On a sunny day in April, 210 students and their parents stood in anticipation outside a school in Cité Musonoie, a mining town located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) copper-cobalt mining hub. The children attended a mix of 16 different schools in the area, about half were boys and half girls, some as young as 6 and some as old as 17, with only one thing in common besides the trademark white button-down of the school uniform they wore.
Their parents, like many in the DRC, couldn’t afford school supplies.
The new school bags and supplies they would receive that day are a small part of Pact’s Children Out of Mining program, which addresses the systemic, root reasons why children in DRC end up working at mines instead of finishing their education. A program that has been ongoing since 2015, it has dramatically reduced the number of children working at mine sites, in some cases by as much as 97%. The program works with over a dozen communities to change the attitudes and norms around child labor and has increased community awareness of children’s rights and improved the enforcement of bans on child labor.
The school kits were donated by Dell, one of several corporate partners that have contributed to Children Out of Mining.
The kits will allow the children to go to school free of shame, which can be so painful that it alone is a deterrent for some would-be schoolchildren. In the words of the Musonoie neighborhood chief, Muteba Jackson, “Pact is supporting the national and provincial government efforts. Pact has been sensitizing families, so children stop going to mine sites, and today Pact is going further and providing school kits. This is a huge contribution for our community.”
“Please know,” child recipient Kapumba Mujinga emphasized, “that when a child doesn’t have a school bag, he is more inclined to skip school, due to shame. I am asking my friends to make good use of this bag and continue going to school.” The kits consisted of a backpack, notebooks, pens and pencils, sharpeners, erasers and a math box.
In addition to the children’s parents and the Musonoie neighborhood chief, a variety of other community members attended the distribution event. These included the Musonoie police commander as well as representatives from the neighborhood alert committee, the local parish, civil society, the child protection police, the intelligence services and KCC, a mining company operating in the area. Of the 210 students, 120 had parents working at local mine sites. Seventy eight were children who did both school and mining. Another six children worked in the mines, had parents working in the mines and attended school.
Monga Nsenga, a bricklayer and father of four, expressed gratitude for the kits that two of his children received, 11-year-old Ilunga Makumbi and 7-year-old Mbuyu Monga.
“I am very, very happy that my kids are receiving these school kits today,” he said. “This donation not only improves the conditions in which my two children are going to school, but it will also allow me to purchase school supplies for my two other children, who might not have been able to attend school this year due to lack of resources.”