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Catholic Sisters Working to End Child Labor in DR Congo Winners of Global Award

Sr Jane Wainoi Kabui, Director of Bon Pasteur in the DR Congo speaks about the shortlisting of the organization in the Stop Slavery Awards by Thomson Reuters

An organization under the auspices of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) who are working to end slavery of women and children in cobalt mining communities of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the winner of the Thomson Reuters’ “Stop Slavery Hero Award.”

The foundation announced Thursday, February 25 the winners of the global award in a competition that recognized companies, non-profit organizations, and individuals making vital contributions to combatting slavery.

The award was given in various categories including the Stop Slavery Enterprise Award for Goods and Service Companies, the Small & Medium-Sized Companies category, the Stop Slavery Campaigns Award and the Stop Slavery Hero Award.

Other categories in the annual initiative that was launched in 2015 to eradicate forced labor in business supply chains included the Stop Slavery Collaboration Award, the Stop Slavery Media Award, and the Stop Slavery Impact Award.

The RGS-run Bon Pasteur (Good Shepherd), which is based in the Catholic Diocese of Kolwezi in Southern DRC was announced one of the winners for reaching vulnerable women and children enslaved in cobalt mining.

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While announcing the award winners, Thomson Reuters reported, “Bon Pasteur has removed over 3,000 children from the worst forms of child labour, supported hundreds of families by helping them to secure alternative and sustainable livelihoods, and educated more than 20,000 people on how to campaign for better working conditions.”

In an interview with ACI Africa Friday, February 26, the Director of Bon Pasteur Kolwezi, Sr. Jane Wainoi Kabui said that the recognition had come as a source of inspiration for all the staff at the RGS entity who, for years, have worked in silence to alleviate suffering in DRC.

“I lack words to say how thrilled I am. Wow!” Sr. Wainoi told ACI Africa, reacting to the global prestigious recognition.

She continued, “I am very happy and grateful that we came this far in the competition and emerged one of the winners. I don’t think we were better than others who entered the competition.”

“I think the world is beginning to realize that there are people on the ground trying to combat the challenge of modern-day slavery in this country,” the Kenyan-born Nun went on to say.

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She further said that with the Thomson Reuter’s initiative, Bon Pasteur has received a big platform to talk to the world about child labour and modern-day slavery.

Hinting on what the award means for the organization, Sr. Wainoi said, “We have a very big and dedicated staff and with this award, they will all be motivated to work even more committedly for the good of the poor and vulnerable people.”

The award, she said, also increases the charitable organization’s credibility as it seeks for partners to facilitate the achievement of its mission.

Bon Pasteur Kolwezi was started in 2012 by members of the Good Shepherd Sisters.

Supported by the Good Shepherd International Foundation, the entity exists to assist women, girls and children from artisanal mining communities of Domaine Marial, an isolated, impoverished and underserved cobalt mining area around the city of Kolwezi.

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Kolwezi has rich mineral deposits of cobalt copper, gold, uranium, and platinum among others, which provide a means of livelihood for many locals living in this area.

Living conditions of artisanal miners in the largest cobalt mining area in the country are among the worst in the world, Bon Pasteur leadership has published on the entity’s website.

“Women, girls and an estimated 40,000 children are forced to work in artisanal mines, in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, using rudimental tools and without any protective equipment. They work for less than a dollar a day, not enough to survive, while being denied their rights to protection, healthcare and education,” the organization has reported.

Those who work as laborers in this place risk their lives every day, Sr. Wainoi told ACI Africa February 26.

She explained, “It isn’t an easy job as some people dig with their bare hands to get the minerals. Sometimes the excavations go so deep and collapse on them.”

Many families in Kolwezi are headed by women who lost their husbands in the dangerous mining activities, the member of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd says.

To provide for their families, these women who do not have “the muscles” to dig up the minerals often engage in prostitution, she says.

Sr. Wainoi who succeeded Sr. Catherine Mutindi Kivutui, in running the award-winning charity organization shares the challenge of advising families to abandon mining for lack of a better option for their survival.

“You think of telling them to stop going to dig up the minerals but then ask yourself, then what. Most times, the people have no option to survive other than going to mine minerals,” she says, adding that the region is riddled with domestic violence and child labor.

Some of the intervention projects at Bon Pasteur include informal schools where victims of child labor undergo rehabilitation before they are enrolled in regular schools and a vocational training program that equips survivors of slavery with skills for an alternative way of living.

“Children of different ages come to our schools. Some come after years of slavery without having stepped into school. We stay with them for a while taking them through a rehabilitation programme before they are enrolled into regular schools,” Sr. Wainoi told ACI Africa February 26.

Some of the organization’s success stories are those of 81 percent of children enrolled in education projects who quit the mines and of 193 children who have been successfully reintegrated into the formal school system.

Additionally, 450 girls at the organization have been trained to access decent jobs while some 300 women and girls have gained skills for alternative livelihood.

Despite all these achievements, Sr. Wainoi observes that there is still more that needs to be done in the country to stop child labor and modern slavery.

She says, “There is too much poverty and many women and children are exposed to harsh experiences in the mines every day. We try to be a voice to the voiceless but our work is just a drop in the ocean.”

She expressed optimism that with the Thomson Reuters award, more people would join hands to combat the vice that she said has for years, crippled the Central African country by keeping children away from school and leaving many widowed and orphaned when men die in mines.