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Fatawu Abdul Rahman and his friends catch rats fleeing the nearby bushfire. The children will later roast them over a small bonfire.

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This is Habib Manzah Iddi’s first motorcycle. He is part of a growing new generation of youth that is aware of the surrounding world and strives towards their dreams. They are determined not to live like their parents did, but wish to assimilate to the modern world.

According to the UN site World’s Best News, every third African is now considered middle class, around 33% of the population having up to $20 dollars to spend a day. With the extreme poverty of the last few decades slowly dissipating, people in places like Ghana can afford more than just food for survival. Across the continent, Africans are spending more money on education, healthcare and entrepreneurial endeavors, creating a landscape of rapid cultural, economic and social change. Danish photographer Ulrik Tofte documents the young people in the middle of this transformative upheaval, their lives a constant balance of old traditions and new possibilities.

The Key Is Not To Blink presents a different vision of Africa than we are used to. Tofte focused on youth in Northern Ghana, determined to capture images contrasting the typical photos of war and starving children so familiar to us. The growing middle class has created a culture more focused on the individual – people now more free to have dreams, desires and personal goals. Torn between issues of religion, pop culture, familial expectations and consumerism, young Africans have an uncertain and limitless world in which to navigate their lives. Though progress can be slow, Ghana and other countries like it continue to move forward while trying to preserve some sense of their past.

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Gifty Ofori is 5 years old and Gifty Ablordey is 6 years old. They are drawing water from the nearby White Volta River. Girls of this age have more obligations to help out the family, thus fewer are educated compared to their male siblings.

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Ibrahim Mohammed Saani with children from his compound. Family ties are very important in Ghana and serve as security. Men with family are more respected than those without.

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Hamida Yussif in the streets of the district Warizeehe in Tamale, where she lives with her parents. She is determined to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse so she can earn money, help her family and make a difference in the local community.

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Haruna Baba is the cousin of Sherif Alhassan. He uses a machete and a slingshot to kill rats and other rodents.

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This woman works at a local factory that produces shea butter used for lotion by western corporations such as The Body Shop.

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Maccarthy Lomotey is a student concentrating on communication and social entrepreneurship. He co-founded an educational program that teaches other young Ghanaians about social media. The picture is taken in front of a wall that is being used by children for sharing knowledge and short messages.

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Akwesi Ekow is a junior boxer in the local Real Tamale Boxing Club. Because boxing is not a very popular sport, participants train at the local bus station.

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Alhassan Abdul Latif has worked as a butcher for the past 13 years. Butcher business is a family affair inherited through generations. The trade requires 12-14 hours of hard labor. Even though Alhassan dreams of leaving and seeking his own life, he will most likely remain in the family business.

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Asana Alhassan has never been to school, which is common for many girls. Poor families prioritize to send boys to school first, meaning that fewer girls are educated. Asana instead works in the family fields where she threshes rice. When she is not working the fields, she sells their agricultural products on the market or in their small shop located in front of the family house. She is also responsible for taking care of the household and the younger children.

She is not yet married and has no children, but believes the most important thing in life is to give birth and make money.

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Even though two-thirds of the population in the north of Ghana are Muslims, they have a strong relation with the outdoors and many believe in the spirit of nature.

All images © Ulrik Tofte

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