International Research and Theory in Human Ecology

Vol. 18, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

Guest Editor:
Elizabeth B. Goldsmith

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM, Vol. 18, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2009. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Kappa Omicron Nu


An Alternative to Street Vending:
Promoting Economic Development through Health, Education
and Skill Training for Ghana’s Kayayei

Julia R. Miller
Department of Family and Child Ecology
Michigan State University, East Lansing


This article discusses some of the challenges related to poverty and economic development faced by Africa as a developing continent, with a specific focus on Ghana and the Capital City of Accra. It explains poverty in the lives of female adolescents who migrate from rural to urban areas seeking employment. Furthermore, strategies for poverty reduction address issues related to improving the lives of female adolescents, known as Kayayei, who work in the informal sector. Conceptual frameworks related to positive youth development are used to understand and explain the Danish-funded program, Lifeline. This program is designed as a poverty reduction strategy and also supports the mission of the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs--to promote the welfare of women and children and their survival, development, and protection. Responses of these young females were sought to understand their experience and engagement in Lifeline. This program is designed to make a difference in their lives as they work in the markets of Accra, survive and thrive on a daily basis, and hold on to their dreams and future aspirations.


The purposes of this article are to (a) provide a context for the discussion of Africa, its people, and economic development, with special attention to Ghana, West Africa, (b) describe a group of challenged adolescent Kayayei working in Accra’s informal labor sector, (c) discuss a Danish funded program, Lifeline, designed to promote positive youth development for the Kayayei, and (d) present responses from participants involved in the Lifeline Program. The article is organized into four sections: brief profile of Africa: Ghana and its Peoples; The Kayayei in Accra; the charge of the Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs; and findings from the discussion group.

A Brief Profile of Africa: Ghana and its Peoples

Among developing countries, Africa is considered to be one of the poorest continents. Although economic growth occurred in Africa primarily in the 1990s, these gains did not make up for the losses during the 1980s. Another phenomenon is the soaring population increase, which has impacted the region both ecologically and economically. Its population in 2008 was approximately 955 million (Internet World Stats, 2008). Furthermore, the health conditions, resulting from HIV/AIDS and the resurgence of malaria because of increasing drug resistance and problems with the public health system, place even more stresses and strains on development of the region (Sachs, McArthur, Schmidt-Traub, Kruk, Bahadur, Faye, & McCord, 2004).

Over the past two decades, policy-based development lending, known as “structural adjustment lending,” has not provided solutions to economic issues. Rather, it has created heavy debt burdens. In addition to structural challenges, Africa has suffered from adverse geopolitics from European powers for almost five centuries. Today, compared to Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries, the United States has placed many constraints on Africa related to debt relief, trade/exports, and other financial opportunities (Sachs et al., 2004).

In this article, we focus on Ghana as a sample case of how, in the context of the challenges facing Africa, positive development may be promoted, particularly among youth. In 1957, Ghana (in West Africa, formerly the British Colony known as the Gold Coast) became the first Black nation in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence. This country is a major leader in African constitutional democracy. Historically, the government has been relatively stable with a 230-seat parliament representing different regions of the country. Accra, the capital, is the largest urban center in Ghana. Ghana’s primary economic activities are agriculture, mining, and retail trade. Attempts have been made to expand the country’s trading base with non-traditional commodities such as pineapples, tuna, and roses; however, gold and cocoa have been the two most profitable commodities (Country Profile: Ghana, 2009; U.S. Department of State, 2007; USAID, 2006).

Although the United States has placed some constraints on Ghana related to debt relief, trade/exports, and other financial opportunities, the country is valued as a critical U. S. African partner. This partnership is significant because Ghana has provided leadership in key regional and global issues that include peacekeeping, conflict resolution, counterterrorism, anti-trafficking of persons, HIV/AIDS prevention, family planning, infectious disease control, and economic development (Sachs, et al, 2004; USAID, 2006).

