The "Working in Ghana" Project

Child Care Attendant

[Madame Kade, a woman in her late forties, has been a social worker for the past twenty-seven years. Previously she worked in Northern Ghana; for the past ten years she has worked in a child care center on the outskirts of Accra. She has completed secondary education. Philip Awekeya interviewed her in the yard of the house where she stays.]

I am a social worker for the Department of Social Welfare. I was recently promoted to the rank of child care officer, which is a senior position in the Department. I am in charge of the child care unit where I work.

I report for duty about 7:00 each weekday morning to supervise the cleaning of the center in readiness for receiving the children, who range in age from about six months to three years. Their mothers bring them at about 8 o'clock, before they leave for work.

After the center has been thoroughly swept and sheets have been put on the cots, I wait in the general hall with the care-takers to receive children from their parents. At about 8:30 a.m., the care-takers and I will feed the children. Usually we give them white or brown cocoa mixed with milk as breakfast. After that we put them on the pot and then lay the younger ones on their cots to rest. We organize play exercises for the two- to three-year-olds, activities such as counting, story-telling, and sports.

We give the children lunch about 12:30 p.m. Children under a year and a half are fed porridge while the older ones are given rice or beans mixed with gari. After lunch the two-year olds continue playing various games and sports under our care in the open yard. Sometimes for variety we teach them simple rhymes and game songs. We keep an eye on the children under eighteen months, who are normally on cots, so that if any shows signs of urinating or defecating we immediately set them on the pot. We also give first aid to those who become sick while at the center. We sponge them first and then give them pain-relieving tablets to reduce their high temperature. We never go beyond administering first aid because we are not health personnel.

By about 4:30 or 5:00 in the evening mothers of the children report at the center to take them away. The center is not run like an organized day nursery, but rather as a simple place to take care of young children while their mothers work in government offices or teach. We nevertheless perform a small closing assembly by leading the older children in singing short songs to signal the end of each day's activities. In doing this, we are unconsciously preparing their minds towards nursery school life. Around 5:15 p.m. we end our routine duties. I leave for home to prepare supper for the household and also to carry out the house chores that I am obliged by tradition to perform, such as washing my husband's clothes and mending his shirts.

I love my work because it does not give me unnecessary headaches. I deal with little children who are mostly interested in simple play--games and singing. I do not have to shout my lungs out like teachers in the regular school system do. Quite often I lead the children to sing, play and practice drawing figures with colored chalk. They take keen interest in most of these activities. They make my work very easy and lively. I never at any point feel dissatisfied or disappointed because nearly all the children are very lively and easy to deal with. Whatever you want them to do, provided the right conditions are set, they will perform it to the satisfaction of you, the supervisor.

The place where I work is satisfactory. Given that it is a government-sponsored center, one would not expect the place to be wonderfully equipped. The fees are low to make it possible for low income earners in the public service to bring their little children during weekdays so they can go to offices to work. However, there are sufficient materials for the children to play with and to afford them ample rest. The playground is well leveled and the children do not run any risk of wounding themselves by hitting their toes against stones or stumps. The center provides an adequate climate for the welfare of the children.

I put in my best whenever I report for duty. I usually insist on the washing of the floors of the rooms especially where we cot the very little ones, and in addition ensure that properly prepared meals are served for breakfast and lunch so that none will feel starved before the close of the day. I am satisfied that I am performing my duties satisfactorily. This is confirmed by the open recommendations I receive from some of the mothers who say that I handle their children properly at the child care center.

I match very well with all the various groups of people I interact with at my work place. For instance, my supervisor loves me dearly because I am time-conscious and above all perform my duties satisfactorily. She has not found any lapses in my work and as a result sees no reason why she should not treat me with respect. I treat my subordinates (the care-takers) as co-workers by not shouting at them nor turning a deaf ear to their suggestions. I listen to them, and when I differ with their suggestions, I try to convince them but not to dismiss their ideas in a spiteful manner. As for the children that we take care of, I am pleased to tell people that they all love and call me "mama" just as I love them all as my own children.

Even though I like my work, I must say that the method of promotion in the department is quite unfair to some members of the staff. For instance, making all employees of the department write promotion examinations only favors the very young staff who left school quite recently. Those of us who completed school well over twenty years ago and are now saddled with many family and other social problems find it extremely difficult to compete well in such examinations. I don't like the idea of promotion based on tests. I would, if I had my own way, suggest that those who have served with the Department of Social Welfare for over ten years should be promoted not through examinations but on interview coupled with recommendation from their supervisors.

As for pay and other benefits, no Ghanaian civil servant is happy with what he or she takes home at the end of the month. It is quite sad. You may have finished secondary school or university with a friend who was lucky enough to get a job with a big corporation like Ghana National Petroleum Company or Tema Food Complex. If you had to work within the Civil Service in one of the government ministries, you have the curse of getting half the salary that your friend gets from working in any of the big multi-corporations. Yet when we complain about pay disparities between civil servants and workers in the big corporations we are told that our case is being studied by a special committee. How long the committee will take to finish its work is anybody's guess.

Just like every other public servant in Ghana I belong to the Ghana Trade Union Congress. However, I would have opted out if I had my own way. Dues are deducted from our pay so it is not possible for anyone to pull out of the Union. I see the Union leaders as an impotent lot who are incapable of advancing the interests of their members. They only look on helplessly while the government implements such unfriendly measures as salary consolidation, which has robbed the ordinary worker of his transport, accommodation and leave allowances.

Through my daily interaction with the little children who need tender handling, soft language and regular cheerful facial expression, I have learned to transfer these attitudes to my family life. I have for some years had a good relationship with both my husband and children. I have not had the slightest occasion to say any harsh words to a member of the household. I take pride in this achievement, which is a result of my direct interaction with the children I take care of at work.

From my work, I am known by quite a good number of people in this town. They may have themselves brought their children to the child care center, or their friends and relatives have children under my care. Despite the unattractive pay attached to the job, I don't regret being a child care officer because the job by nature is quite peaceful and full of joy.