Bringing hope and justice to artisanal miners

Article by Sr. Mary Kaluki,
Province of Eastern Central Africa (ECAP).

The writings of Saint John Eudes and Saint Mary Euphrasia fire us to live for souls. I feel this even more so since my temporary profession late last year when I was sent on mission to the award-winning Bon Pasteur Kolwezi program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The program began in 2013 to minister to artisanal miners, enabling them to secure social protection and alternative livelihoods away from their harsh life through offering support with education, advocacy, health, and nutrition. The program attempts to address the poverty, social fragmentation, gender-based violence, limited formal employment opportunities, corruption, and lack of law enforcement which has resulted in the worst forms of child labor and unspeakable violence, mainly against girls and women.

We are based in Domaine Marial, a town of 70,000 people on the outskirts of Kolwezi, where the local bishop gave us land to found our community and establish the main center for our ministry close to the diocesan shrine to the Virgin Mary. Kolwezi is at the heart of the copper and cobalt belt in DRC and has been declared the global capital of cobalt. Approximately 85% of the population is directly dependent on artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihood. The work is hazardous and harmful to health and safety.

For ten years, in partnership with Good Shepherd International Foundation (GSIF), we have been carrying out several projects to minimize the effects of extreme poverty and the enslavement of persons and communities in mining. *

Among the myriad of human rights violations, child labor is a significant ill that Bon Pasteur Kolwezi works to eradicate. Intense awareness-raising on the rights of the child, and human rights in general, has been an enormous undertaking. We primarily focus on children – working towards a brighter future for them and their communities. These children now can advocate that their place is in school and not in the mines, and they have a right to all human rights. While most of them grew up believing that the only way to survive was through working in the mines, they now know the real root cause of their situation and understand that things can change.

They are fully engaged in this process, primarily through education and the empowerment activities provided through Bon Pasteur Kolwezi. The current Bon Pasteur Center (right), which offers free primary education to children who have quit working in the mines, had simple beginnings: it was first located in someone's house - with no seats. Nonetheless, the number of children who came increased every day, reaching a thousand children within weeks. Educating the children in school was not a quick fix due to many co-related issues. For instance, the children were so hungry that it was difficult for them to concentrate in class – some even fainted. So, it became clear to us that we had to provide the children with food. Since then, the surrounding communities have experienced so many positive transformations. The once large number of children in the mines has decreased significantly.

As St. Mary Euphrasia said: "We are indeed the children of miracles!" God continues to bring us people who support the Holy Work in amazing ways. It is clear that the Good Shepherd faithfully accompanies us in the margins. Vulnerable children, girls, women, and men who benefit from our ministries in the targeted mining communities work towards a bright future that beckons them with steadfast determination and hope.

State school examinations have been a big success since the beginning. Currently, around 3000 children are enrolled for education. Many have gone on to flourish in various areas. However, a central challenge remains universal progression to further education, especially when the children's parents are not part of the parents' empowerment activities.

Over the years of the project, social fragmentation has been reduced. Vulnerable young women and men are aware of their rights and intrinsic value. They have become equipped with various skills to secure dignified alternative livelihoods. They testify that God is Emmanuel, as experienced through their encounter with the Bon Pasteur Kolwezi program.

Our Sisters and lay Partners in Mission constantly engage in ongoing formation to integrally enhance capacity for the effectiveness of the mission. Above all, faith and prayer play a core part of the mission, in addition to the place given to self-sacrifice, zeal, and love in making a real impact, since "great crosses bring great graces" (St. Mary Euphrasia). The impact and progress achieved so far have been a great success and already bring tremendous hope and joy in achieving radical transformation in Kolwezi and across the entire country. We are grateful.

*The current projects of the Bon Pasteur Kolwezi program are documented in the film "Maisha A New Life Outside the Mines."