The slave trade, which depopulated the coastal areas of Africa during the 19th century, was replaced by colonial rule and exploitation by European powers. Unfortunately at the end of colonial power, the people of Africa were left with an extant infrastructure. The borders of Africa were demarcated without any regard for customs or ethnic, political, and language differences of both the European and African peoples. Furthermore, many of the African countries were stripped of their natural resources (Sachs, et al, 2004). This situation has occurred in Ghana, and it has affected the quality of life among its people. We focus on the situation facing a particularly challenged group of young women in Ghana.

The Kayayei in Accra, Ghana

In the spring of 2005, a delegation of Ghanaian businesswomen and staff of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, visited the Zonta Club of Lansing. The mission of the Lansing chapter is consistent with the international organization, which states: Zonta International is a worldwide service organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women (Zonta Club of Lansing website). One goal of the Ghanaian delegation was to understand the role of entrepreneurship in poverty reduction through U.S. field site visitations with designated Zonta members.

One of the outcomes of the Ghanaian women’s visit was a request from Ministry staff for consultant services to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWCA). The Ministry was established in 2001 as a means to focus on issues for females and children, especially those that address challenges faced by female urban youth, children, and families. The mission of MOWAC is to promote the welfare of women and children, their survival, development, and protection. The Ministry embarked upon a number of projects and programs to promote rights and welfare of women and children and to mainstream gender and children’s concerns (Ghana Home Page, Ministry of Women & Children’s Affairs). This mission is consistent with the United Nations Development Program's Gender Development Index (GDI). This Index is a measure of health, education, and income. It also is a measure of society’s well-being and inequities in gender that ultimately impact on human capacity development (Stanton, 2007). Furthermore, the MOWAC mission is somewhat similar to Boyce and Pastor’s (2001) operational definition of building natural assets and providing access to transportation and services that assist in determining the quality of life in communities.

In the summer of 2005, U.S. consultants Julia Miller and Gwendolyn Taylor of the International Relations/United Nations Committee of the Zonta Club of Lansing were commissioned to meet with the minister of Women and Children’s Affairs and department directors to review programs, plans, and strategies for addressing significant challenges confronting Ghana’s most vulnerable children and families. The minister requested that Miller and Taylor work with ministry staff to identify:

  • High-priority, focal areas impacting general health and well-being of target populations,
  • Critical areas of impact,
  • Potential resources and strategies for improving the target population’s situation.

After collaboration with the minister and staff and agency stakeholders (i.e., U.S. AID, Parliament, Peace Corp), the focus was directed toward the selected work of female porters, popularly known as Kayayei.

As means of economic survival, men, women, and adolescent females and males migrate from rural to urban areas seeking employment. A large of number of female youth, who migrate in Ghana, work as “head-carriers” or porters, popularly know as Kayayei. Migration grows out of a system of “family labor,” characteristic of post-colonial, precapitalist gender relations. Most of the young women have limited education and marketable employment skills. The cultural and traditional context of the Kayayei industry includes living on the street exposed to unsafe shelter and living conditions and to persistent poverty. These young women are subject to violence, human trafficking, rape, and at-risk behaviors, including the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (Awumblia, 2007; Opare, 2003).

In Ghana, the Kayayei work in the major markets of Accra. Usually jobs as Kayayei in the informal sector are not ideal for these young women. Researchers have formulated many definitions of the informal sector (work which is insecure without contracts, worker benefits, or social protection). These enterprises may be small or unregistered partnerships, co-operatives, family businesses, or sole proprietorships. More often than not, there is a lack of legal government recognition, regulation, and protection (Dada, 1998; Ruffer, T. & Knight, 2007). On the streets and in the marketplaces, the Kayayei sell food products, water, household and personal products, arts and crafts, and other small items, as well as assist buyers in carrying purchased products to various locations (Boaten, 1997; Taylor, 2005).

Many jobs held by the Kayayei pay low wages and are low in productivity, which result in unstable incomes (International Labor Organization, 2004; Aumbila, 2007). Although the young adolescents come to Accra seeking a dream of an improved economic status that makes a better life for themselves and their families, more often than not they are disillusioned and their dreams are shattered (U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Affairs, 2003; Opare; 2003; Awumblia, 2007).

