By Kelly Pyzik
The African Caribbean Student Union (ACSU) and Tilly Woodward, Faulconer Gallery Curator of Academic and Public Outreach, sold books in the JRC lobby this week to raise money for Challenging Heights, the organization of James Kofi Annan, a 2011 Grinnell Prize winner. Challenging Heights works in Ghana to rescue and protect former child slaves.
Challenging Heights’ students created the books during the three-week fellowship Woodward spent in Ghana. The books were sold for $5, but larger donations were accepted. Each book was labeled with the author’s name, and each donation went into a personal account to fund that child’s education.
Challenging Heights is based out of Winneba, where it built a school that now enrolls over 600 children. An hour from the school is Ghana’s largest aftercare shelter, built by the Hovde Foundation in partnership with Challenging Heights, which can house up to 60 children at once. Challenging Heights performs child slave rescues and afterward, the children go to the Hovde House, where they receive support, protection, counseling and play therapy, with the goal that they will eventually be re-integrated with their families.
“They counsel the kids, recognizing that really difficult things have happened to them, but also get them to start thinking about moving forward and taking control of their lives, being positive as they go forward,” Woodward said. “There was this kid who would tell me, ‘My name is King David and I am happy every day.’ It was a really genuine thing with him. It was a new day and he was going to be happy every day.”
Of the 43 children Woodward met while she was in Ghana, 31 have since been placed back with their families.
The organization also advocates for the children legally, lobbying the Ghanaian government to pass legislation that would protect children from slavery and create legal consequences for those involved in child trafficking. Challenging Heights goes into Ghanaian communities identified as high-risk for child trafficking, working with families to raise awareness of the dangers of child trafficking and to help improve their incomes.
During her time in Ghana, Woodward worked with the children on different art projects: painting, print-making, doing simple sewing and teaching them to make the books that were sold at Grinnell this week. There is no free schooling in Ghana, so children and their families must find ways to fund an education.
“With book-making, you just have a needle, some thread, some paper and a straight edge—a nail and hammer would be nice but you could get by without it,” Woodward said. “Some of the kids saw this as a way that they could possibly support themselves: making books.
The children made over 300 books during Woodward’s stay, about 40 of which were brought back with her to be sold.
“I have been making art with kids since I was very young and I have never, never worked with kids who were so eager to learn and to express themselves,” Woodward said. “The idea that they would have a book that they could draw in or practice writing math problems in or write stories in was a huge thing to them. At one point, one of the house mothers was questioning one of the kids because he had two books and one of the books had someone else’s name on it: he had traded his bread for it…I think a really great part of the project is that the kids have somewhere private. These kids have been through things that you and I just can’t imagine, so for them to have a place that is their own, that’s a really wonderful thing.”