How could we help the mental health of Kayayo women in Ghana?

What you need to know

Mental health is unfortunately still a grave issue in developing countries, Ghana being one of the countries to be most affected.

Out of the 30 million people that live in Ghana, nearly 7 million live on less than a dollar a day. Simple necessities such as food, water, shelter, and sanitation are things that they struggle to obtain on a daily basis. With such circumstances, it is obvious that the majority of the country will not have access to mental health care.

In this picture it can be seen how little attention is given to the betterment of mental health in developing countries.

One of the biggest issues I have seen in Ghana, however, regards the local Kayayo girls. Kayayo girls are girls and women ranging from the age of six all the way into adulthood, which works as living shopping bags in the local markets. They carry loads from 30 to 50 kilograms on their head and make less than two dollars a day for over 10 hours of hard work a day.

Education is not a privilege everyone in Ghana can afford, and the education of boys will always be prioritized. As a result of this, little girls from the North of Ghana, are sent down South to the capital; Accra. There they work and sleep in crowded rooms or in front of stores. The girls work to earn money that will help their brothers go to school, while they themselves never got proper education, or were forced to drop out after the second or third grade.

The money they earn is kept with an elder woman that they ‘trust’, however because of their lack of education, they are often unaware of the fact that they get money stolen from.

These girls are unfortunately often alone, without family, with a small community of fellow girls at best, leaving their mental well-being completely uncared for. 

My response: What can we do?

Along with a few of my friends, I created a club at my school, targeted specifically at these women. We started the club after a Danish filmmaker, Jorgen Lorentzen visited our school. The movie was presented to us during lunchtime and the entire audience was in tears by the end of the 30-minute film. 

A very heartfelt movie that gives incredible insight into the life of Bamunu, a young Kayayo girl.

Our goal was to build a shelter house out of profits that we would raise by selling shirts, baked goods, and by hosting a movie night where we would present a very powerful movie about the issue. While working in the club and talking to some of the women at the market, I realized that their emotional well-being is not tended for. We had already planned on teaching the girls and women basic math and reading skills, however, I decided that I wanted to involve some of the school counselors. I wanted to help them by providing people they could talk to about issues they may be having. All of this would be free, and we would aim to visit the women and the girls once every month, so they can receive free counseling. 

This way we could monitor their emotional well-being, and reduce some of the stigmas that mental illness has in Ghana and other developing countries around the world.

How will you get involved?

Unfortunately, this is an issue that can be seen in many developing countries, and will not be fixed by simple counseling. My main goal is to help the girls live a life where their mental health is as important as their physical ones. I wish to give them the support system that comes naturally to most of us and ensure that their emotional well-being will begin to be seen as a crucial part of their lives. 

I would love to know if you learned something from my project and if you have any suggestions on how I could further help these girls. 

In the comments below I would kindly ask you to answer any of the following questions: 

  • Have you ever heard of an issue similar to one of the Kayayo girls in Ghana?
  • In what other ways could I ensure that I help the mental health of Kayayo girls?
  • Do you think the lack of knowledge of the significance mental health reduces the risks of it or increases them?
  • Have you ever been a part of a similar project, and if so, what advice would you have for me?

Call to Action

Unfortunately due to the current state of the world, it will be impossible for the counselors at my school and for myself to help these girls. However, I will certainly work to bring this project to life during the next school year. This said I would like to ask anyone that is interested in helping out with this project to write their e-mail in the comments below. Together we can spread the message of the movie: Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets. I would love for there to be screenings of the movie all around the world in different schools, and use the profits to provide counseling and mental health care to the Kayayo girls that are in desperate need of it. 

More Information

For more information about Kayayo girls, and the work that is being done to help them please visit these sites:

Works cited


Share this project
  1. April 27, 2020 by Heather

    Hi Panna, for some reason your comments were shut off. I was able to fix it, but I’m sorry that it was so late in the process. I’m sure that many people were able to read your excellent work and have learned from you. I hope you continue to advocate for the Kayayo women after this conference is finished. Have you thought about a next step you might take?

  2. April 27, 2020 by Becky

    This is such an important topic–and what a compelling film. Thank you for sharing that documentary and for sharing this story of the actions you hope to take. And you’re absolutely right, this is an issue many parts of the world face. I have worked in education in developing countries, and one of the questions we keep considering is how we can partner with local stakeholders who are interested in leading the way on ideas and how our efforts can be sustainable over time. Are there local organizations interested in partnering in this work?

  3. April 27, 2020 by lexi

    Thank you, Panna, for this wonderful and important project. I had never heard of the Kayayo girls in Ghana, so your project has taught me a lot about their culture and challenges they may face. Your club sounds wonderful. I wonder if once a month is enough to form a relationship with these women and help them expand their skills and education? How they be empowered, even when you aren’t around? Maybe they can practice their lessons in between sessions, and, when you meet with them, the conversations can mix practical applications of their learning with conversations about their emotional well being?

  4. April 27, 2020 by susan

    thank you so much for raising awareness about the issue. while i was not surprised to learn about the situation, given how widespread such abuse and discrimination are, i had not heard about the kayako. i will follow up by watching the movie myself, aiming to learn far more about their situation. i also greatly appreciate that you have looked at the lives and circumstances of these girls and considered carefully their needs; you then determined that both literacy and quantitative skills matter as well as their overall mental health. and, it seems you see their mental health as foundational to their well being, which is true for everyone. looking at the images on your page, i was struck by how strong — and seemingly resilient — these girls may be. yet they are undoubtedly suffering and, it sounds like, being taken advantage of in various ways. i was interested to know what you learned about the ghanaian government’s response to this situation. i also am keen to know what efforts are already in place — are there NGOs that work on this challenge? what has been done already or what efforts have been or are already in place? how might you learn from and partner with what others are committed to? i haven’t seen the movie (yet) but am wondering whether it brings in any of the already existing efforts being made to address this situation and help these girls…?

    take good care and keep going with your learning about the girls and your efforts to be responsive to their needs. i can imagine that right now they may be suffering even more, given that their source of even meager wages may be limited if not gone altogether.

  5. April 27, 2020 by Meg

    This is not a group I’ve learned about before, so thank you for introducing them to me through your project! It can feel overwhelming when we want to help but don’t have the access, time, or resources–this page is a great way to teach others so that more people can contribute to improving their lives. Your third question really stood out to me, and it seems like it could definitely be an area for more research in the future. There are people who argue that “mental health” is a “first world” problem; it would be interesting to contrast that argument with the effects of this life on the kayayo women. If your club has limited access to the community itself, doing more research on mental health in the third world in general might be helpful!

  6. April 27, 2020 by Cathy

    Thanks so much for sharing this important work! I am a teacher in NJ, and I had a student who examined lack of mental healthcare in the Middle East last year. She specifically examined lack of social-emotional education. Though circumstances are obviously different across locations and cultures, I imagine there are some universal understandings about the benefits of mental healthcare that could be explored. Your third question also struck me. Generally, I think there are people who believe that ignoring problems helps them go away; others believe that you have to be able to name a problem before you can solve it. As you think about ways to help Kayayo women, perhaps researching that third question will help give you a direction. Good luck with your work!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.