Fulfilling the Charge of the Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs

In partnership with ministry staff, Miller and Taylor addressed the focal issue of improving the economic and living conditions of young female Kayayei from a positive youth development perspective. Witt (2002) defined this approach as a process that prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences, which help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, and cognitively competent.

Along with ministry staff, Miller and Taylor visited a Danish funded non-governmental organization project, Lifeline—a program with a positive youth development perspective that provided support and services for a maximum of 150 adolescent female Kayayei. The program, physically located on the periphery of the Agbogbloshie Market, offered structured educational experiences and a safe living environment. Selected criteria for adolescents to participate in the program included (a) no drug use, (b) regular, nightly return to the dormitory, (c) no male visitors/live-in guests, and (d) enrollment in a trade program. Program services and support of the project included (Taylor, 2005):

  • Safe shelter housing
  • Porter identification and registration
  • Family contact/communication
  • Meals
  • Supplemental skill training (sewing, catering, hair-dressing, child-care)
  • HIV/AIDS education
  • HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, and referral

Conceptual frameworks of Witt and Lerner (National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, 2007; Lerner, 2007) are useful in understanding and explaining the Lifeline program that was designed to promote positive youth development of the Kayayei. The components of these two frameworks can be viewed as integrative. Witt’s building blocks for quality youth programs include (National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, 2007):

  • Physical and psychological safety
  • Structure that is developmentally appropriate
  • Emotional and moral support
  • Opportunities for adolescents to experience supportive adult relationships
  • Opportunities to learn how to form close, durable human relationships
  • Opportunities to feel a sense of belonging and being valued
  • Opportunities for skill building and mastery
  • Opportunities to develop confidence in one’s abilities to master one’s environment (a sense of personal efficacy)
  • Opportunities to make a contribution to one’s community and to develop a sense of mattering, and
  • Strong links between families, school, and the broader community resources

Richard Lerner’s (2007) Five C’s for positive youth development include: competence, connection, character, confidence, and caring-compassion. A sixth C ( contribution-to self, family, community, and a civil society) is important to create a society that is marked by social justice, equity, and democracy.

During the visit to the Lifeline Program, Miller and Taylor worked with ministry staff to engage a volunteer group of 100 female youth porters in discussions about their participation in the Lifeline Program, their work in the industry (informal sector), personal information, their survival on a daily basis, and their future aspirations. The group of one hundred young women was divided into 10 groups for discussions of the thirteen questions. Participants were informed that they did not have to respond individually to all questions; the responses were recorded. Interestingly, the young women eagerly and openly discussed their experiences working as Kayayei in the Agbogloskie Market, their education and training, interactions with their families, their living conditions and safety before and after entering the program, and their future aspirations.

Findings from the discussion groups

The discussions provided a rich understanding of the challenges facing female porters in Ghana. The following summary includes the questions and summary of responses.

1. How old are you?

Ages ranged from 11-23 with a mean age of 15.

2. How long have you worked as a Kayayei?

Time worked ranged from 6-36 months with a mean of 18 months.

3. Have you worked as a Kayayei in other local areas?

  1. The longer a girl worked as a porter, the more likely she was to have worked at multiple market locations.
  2. Approximately 78 percent of the participants had only worked at the Agbogloskie Market. The remaining 22 percent worked in other markets before recruitment to the program.
  3. Once a girl gained entry into the program, she was less likely to work in a market other than Agbogloskie.

4. Where is your home?

All participants explained that they had come to Accra from rural areas, leaving their families behind.

5. Are you planning to go back to your home and family?

The responses from participants were unanimous; all stated that they plan to return to their homes and families.

6. Why did you choose to become a Kayayei? The most common responses included:

  1. Wanting to earn money to send to their families.
  2. Wanting to earn money to prepare or acquire traditional household marital goods, such as traditional pots and pans.
  3. Wanting to start a business, such as tie dying or hair dressing.

7. Before coming into the program, where did you live? The most common response from participants was some variation of living on the streets. Responses included:

  1. Living on the streets with a group of other Kayayei.
  2. Living under a wagon with a man or group of men and paying for protection.
  3. Living with an older woman (or “auntie”) and paying a fee for space in a crowded tin or wooden shack.

