What A Slum May Look Like

Old Fadama

What A Slum May Look Like

Written by Lauren Hauszner, 2014 West Africa Grassroots Education.

Living in Canada I often hear stories of slums in faraway places, stricken by poverty or affected by war. In my mind, I have created a perception of what these places look like. Starving children with bloated tummies, surrounding their pregnant mothers wrapped in brightly colored pieces of cloth. Men with guns or weapons ready to fight at any given moment. The elderly mixed in the crowd sitting around just waiting for the day to pass; waiting until they are moved back to their homes. A sense of hopelessness is painted on the faces of everyone. This is what penetrates my mind based off of what I know from home.

However, visiting a community classified as a slum was a much different experience for me. On a wet and muddy day, our Grassroots Education team went to visit Old Fadama. This is the largest slum in Ghana and is home to around 80,000 people; 61,000 of which are children. Before entering the slum I had this vision in my mind of what it will be like, but not long after arriving, a much more exciting and colorful picture has replaced my own vision.

We are met by Moses, one of the senior community members in charge of education in the slum. He walks us through the entrance of the slum where people of all ages greet us and smile along the way. People are going about their daily lives; a network of routines have been strongly established here. People are going to work, businesses are being run, children are heading to school, women prepare food, and vibrant kiosks and stands outline much of the outdoor streets. ABBA plays in the distance. This is not what a slum should be, I think to myself.

Moses informs us about access to education for the children living in Old Fadama. He tells us that of the 61,000 children currently residing there, only 50% attend school. He tells us that the government does not support education here because it is an illegal settlement with the majority of the population being migrants from the northern regions of Ghana and neighbouring countries. He tells us that many must resort to going to schools miles away from their residences without sufficient transportation, while others simply don’t go to school at all. He tells us that due to poverty, most children cannot afford school uniforms and materials. More than that, the majority of teachers are not properly trained and have completed only Junior Secondary School or Senior Secondary School. He paints a dire picture focused on the situation surrounding education in this illegal settlement and it is one that shocks us all.

Moses then takes us to one of the few schools in Old Fadama. The school is called Bethel and it ranges in students aged preschool to junior high. There are more than 600 students that attend the school and class sizes range from 35-55 students per class. Students are literally crammed into small classrooms separated by dividers, not walls, with minimal materials and teacher support. But still, the school functions.

Immediately when we arrive, the students’ giggling and happy demeanor pull us all towards them. They are ecstatic to be around us and relish in the art projects we have planned for them. The day goes by with many emotions playing through my head. I am overwhelmed by the resilience and familiarity of the children. Walking into a classroom in Canada would result in many of the same behaviors that these children present. They are interested, curious, hyper, shy, genuine, mischievous, and thoroughly engaged students. They are striving to learn more and more each day. They value the education they are receiving. They truly love school.

The day is done and we are exhausted, but I am left with a strong sense of humility and honor. The children have taught me much more than I could have ever taught them in our short meeting. I will never forget the experience or their smiling faces. I am thankful to Moses, the children, and all the people who changed my perception of what a slum actually is. Although there are many challenges that the people residing in the community of Old Fadama face, including education, they are functioning to the best of their capabilities and have taken ownership of their own future.

So this is what a slum is, I think to myself.

Lauren Hauszner
2014 West Africa: Grassroots Education