The Kayayo is the name given the thousands of women and girls from Ghana's barren north who travel south to find work as porters in city markets. They make the journey to escape a place where meagre subsistence farming is the primary occupation.
In the south, they perform backbreaking labour for almost no money and sleep in cramped slums. While the Kayayo lifestyle is often considered a last resort, many of them see it as an opportunity to free themselves from the confines of village life.
Lamisi Leiku (centre), 25, completed secondary school in her hometown of Tumu before travelling to Accra to find work. She is saving up to continue her education and has registered for entrance exams at college, hoping to become a nurse or a teacher.
"I don't like the work. At the end of the day, your whole body will be paining you. When I get home I can't even do my studies, I will just lie down and sleep," Lamisi said.
Alietu is about 13 years old. She left home with her sister and moved to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. Her sister runs a small hairdressing shop there and is teaching Alietu, when she is not working as a Kayayo girl.
"I came purposely to learn hairdressing. I didn't know about the Kayayo before. My sister brought me to learn hairdressing with her, but she needs money for a hair-dryer to help her business, so she asked me to work the Kayayo to help her," Alietu said.
Alietu added: "At home, I had to work too much. Here I'm free. I don't work for anybody. After the market, I can sleep, I don't have to fetch water for anyone, or go to farm, or cook."
Amariya went to Accra twice to work as a Kayayo girl. Women from her tribe, the Dagomba, are required to have their own full set of kitchenware before they can marry. Once she had enough money, she returned home and was wed.
"When I was in Accra, if I didn't have money, I would suffer, but here if you don't have money they will cook and you eat," Amariya said.
Amariya added: "I won't go back, because that place, they are suffering, so I don't want to go back. I want to get some money to start a business here." As a recently married woman, she performs the majority of the chores in her husband's family household.
Hamama Mahama is a mother of four and makes more money than her husband, a farmer. Hamama is putting three of her children through school. She said: "Our children shouldn’t have to come and do this."
Photographs and words by Peter DiCampo, who travelled to Ghana on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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