Fifteen year-old Ema spent six years fishing as a child slave on Lake Volta. He and others would wake up by 7 a.m., go to the lake and come back for breakfast, but then they would turn back around and work without returning again until evening.
Ema says in the day, the fishing nets were tied with rope and they would use blades to cut the nets to make new ways to use them. If the group brought only one net to the lake on any given morning, they would typically return for food by 9 or 10 a.m., and they would eat rice porridge for breakfast. Lunch would be eaten later in the day, skipping breakfast, if they had two nets with them, which was often. The group did always have an evening meal.
While he didn’t feel starved and he says he was treated relatively decently, Ema says he wasn’t happy working on the lake. He never wanted to stay on the lake, because he wanted to go to school, as he had done before he was sent to work.
On the lake, Ema stayed with his father, who was a fisherman. He says five of his other siblings also worked on the lake alongside him, while one stayed behind in Senya. The five remain on the lake, fishing with his father – and Ema hopes they, too, will have the opportunity to go to school when they are older.
After arriving at the shelter, Ema says he’s happy with all that he has learned to do, skills and education-wise. He says he feels like he is becoming cleverer. With his sights set on becoming a bank manager, he says he likes reading.
At times Ema says he felt unsafe while he was fishing on Lake Volta. One of his biggest fears came from traditional Ghanaian beliefs, where people could curse others by pouring alcoholic drinks and speaking bad words on them. Ema was afraid that someone on the lake would do that to him, and that if he dove under water to retrieve fishing nets, that he would never resurface.
It’s the safety Ema feels while at the Hovde House, plus a hope for a bright future filled with education and success that he’s glad he was rescued from working on the lake and hopes others will be, too.
“Ema” is an alias; we changed his name for this story to respect his identity.