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Project February 25, 2009

Ghana’s Kayayo: Reaching for a Better Life


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In Agbogbloshie Market, a load of yams is lifted onto the head of 25-year-old Lamisi from Tumu in the Upper West Region, February 13th, 2009. Lamisi is a high school graduate, but with few options for employment in Tumu, she traveled hundreds of miles to Accra to find work. Image by Peter DiCampo. Ghana, 2009.

Every year, thousands of women and young girls migrate from Ghana's poorer, Muslim north to the major cities of the Christian south. Known as Kayayo, they travel to work as porters in city markets, and spend their days carrying heavy loads for meager wages. Due to a shortage of employment opportunities and money for housing, many end up sleeping on the streets or being coerced into sexual servitude in exchange for shelter.

While some are forced by their families to go and help increase the household's earnings, others travel willingly, hoping to escape arranged marriages or the north's severe lack of employment. Many work seasonally, returning home annually to help harvest on family farms, and many, drawn to an appearance of becoming more modern, stay on in the cities and attempt to carve out a new existence. Their reasons for making the journey vary, but the root cause is the same: They are at the center of a cycle of poverty, from a region known for poor education and infrastructure and infertile land, and they are trying to escape.

Photojournalist Peter DiCampo lived in a village in northern Ghana for nearly two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After hearing numerous and conflicting stories of the Kayayo lifestyle, from Ghanaian friends, aid workers, and the girls themselves, he is now exploring the phenomenon and its causes and effects.