking and baking.

Another major initiative of SAid is to provide daycare services. The NGO operates 4 creches (daycare centers) to provide childcare, two daily meals, and basic health care for 450 babies and children 5 years and younger while their mothers work in the marketplaces. There is also parent education and nutrition training, too.

So that's what SAid does. Now I'd like to tell you more about the Global Grant that your
club is helping to fund.

These conditions forced SAid save money in some pretty painful ways:As I mentioned earlier, RC of Ojai got involved with SAid when we were over there in 2001, but it took us almost 3 years to do our first matching grant, which was to furnish a new building when they moved out of their old borrowed building in 2005. We bought all the vocational training equipment, the dormitory furniture and equipped the kitchen and offices. It was a $43,000 grant, and was the springboard that helped them really expand their services. Over the years our club kept in touch with SAid, but in 2011 I got a desperate plea from the Executive Director, stating SAid was in dire straits. Changes in the world economy had resulted in fewer donors; funding from a Catholic organization - Street Child Africa - which had constituted half of SAid's annual budget had been cut; funding from UNICEF and Danida, a Danish organization, had dried up. In addition local scandals involving other NGOs had tarnished the NGO image for all and local support was down. To make matters worse, food prices had risen increasing SAid's operating expenses and drought and famine in the north was increasing the number of girls owing to Accra.

  • While the SAid House of Refuge can house 45 girls, but they could only afford staff and food for 15.
  • Since water mains weren't working in the neighborhood where the Young Women's Support Center is located, water trucks would deliver water to local homes' big storage tanks for a fee. Since SAid wasn't unable to afford the asking price, SAid had the girls go to the nearest standpipes to fill buckets and carry the water to the Young Women's Support Center.
  • At the day care centers they could no longer afford eggs as a source of protein for the children, so they only used soy beans.
  • Staff weren't replaced if they left. In 2009 SAid had 48 staff . In 2011 they were down to 38.

So I contacted Kathy Stutzman, a Rotarian in Minnesota whom I had met when she was a Group Study Exchange leader (D5960) to Ghana in 2003, and whose club had contributed to our first matching grant. We consulted with SAid Executive Director Vida Asomaning Amaoko about what kind of help would be most beneficial. Those talks resulted in four of us going to Ghana in Feb 2012 to start a strategic planning process with the leadership team of SAid. Kathy Stutzman and PDG Cathy Smith went back two more times to continue this process, and were joined by other Rotarians from D5960. (You may have seen the article in the August 2014 issue of The Rotarian magazine about their work with SAid.) In addition to developing ways to approach funding sources more effectively, SAid staff also wanted to develop a social entrepreneurship model, with the goal of becoming more self-sustaining and not being at the mercy of grants and donations for their economic survival. Under this model, SAid will develop businesses that provide goods or services for profit, while also providing vocational training girls in these businesses. The profit from these businesses will be used to support future vocational training and other SAid programs.

The Global Grant that E-Club One World Rotary club is helping fund is a huge step in allowing Street Girls Aid to transition to a more self-sustainable program that is not as reliant on outside funding.While I was in Ghana in 2012, I went to a lot of Rotary meetings in Accra to find a local club that might want to partner with the RC of Ojai on a global grant. I found Rotary Club of Accra Legon East,a great new club that was chartered in 2012. As you can see in this photo of their club officers, it is a youthful club, with many of its charter members having been former Rotaractors.

The grant has two parts:

  • Vocational training in laundry services for 60 girls, where they will be trained in handlaundry and industrial laundry. The grant will:
    • Purchase the laundry equipment - $30,000;
    • Provide all the furnishings, water reservoir, shelves, etc. in the new building that will be constructed (with funding from the Rotary Club of Ojai that is separate from the Global Grant) for the laundry program;
    • Provide start-up supplies, utility costs;
    • Provide food and transportation for the girls while they attend the training and live in the support center;
    • Pay for a laundry instructor and social worker for the program; and
    • Provide tool kits for the graduates so they can go out an get jobs or start their own laundry businesses.

