The Kayayo are a class of thousands of women and girls from Ghana’s remote north who travel south to find work as porters in city markets. They make the journey to escape a region where meager subsistence farming is the primary occupation; where it is a normal practice for girls to do housework and raise their male siblings rather than attend school; and where education, infrastructure, and health care lag behind the rest of the country.

In the south, they perform backbreaking labor for almost no money and sleep 10 or 20 to a room in cramped slums. Still, the girls often prefer their lives in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana’s major cities. Some use the little money they make to continue their education. Others are simply glad to be away from their parents and have ownership over their money and possessions for the first time in their lives. While the Kayayo lifestyle is often considered a last resort in a desperate situation, many of them see it as an opportunity to free themselves from the confines of village life.