Our last day in Tamale is the only one spent outside the Stadium. The morning is spent in the office, sale getting to know the Camfed staff. I am amazed by their passion, energy and devotion. We spend many more hours than planned moving from one office to the next. They tell us about the vast range of work they are doing, ranging from Teacher Mentor schemes, to Google partnerships to Girls Careers Camp, and I am sure there is much more that’s left unsaid.
Of course, they are doing it for a reason, and so along with it all we finally begin to understand what the girls have been through: kayayo, the practice of “portering” in big cities – some go to Accra, some even crossing the border to Togo; houses being burned down during periods of unrest; “fostering”, where a child is sent to live with relatives under the pretence of building familial links but in reality leading to the child going unfed and uneducated; forced marriages under the name of religion and superstitious curses; more religious doctrine saying that women shouldn’t be educated.
But the girls have managed to overcome that. They not only get educated academically, but they know their rights, and they are keen to lead by example and have their “sisters” share in their success. Wendy, the Education Officer, tells us about a group of girls that saw a young girl that wasn’t in school. They dug into it, and found out that she was fostered. They went to confront the father together – something even Wendy would have trepidation doing! – and convinced him to send the girl to school.
We eventually leave the office and head out with William, the Camfed driver, to see a village. The men are at mosque, and so the women welcome us into their huts and even let us take pictures. The huts are small, with thatched roofs, but they have electricity. The heat is unbearable outside, but inside the hut, it stays remarkably cool.
After that, we make it to the market and William takes us to his wife’s stall where she sells fish, spaghetti and oil. We continue around the market, spotting snails, lamb heads, and many other such delicacies on the way.
Somehow, we have not made time for lunch. By the time we are done at the market, we have to be back at the office to pick up Wendy for our school visit. Credit Suisse supports a number of girls at Tamale Senior High School through Camfed, and we are to meet with 34 of them. It’s somewhat awkward to begin, but the girls begin to relax and tell us their favourite subjects, how they interact with boys, and open up about their pasts, crying along the way. They are only 14 years old.
The teacher reminds them that today is a Happy Day, and that we can not let the bad memories control us anymore. We must say No to the sad thoughts when they arrive, so that we can remain strong and can share these stories to those that need to hear them.
When we are leaving, the girls surround us, holding onto our bags, wanting photos taken with us, answering yet more questions. We ask what the male to female ratio is like, and it reminds me how some things never change when they say that there are 6 girls in the Maths class, compared to 42 boys. I tell them that I studied in England, and on my Computer Science degree course, there were 100 boys and 10 girls. They must be strong, they must work hard, and they will show everyone they are just as good as – if not better! – than the boys.
The journey back to the office is interrupted by a funeral celebration which has blocked the road. They celebrate loudly with music and drums for the whole day. We get out of the car and walk down the road instead, taking it all in.
We finally return to the office and re-heat what was intended to be our lunch: rice balls and groundnut soup with chicken. It is delicious, but at 5.30pm, I’m not in the mood for lunch or dinner. Our conversations continue for awhile yet, and finally around 7pm, the office empties of its 8 employees. Aisha drives us back to the hotel, and we converse some more in her car before reluctantly taking our leave.
It seems odd not to be at the hotel restaurant every night, so we go for a drink and have one last chat with our waiter friends. Samson is studying Business Management at the college, having moved from his home in the Volta region for the privilege. He hopes to be a lawyer one day, having already tried his hand at computers but getting bored. It is thanks to him that I have had fantastic wi-fi all week. The Stoke couple are back for their evening meal, and a couple words are exchanged.
The next morning, we set off at 9am for the return 6 hour drive to Kumasi, have a bit of a panic in Kumasi airport where the woman says that we have the wrong booking reference, are not booked on the flight and the flight is in fact full (but then it turns out that we are booked on the flight and the flight is clearly not full), make it to Accra, where the departure board says one time for take-off and our tickets another and no-one seems to know which it is, and finally, finally land in Heathrow Terminal 5 amid the Sunday morning rush.
My feet are tired from the exertion of literally walking in circles for four days, my mind is full from all that I have seen and learnt, only a fraction of which is recorded here, and yet, I wish I could do it all over again – or even better, do another week more.