8. How safe are you on the streets?

  1. A large number of the participants responded that they knew someone who had been raped or abused.
  2. Ten of the participants had conceived children as a result of a sexual encounter.
  3. Two young girls reported that they were pregnant.
  4. One 15-year old girl stated that she was pregnant as a result of rape.
  5. None of the young girls who had children or who were pregnant stated that they received support from the fathers.
  6. Of the more than 35 girls stating that they had sexual activity prior to becoming a participant in the program, none stated that they used condoms.

9. What do you see as a future for Kayayei with young babies?

  1. Overwhelmingly, participants discussed the need to secure training and return to their home in the rural areas.
  2. Young girls discussed the dead-end alternative of raising babies on the streets with limited, unsatisfactory care and support.
  3. One of the young girls described conditions for her child before coming into the program: “paid out 20 cents per day to an older woman who cared for about 15 babies in a dark, dirt-floored room; babies sat in puddles of urine and slept on dirt floors; babies received a bowl of stale food.”

10. Did you attend school before coming to work in Accra?

  1. Twenty percent responded attending no primary school.
  2. Seventy percent responded attending 3 or less years of primary school.
  3. Ten percent responded attending 4-5 years of primary school.
  4. None of the participants stated that they had attended secondary school.
  5. More than half reported a desire to attend school.

11. How are you involved in training offered through the program?

One hundred percent of the participants stated that they were either training to work with tie dying of fabrics or to become a seamstress, hair stylist, caterer, or child care employee. Generally, they expressed very positive comments about the program, its importance, and value to their future.

12. Would you recommend a female relative or friend from your home area to come to Accra to work as a
Overwhelmingly, the participants responded to this question reflecting the effectiveness of the Lifeline
    program objectives:

  1. Most girls stated that they wanted to return home. They also wanted to encourage other girls to learn a skill so that they could stay out of the city; however, many understood the limitations of earning a living in a rural area.
  2. Because of their experiences as Kayayei, the majority of the participants stated that they would never recommend the job as a porter to someone they knew.
  3. Very few stated that they would recommend that female relatives come to Accra to become a Kayayei.

13. What type of future do you want to have? Most of the participants expressed some of the same aspirations.
    They wanted to:

  1. Get married and have a family and children.
  2. Own businesses or be employed in jobs to make a better life than they currently had.
  3. Make sure that their children are educated and become doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, or business owners.
  4. Return home to be with their families.


Africa faces many of the same challenges related to poverty, economic development, and survival as many other developing nations. In Ghana, there is a migration of men, women, and adolescent females and males from rural to urban areas to seek employment. Young female adolescents seek employment as a “head carrier,” or porter, popularly known as Kayakei. These young females work in the major markets of Accra, the capitol of Ghana. Such jobs are not ideal, but Kayakei come with limited education and marketable employment skills. In addition, these jobs place them at risk of various health conditions and unsafe housing and living conditions (The U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Affairs, 2003; Opare, 2003; Awumblia, 2007).

This article described the Danish sponsored program, Lifeline, which was designed to improve the economic and personal conditions under which the adolescents Kayayei in Accra survive and thrive. Two of the conceptual frameworks for the program are Witt’s building blocks for quality youth development programs and Lerner’s Six C’s for positive youth development (National Cleraringhouse on Families and Youth, 2007; Lerner, 2007).

The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWCA), one of Ghana’s governmental agencies, addresses issues related to females and children. The ministry staff, the Lifeline program staff, and United States consultants conducted sessions to gain knowledge and insights into the program’s effectiveness and the resiliency of the adolescent Kayayei. Dialogue during the sessions elicited dynamic, revealing, and invaluable responses from participants. The responses revealed information about working as a Kayakei in the informal sector; their education and training; their interactions with families/peers/the community; their safety, health, and housing conditions before and after entry into the program; their future aspirations; and the effectiveness of the program. These responses were invaluable for future problem solving and decision making by two groups: the Lifeline program staff members as they continue to meet the needs of adolescent female Kayayei working in Accra’s informal market sector and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs staff members as they work to promote the rights of women and children and improving their quality of life.


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