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 maid and shop assistant for seven years. Her pay went straight to her dad.

Grâce was eight years old when her dad suddenly said that she was to live with a woman in Cotonou, a major port city in Benin. “Mum wanted me to stay in the village, but she had no say in the matter. I wanted to carry on at school, and I cried as I was packing my clothes. On the bus I asked my dad: ‘Where are we going? What am I going to do there?’ But he wouldn’t say.

“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.”

Broken dreams

“After a few months, the woman I lived with took me to her sister in Ghana [another country in West Africa]. I was to look after the children and the housework there. 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 come home. So my dream of going to school was broken.

“My dad then sent me to another woman and I worked for her for several years. My entire monthly pay, about USD 25, went to my dad. He spent the money on alcohol.

”When my dad found out that my new guardian was thinking of letting me be an apprentice at a sewing workshop, he objected and took me home again to the village. Once again my dreams of getting an education were crushed. Dad refused to let me learn anything, because according to the contract with my guardian, she wouldn’t have to send him money if I got to go to school or become an apprentice. Dad was only thinking of the money.”

Wants to see change

“Mum is always pleased to see me when I come home, but she can’t do anything to help me or my sister, who shares my fate. But my sister ran away from her guardian. I’m now back in the city helping my guardian look after her shop.

I’ve never had a 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 hope that one day I’ll get to learn. I want the situation to change and for every girl to be able to go to school.”

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