At the age of six, James Kofi Annan was sold into slavery. He was made to work in Ghana’s fishing villages, sometimes 17 hours a day often enduring abuse, until escaping back home to his parents 7 years later. At age 14, James couldn’t read or write but believed that learning English would give him more opportunity in life, so he befriended local school children in order to use their books. He worked to feed himself and pay for school, and persevered through college landing a job at Barclays Bank thanks to his academic achievements. Soon thereafter, James decided he wanted to pursue saving other children from a life of slavery. He founded Challenging Heights in 2003, and worked on the project part time until he could afford to leave his job at Barclays.
Challenging Heights aims to liberate trafficked and enslaved children from the fishing and cocoa sectors of Ghana, and to prevent children from ever falling victim to slavery. The organization is based in Winneba, Ghana, but the reach of their work spans across most of the southern half of the country. Their unique and world-class anti-slavery model includes a comprehensive and integrated approach: community resistance building, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration, education, and monitoring and evaluation. This model has earned Challenging Heights several international awards, including the World Children’s Prize, which James received in October 2013.
Under James’ leadership, Challenging Heights has also expanded their prevention efforts to include programs that will increase income for women in the region. The sustainable businesses they have helped to launch in the Winneba community are increasing women’s incomes substantially, and therefore decreasing the vulnerability of their children to traffickers.
In 2013, MNSF began partnering with James and Challenging Heights on a new sustainable business project that will allow women to sell fish long past the typical fishing season. Our funding has helped to establish a preservation facility and revolving seed capital that allows women to buy excess fish from the market during fishing season, store the fish in the preservation facility, and smoke and sell the fish during the off-season when fish is scarce. When a woman becomes a member of this project, she is given financial literacy training and assistance opening a bank account to help save her profits.
We have also partnered with James and his team to help support their ambitious campaign to end child trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry by 2022 and end child slavery in Ghana entirely by 2027. Challenging Heights has bolstered their model and sought out the necessary partnerships so that they can completely prevent new children from being trafficked into the industry and begin charting a course for rescuing all the children who are currently enslaved.