Kolwezi is a small town in the south of DRC with a population of around 453,000, four times that of Cork. This is mainly a mining community where people –men, women and children– have come from all over to work. The region alone provides 1/3 of the world’s copper resources and 10% of the world’s cobalt production. Both used in our phones today. 80% of workers in the mines work in small artisanal mines, which compete against the larger international ones. Working conditions in these mines are poor and they often provide low wages, this combined with harsh and costly living conditions fuels poverty in the town.

“Even though the area gets 6months of consecutive good rainfall, enough to supply a river with water all year round, very little is grown.” Sr Catherine, 2012

Perhaps because people have all been involved in mining, agriculture has been largely untouched. Since all of the food in the area is imported from outside of the country variety and nutrition is poor and inflation is high. Poor living conditions festers disease and abuse, whilst high inflation rates make healthcare and living expensive. This leads to a whole plethora of problems: many young girls enter into early marriage to gain economic security, others may turn to prostitution; gender-based violence is rife; the rate of disease, including HIV/AIDS, is very high; many orphans are left to fend for themselves as parents die because they cannot afford healthcare; family sizes are large (usually 6); there is a lack of education since schools are not free, and the quality of education is poor due to over-crowded classrooms; child labour  in the mines is common, most earning between $1-$5 a day which is used to supplement family incomes; and there is an over-all lack of social-cohesion and trust since most of the population are from many different regions and tribes, which in the past has been used for political advantage. Just by getting people to work together in their programs the sisters are supporting better social unity.

The Good Shepherd Sisters first travelled to Kolwezi in January 2012. They began working in Domaine Maria, a suburb of Kolwezi with a population of 50,000.

They aim to give people the opportunity to make a different life than the one on offer in the mines

The project’s main areas of focus are food security and alternative livelihood, violence and abuse against women and children, child protection, and democratisation for good governance and mining company accountability.

Projects

Education

This program started in spring of 2013 in someone’s spare room. Teachers were volunteering their time in between their working hours in the mines. Now the school has been moved to a new building and teachers are full time employees.

The sisters wanted to create a day-care/ preparation school for children who had not gone to school in the area, whether due to working in the mines or because their family don’t have the resources to send them. It was soon realised that there was a much greater need than expected.

Currently each teacher has around 150 pupils in their class! There are 6 classes with a total of 1,070 children.

A total of 25% of the child population of the DRC qualify as an orphan or vulnerable child (OVC). Orphans in the slum are supported to attend school and gain sponsorship for further education.

Economic Empowerment

The sisters acquired 20 acres of land from the government to teach local men and women animal husbandry and crop production. They told people that there was a limit of 100 places, and on the first day they had over 100 show up! So since starting the first group, another 100 have started. These groups are starting to get involved with fish breeding program, pig rearing and maize growing.

Training in handicrafts and hairdressing.

Health

This centre aims to strengthen child protection systems, policies, mechanisms and approaches and improve services for children in their community in accordance with the Child Protection law 2006. It includes establishing an effective and functioning informal community-based child protection reporting and referral mechanism that can be replicated by the government.

The new agricultural cooperatives have had a great impact on families health. Some of the fresh food production is used to supplement family meals.

Rights and Advocacy

Advocacy for the rights of the people living in the community is essential for long-term development. GSS advocate on issues from land ownership, to gender discrimination, to child rights in education, labour and protection, to industry accountability. In January 2015 they were invited to a forum of NGOs and government ministries (Gender/Family/Child, Local Planning, Social Affairs, Education, National HIV/AIDs Control, Youth, National Control against Child-Mining) to discuss ways of preventing and eliminating children labour in the artisanal mines. The Good Shepherd Sisters inn Kolwezi, who identified as wholistic in approach and a major success story, were invited to make a 20minutes presentation of applied learning.

Africa Direct & Kolwezi good Shepherd Sisters

Building

Parts of a shed to house all the agricultural tools, a house for the watchman, and pit latrines

Fish Ponds

Paying labour to set up 2 fish ponds

Preparing and Planting Land

for creating money to invest into the Child Protection Program