The grant is for 16 months, after which the program should be self sustaining, and the profit gained from the laundry business where the girls learn will be used to continue the training and also provide revenue for Street Girls Aid.

  • The second component is entrepreneurial training for 100 young women ages 18-25 engaged in petty trading. These girls have their own little businesses but don't have skills to improve them or make a reasonable profit. This part of the grant will train the SAid street workers and staff so that they can train the girls, and mentor them. They will go by and see girls as usual, but then assess whether they would like training, and then follow-up mentoring to keep them thinking about ways to run their businesses more profitably. This project is self-sustaining, because once the staff are trained, they can pass on their knowledge.

This is the first year our district can do global grants, so it is a learning curve for all of us. I want to use this grant as an example of what global grants are all about.

Global grants replace the old matching grants, but can be much larger. There are also some other major changes and requirements:

  • The project must be in one of 6 areas of focus – ours is economic and community development.
  • There is a major emphasis on involving the recipients in planning the grants, not just having Rotarians come in and tell them what they need, and how to do it.
  • There is also extensive planning that has to be done among the international and host Rotarian partners, and the cooperating organization that will be part of implementing the project, with Rotarians being involved all along the way via Skype, email and phone contacts.
  • Rotarians where the grant is carried out are in charge of disbursing the funds and oversight of the project.
  • A separate bank account is required, as are receipts for everything, and interim and final reports are required for the project.
  • We have to have goals with measurable outcomes, so that we will be able to accurately report on the success or challenges in our project. (We were able to build in costs of evaluation and gathering information and provide for a grant project manager.)
  • The projects are required to be sustainable so that the recipients can continue to run the project or the training done during the grant will continue to benefit the community after the grant money is gone. The exit strategy — what will happen after the grant has been completed and the funds are all gone — has to be built into the project from the beginning. Our grant is sustainable in two ways: the girls will learn new skills which they can never unlearn and the laundry will give SAid a revenue stream apart from grants and donations.
  • We are doing additional things to insure sustainability: Ojai Rtn. Mike Weaver (who is a business consultant with small businesses and consults with Women's Economic Ventures in Ventura County) and I are going over in 2015 so Mike can help them with their business plan and train them in business practices for small businesses. This will be partially funded by a district grant.

So planning the project and writing the grant are a huge process – but the other big part was getting the money to fund it – and that's where E-Club of One World joined this effort.

I'd like to close with an observation I heard at the Rotary poverty conference. It was said that in North America, we tend to describe poverty as the lack of material things such as goods, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc. But while poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms. They talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness.

When I was going around with the social workers and seeing street girls, the caseworker Fred and I interviewed Sofia, a 17 year-old girl who had come to Accra two months ago because her parents couldn't afford to continue her education, so she thought she would seek her fortune in the city. It broke my heart. I asked what it was like here and she responded "At night it is terrible. We sleep in front of the shops and hook up mosquito nets to the poles – you need lots of clothes when it gets cold – and how can you sleep when it rains? I'd go back to my hometown tomorrow morning – if I could go to school." She wanted opportunity and a hope to make something of herself.

We also stopped for Fred to visit with one of SAid's "success stories" – a young woman who had received a tiny loan, and now had her own business selling little things in the market where she used to be a porter. When I took a photo of their interaction, I didn't realize I had caught the essence of the "haves" and "have nots" of the street girls: one is still desperately poor financially, but she has a little business selling things, and isn't waiting for someone to hire her, and feels good about herself. The other young woman just embodies the monotony and hopelessness that is the developing world's definition of poverty.

When I asked one young woman what her dream was, it was to become a hairdresser. She told me, "I want to be a madam." In Ghana, people are polite, and they constantly called me "Madam." This young woman wanted to be a hairdresser - someone who was worthy of respect - and not be treated like garbage or a beast of burden.

That is what we want for them too. Thank you for helping give these girls hope, and a chance for a better life.


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