Home at last: Paving new pathways for returned migrants through Challenges’ BEST programme
“We need to encourage communities to embrace returnees and help them re-establish themselves. We need to engage with our youth — who are the future of the country and tend to risk their lives to find greener pastures elsewhere.” These are words of Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, Chief of Mission for International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Ghana.
For many young travellers who head out of Ghana and other African countries where irregular migration is rife, the ambition is to discover better and brighter opportunities that will enhance their lives and that of their families back home. It must be understood that some of these risky travel adventures are deemed as investments by the family of which appreciable returns are expected in the long run. In instances where this does not go as planned, life becomes very difficult and sometimes traumatic for some irregular migrants.
Not only do they have to contend with the toils of daily living in a foreign land, some coming along with several injustices, but are even faced with a much more herculean task of social and economic stigmatisation back home in case they decide to return. While some are denied employment opportunities, others will have to live with the daily emotional abuses from friends, family, and strangers alike. Often the mere observation of better standard of living in the lives of their colleagues who stayed back home fills them up with so much regret.
This was exactly the story of Cecelia Gaisey*, one of the many unsuccessful young migrants from Ghana whose story thankfully began to change after taking part in a Business and Employability Skills Training (BEST) programme, delivered by Challenges Ghana.
This training was one component of a larger project funded by the EU through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). Its objective was to support and enhance the economic and social reintegration of returnee migrants in Ghana. This initiative is part of major recommendations of research paper written by Mary Setrana which reveals returned migrants are able to surmount the many challenges they face when supported by individuals, social organisations or initiatives, such as Challenges’ BEST programme.
The Africa Migration report details the account of Samuel, a returnee form Denmark in 2009, whose testimony demonstrates the importance of a structured approach to re-integrating returned migrants:
Samuel recounts: “It was a link through my uncle because I eventually wrote an application letter, the employers called me for an aptitude test, an interview and later called me to start work. I remember my uncle was among the first people I saw when I came back and he asked me for my CV and particulars when I said I was looking for a job.”
With its reintegration programme, IOM has supported more than 1000 returned migrants since 2017. These individuals have benefited from counselling, referral to support programmes, medical as well as psychological assistance.
“We continue to work with our various partners to ensure that laws and policies are in place to guarantee that people have access to rights and basic services here in Ghana, and to ensure no one is left behind,” said Sylvia Lopez-Ekra of IOM.
One innovation within IOM’s wider support package was the involvement of Challenges Ghana in 2019 to develop a programme focused on economic reintegration for 50 Ghanaian returned migrants in Kumasi which was dubbed the BEST (Business and Employabiliy Skills Training) programme. The cohort was made up of 50 young returnees including 2 women and 2 persons living with disabilities. Through this program, 18 solo and partnership businesses were created by the migrants, and, in addition, Challenges liaised with its portfolio of SME’s to provide 7 employment opportunities for interested returned migrants in the cohort.
As a member of the team of beneficiary trainees, Cecelia, who now manages her own community level grocery shop, popularly known in Ghana as Provisions shop, was a recipient of a well packaged, interactive, and specially tailored four-week business incubation training session which covered topics like inventory management and record keeping; financial management; business plan development; techniques in business growth; and building good customer and employee relationships.
Upon successful completion, Cecelia went through a series of iterations and finally settled on starting a frozen foods business (referred to in Ghana as Colds store). She received some grant funding, however, it was obvious that beyond the business skills and financial aid, she had gained one thing extra, built a great relationship. Cecelia had made good friends with the Challenges Ghana team, seeking advice on how to properly manage her funds. After Cecelia and the Challenges team undertook a thorough market research, she made a decision to take over the management of a grocery shop alongside her frozen foods business in the same shop in a suburb of Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city after the capital.
After just 5 months of operating, Cecelia’s grocery shop is now almost always fully stocked. She has used the skills during her business growth techniques session to expand into other complementary products and services such as; baking of pastries to sell alongside the beverages in the shop; she also now produces well packaged fresh juice for residents, schools and churches within her community.
Aside the fast business growth, her management of the shop resulted in her breaking even within the first month of operation and recording profits thereafter. With her accrued profits, Cecelia now owns new assets such as a refrigerator and a juice maker.
On a recent visit to her shop, not only was she very grateful to the Challenges Ghana team, she explained how her customer relationship practices and skills gained from the training had brought her many new clients. Cecelia indicated she was keen to share her experience and expertise, and sought a mentorship/guidance role so she could support other individuals, particularly returned migrants like herself.
“You should be looking forward to my first book which I am in the process of putting together,” she laughed when asked about her next steps.
Beyond that, Cecelia has committed to avail herself whenever she is called upon to share her experiences with future cohorts of Challenges Ghana’s BEST re-integration programme.
After the successful completion of this stage of the programme, Challenges Ghana has evaluated all aspects of the pilot with the view to expanding its reach across multiple sites. The aim is to support an even larger number of returnees, helping them start a new phase in their journey. We are committed to our partnership with IOM and are resolute to continue our work on offering re-integration support for returnees as we have seen first-hand what a tremendous impact it has for the individuals and their home communities.
*The returnee’s real name has been changed at her request to prevent any possibility of labelling and stigmatisation.
Written by: Prince Kelly Anyomitse (Associate with Challenges Ghana, part of the wider Challenges Group)