In her own words: A former child miner in DRC makes a new start

May 28, 2019

Since 2003, Pact has worked to improve the lives of artisanal and small-scale miners through its Mines to Markets program. This includes efforts to end child labor in mining, from Colombia to the Great Lakes region of Africa. In 2015, Pact launched the Watoto Inje ye Mungoti project, or Children Out of Mining, to address drivers of child labor in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Supported by a range of private-sector donors, the project weaves together interventions spanning education, governance and policy, livelihoods development and health, taking a holistic, integrated approach to the problem. 

One component of these efforts is a vocational training program for older child miners. Because child mining is driven by economic necessity, the vocational training program provides safer, healthier, more sustainable alternatives for earning income. So far, 280 older child miners have taken part, learning trades including welding and metal work, auto mechanics, woodwork, masonry, sewing, information technology and hospitality. “We can see the tangible fruits of Pact’s work,” says François Upité, head of the neighborhood committee in Mutoshi. “Children who did not know how to saw, who did not know anything about auto or moto mechanics – it is now their trade.”

Among the program’s recent graduates is Huguette Ifanda, 19, who studied computers and lives with her parents and siblings in Usine à Cuivre de Kolwezi, DRC. Here, Huguette shares her story. 

My father used to work for Gécamines, the mining company. During my fourth year of secondary school, the company went bankrupt and he was made redundant. He couldn’t afford to pay for my school fees anymore. I stopped school and started selling popsicles in the mine with a couple of my friends. Soon, we realized that we could earn much more washing minerals. We worked in teams because it was very hard! Imagine – I couldn’t even wash two bags of minerals on my own! We would get paid 7,500 FC (about $5) for washing three bags, and I would give my parents all the money I had earned once I got home. 

When Pact workers started coming to the mine and raised our awareness regarding the dangers of working in the mine, it was not easy. At first, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to earn any income, so I refused to leave the mine. But my dad also told me that working in the mine was very dangerous. He insisted I go and study. My ambition was to learn how to use computers, mainly because I had seen a lot of job opportunities for secretaries. 

When I started my apprenticeship, we were a group of eight girls. One girl left because she got married and seven of us remained. During the apprenticeship, Pact gave us a small stipend to help us buy a few important things and to make sure we would not be tempted to go back to the mine. I remember the graduation ceremony; Mama Fifi Masuka, the vice governor, was present. Pact gave us kits with a backpack, a raincoat, boots and more. I also received a computer and two external hard drives. On that day, I felt as though I was dreaming. 

Once I received my diploma, the manager of an English language centre passed by my house. He said he had heard I had finished my training and wanted to see whether I would be interested in working for him, as he was planning to open a new English training centre in the area. I worked there for three months. At first, my salary was quite small, but he reassured me and explained this was only an internship and that if I was the right fit for the job, my salary would increase. After three months, I learned that one of the secretaries at his other centre had left. Although it is a bit far from our house, my parents accepted that I work there. Now, I am earning 240,000 FC per month (about $150). I only have one thing to say: Thank you, because if Pact had not been there, I would still be working in the mine. 

Huguette with Karen Hayes, Pact's Mines to Markets vice president

A lot of things have changed in my life. I have a long-term vision. With my salary, I am trying to save as much money as possible. Some months, I can save up to 80,000 FC, but other months, I am not able to save anything. Last month, for instance, my brother was ill and I spent all my earnings on his hospital bill and medication.  

When I started working, I asked my mother to stop working in the mine. I buy her flour and she is now in this business. I am also paying for my two younger brothers’ schooling. They are in their fourth and sixth years of primary school. I have two other brothers, ages 6 and 3. 

A recent graduation ceremony for program apprentices

My dream now is to open an internet café so I can help my parents more. Also, I do intend to go back to school because when it comes to education, there is no such thing as too late. Currently, I am learning English and IT. 

I also encouraged my friends who I started working in the mine with to leave the mine and follow a training. All of them did.