On The Road Blog
FT Behind the Scenes: Stepping into Challenging Heights
Stepping into Challenging Heights’ newest rescue shelter, I thought, “What a long way this organization has come.” Founded by James Kofi Annan in 2003, and officially registered in 2005, the organization started out working with a handful of formerly trafficked children. In 2007, The Global Fund for Children’s program officer at the time, Solome Lemma, took a risk to invest in Challenging Heights because she saw something unique in Annan—she saw dedication and potential. Five years later, the organization has evolved significantly.
Not only does Challenging Heights rescue children from harmful trafficking situations, but it rehabilitates these children in holistic ways, while also focusing on prevention strategies that engage community and family members in the fight against child trafficking. In effect, the organization has started a grassroots social movement to change attitudes, as well as contextual factors such as poverty and income limitations that facilitate child trafficking in the first place. Challenging Heights now has a staff of over 30 a school for children who are at risk of being trafficked or were formerly engaged in forced labor, an income-generating program for parents of rescued children, and two rescue shelters. Challenging Heights is a model of what can happen when a dedicated and resourceful community-based organization receives the resources—financial, developmental, and other—that it needs to realize its vision.
Scouting in Ghana, I saw glimpses of that potential in other organizations. People are working tirelessly to improve the lives of children and youth and ensure a bright future. I met with organizations working with children in conflict with the law and children on the streets, tackling illiteracy, paving a empowered path for young sex workers, and bringing the problem of gender-based violence into the civil-society limelight. Over and over again, the engaging conversations I had with these leaders and staff members evoked my humble respect for the dedication of the people behind these organizations. Limited funding was a common thread in all these discussions. Yet all the organizations continued with their work, and many of them, out of necessity, were paying for it out of their own pockets.
Touted as one of the continent’s most politically stable and economically strong countries, Ghana is not always perceived as a nation where the need for funding is great. I was told that over the years, as the foreign aid industry has grown, many donors have pulled out of Ghana, or shifted funding to newer, trendier countries or issues. And yet there remains much work to be done to affect children’s well-being. As long as there are girls who are sexually abused and shamed to silence, as long as there are young men living on the streets, struggling for a path but lacking education, skills, and familial support, there is need.
In Ghana, I was reminded anew that wherever there are people, there are vulnerable people—regardless of the social or economic indicators. Need is everywhere, but the chance to support committed people who are determined to address that need is unique. It’s an opportunity to transform lives, an opportunity to realize visions, and an opportunity to grow effective organizations like Challenging Heights.