Sunday, October 29, 2006


An article by Sharon LaFreniere in today's New York Times documents the prevalence of slave labor in West Africa. Her focus is on Ghana, where destitute parents sometimes sell their young children into bondage for a pittance. The children work long hours on little nourishment and may seldom--or never--see their parents. They are often mistreated and abused. According to LaFreniere, "Ghana, an Oregon-size nation of 21 million people, has yet to prosecute anyone under the new antitrafficking law it adopted last December. But the government has taken other steps — including eliminating school fees that forced youngsters out of classrooms, increasing birth registrations so that children have legal identities and extending small loans to about 1,200 mothers to give them alternatives to leasing out their children."
I served as a Peace Corps secondary school English teacher 1967-69. In 1995, I founded Friends of Ghana, an affiliate of the National Peace Corps Association (a group for returned PC volunteers), and became its first president. Currently, I edit Talking Drum, our quarterly newsletter. Despite severe economic and political disruption, especially in the 1980s, Ghana has been relatively stable, and since 1961 the Peace Corps has had a strong presence there. Friends of Ghana contributes to worthy projects and scholarship funds in Ghana, but when I read articles such as the one on slave labor in a country where many live on less than $1 per day, I realize our efforts are feeble. Perhaps after retirement in a few years, I'll be able to return to Ghana with my wife Janne and teach for a while.
The rack, the screw,
the hook with pointed end and eye,
smoldering sticks, cloth in oil,
the jag of an old man's tooth,
the stake, an arm of rope,
the crushing hammer and the claw,
the wooden yolk, horses
sent in different directions,
rocks dashed to the head and some to the sky,
recitation of saints most would not remember,
skin stripped from the body,
public inquisition,
the strong man and his pick, fire:
these are what little girls are made of.
-- from "Jeanne in the Presence of Instruments" by Susan B.A. Somers-Willett in Roam

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