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From The Gold Mine to The Classroom: A beacon of hope in the fight against child labour

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Sounougou Coulibaly, an 11-year-old girl from Bougoulaba, Mali, has become a beacon of hope in the fight against child labour. Her journey, filled with hardships and triumphs, highlights the transformative power of education and the critical importance of partnership initiatives like the Enroll Out of School Children (OOSC) Project: Break the Cycle of Poverty.

 

Sounougou Coulibaly, an 11-year-old girl from Bougoulaba, Mali

A Day in the Mines

Sounougou's life took an extreme, but not unusual turn when she had to leave school to work in a mine to support her family’s livelihood. Her role was to help clean and wash the gold, separating it from the dirt once extracted. “Every day at the gold mine was intense,” she recalls. “The huge pits were scary, and it was dangerous to squeeze between them to get to the work areas. The miners were really brave though—I had a lot of respect for their courage and how hard they worked. But it was a rough life. Accidents happened all the time too, with pits collapsing and people getting hurt or even killed. There was a lot of crime as well, with people stealing from each other.”

Despite the dangerous environment, the mine had a certain allure. “There was always something going on and the miners could make a lot of money really fast if they found gold.” But, that excitement came at a cost. The mining was very bad for the environment as the process led to extensive deforestation and soil degradation.

The Burden of Child Labour

Sounougou was not alone in her predicament. As entire families moved to mining sites to make a living, many children of her age worked alongside her.

The transition from school to the mines was difficult. “At first, I was happy but then I regretted it, because I came to realise the everyday reality of gold mining. The workload was too much for me. I could not play with my friends like I used to when I was attending school in my village. I wanted to go back to school and be with my friends.”

A Second Chance at Education

The challenges Sounougou faced in the mines were immense for anyone, let alone a child. “The biggest challenges were safety and living conditions. There was a lot of crime at the mine—robberies and violence. It was also really dirty, and the water wasn't clean, so a lot of people got sick. We couldn’t shower every day because there just wasn't enough water, and sometimes there wasn't even enough food to go around for everyone. We didn’t have any free time—it was all about work.”

Sounougou’s story took a positive turn when her family learned about Education Above All’s Educate A Child programme and buildOn’s Enroll OOSC Project: Break the Cycle of Poverty, which provided her with a crucial second chance at education. Sounougou’s father, who had no access to education himself and couldn’t read or write, initially opposed her return to schooling, was, ultimately, happy that she would have the opportunity to attend catch-up classes, preparing her to go back to school.  To support families to help their children access and remain in education, the project is rolling out income generating activities (IGAs) as part of an adult literacy programme.

A Memorable First Day

Returning to school was a joyous occasion for Sounougou. “I was very happy to come back to school after a year of absence and to see my old friends again. I wanted to have a different future than the children my age who stayed at the gold mine.”

One of the most unforgettable moments for Sounougou was her first day back. “The first day of the catch-up classes was a memorable day for me. My parents brought me to school and I met the project team that was going to monitor and supervise the beginning of catch-up classes. They distributed school supplies to all students and teachers. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was very happy.”

A Bright Future Ahead

Now, Sounougou is thriving in school, eager to learn and determined to build a better future for herself! “My favorite subjects at school are mathematics, especially arithmetic, and reading.” She dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and achieving independence, and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Sounougou’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of education. It is a narrative of opportunity and the dream of a brighter future for a young, marginalized girl in Mali. Her journey from the dangerous and dark pits of the mines to the promising vibrancy of the classroom underscores the critical importance of working together to help ensure that all children, no matter, their circumstances, have access to a quality primary education.

According to the ILO, “Hazardous child labour is the largest category of the worst forms of child labour with an estimated 79 million children, aged 5-17, working in dangerous conditions in a wide range of sectors, including … mining”.

As we observe World Day Against Child Labour, we invite you to join us in reaffirming a staunch commitment to the provision of education for every child, so that no one is left behind.

Impact

"Humanity will not overcome the immense challenges we face unless we ensure that children get the quality education that equips them to play their part in the modern world." -- HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser

Surpassing

19 million

beneficiaries across all programmes of Education Above All Foundation

10,687

Scholarships

89.5%

retention rate

2.6 million+

Skills training provided to teachers, school staff, and community members

1 million+

Youth Empowered