Young girl working in a market in Benin.
School dreams broken

“I want to see change, so that every girl gets to go to school,” says Grâce. She was forced to quit school to work as a domestic slave and shop assistant for seven years.

‘‘I was eight years old when my dad suddenly said that I was to be sent to a woman in Cotonou. Mum wanted me to stay in the village, but she had no say in the matter. I wanted to carry on going to school, and I cried.

“When he left me there with the woman who was going to be a kind of guardian for me, I cried for days. I wanted to go home to my family, but I had to get up at six every morning, clean the house and wash the dishes. I couldn’t go to school, I had to work in my guardian’s shop instead. I also had to sell shampoo at a market.”

"Where are we going and what am I going to do there?’ I asked dad on the bus. When he left me with the woman I was to work for, I cried for days and wanted to go back to my family.

“I got up at six to clean the house and do the dishes. I didn’t go to school, but instead worked for the rest of the day in the woman’s shop.”

Shattered dreams

“A few months later, the woman took me to her sister in Ghana, where I was to look after the children and do the chores. Because I did my job so well, they wanted to let me start school. But when my dad found out he said no, and that I had to return home. So my dream of going to school was shattered.

“My dad then sent me to another woman and I stayed with her for several years. Dad always got all my wages of 15,000 CFA each month (USD 24). He just spent the money on alcohol. When dad found out that the woman wanted to let me become an apprentice to a seamstress, he protested and brought me back to the village. Once again my dreams of getting an education were crushed. Dad refused to let me be an apprentice, because according to his agreement with the woman she wouldn’t have to send money to him if I got to go to school or become an apprentice. Dad only thought about the money.”

Wants to see change

“Mum was pleased to see me again, but she couldn’t do anything to help me or my sister, who shares my fate. But my sister ran away from the woman she had to work for. These days I’m back in town helping a new woman with her shop.

“I’ve never had any say in my life. When I think about my brothers, who got to go to school, it makes me sad and I cry. I can’t read or write, but I wish that one day I’ll be able to. I want everything to change and for every girl to be able to go to school.”

Grâce, 15, Benin


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