In our Nestlé Cocoa Plan communities, 70% of children are enrolled in school. Reaching the other 30% is a priority in tackling child labor. With our partners the Jacob's Foundation, we are establishing bridging schools that help out-of-school children reintegrate into mainstream education. This is the story of two 10-year-old girls who had not yet started school and were identified doing hazardous work by their Community Liaison Person.
Deep in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa belt, the small village of T. is normally quiet during the day because most of the men and women are working in the fields. Some of the children go to the local school. To reach it, they walk along the village’s heavily potholed, unsurfaced roads. The few cars that do pass through have to slow down to a bone-juddering crawl. Not every child goes to school though.
Even though primary education is compulsory in Côte d’Ivoire, fees, uniforms and basic equipment are beyond some parents’ financial means, particularly for large families.
That was exactly what happened to ten-year-old Adissa. “I have nine children,” her mother Aliman explained, “three boys and six girls. Adissa was the eighth. We couldn’t afford to send her to school.”
Yet Adissa couldn’t be left alone in the village all day either. And so, like most other mothers in the village, Aliman brought her daughter to the field with her. She had been doing this since Adissa was a baby tied to her back, so it was all Adissa ever knew. School starting age came and went. By the age of ten, she was too old to enroll.
Adissa’s father is a cocoa grower supplying Nestlé, while Aliman grows Arachis (peanut plants). She would give Adissa little tasks to do around her field to keep her occupied. Aliman would then either sell the nuts or crush them into a paste, to cook dishes like Kedjenou – a spicy slow-cooked stew. She didn’t realize that asking Adissa to help her weed the field with a daba (a small, sharp-edged wooden hoe) constituted hazardous child labor. In Aliman’s defense, weeding with a daba used to be considered an acceptable task for children until a law change in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017, which prohibited the use of sharp tools.
A bridge back to mainstream education
Across the village, another girl of the same age was in a similar position. Emmanuella had never been to school either – for the same reason. At that time, her father was not a supplier to the Nestlé Cocoa Plan – though now, two years on, he has started the certification program to become one.
She was also spotted using a daba by our local Community Liaison Person. Samou used to weigh the villagers’ cocoa before it was sent to the local coop – so he knew most of the producers in the area personally. That was why he was selected by his coop to become a Community Liaison Officer. It was Samou who first spotted Adissa and Emmanuella scraping the weeds in their mothers’ fields. He alerted their parents to the fact that the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and the Jacobs Foundation had just opened a bridging school in the village, and he filled out the enrollment forms for them.
“The bridging class brings together children who have not been able to access education, either because they dropped out or never had the chance to start with,” says the bridging schoolteacher. “It’s very welcome because it integrates children back into the education system and stops them from going to the fields.” The course is highly focused on each child’s development and delivers two years’ worth of national curriculum in just nine months. Class sizes are small and the standard of the children graduating is high. They generally integrate well into the mainstream school system following the course – their grades are comparable to those of their peers, despite years of missed schooling.
To date, we have established 98 bridging classes, benefiting 2,140 children in Côte d'Ivoire.
Adissa and Emmanuella both excelled here and moved into mainstream school the following year. “There are lots of students from the bridge school that are in our classes now,” explains Adissa’s teacher at Tokohiri’s primary school. “Looking at the results of the children that come through the project we have a lot of hope for them. They are really at no disadvantage compared to the other children in terms of grades.” Adissa, he claims, is a perfect example of this.
“Adissa is a brilliant student,” he says, his face lighting up. “The results are clear to see. Overall, she had the second best grades in the class last year. She loves verbal exercises and math the most. Her ability to express herself verbally really is excellent – the best in the class in fact.”
Reflecting on her daughter’s progress, Aliman smiles widely. “I’m so happy she goes to school now,” she sighs. “I really am.” As for Emmanuella, she hopes to continue her education and go on to become a doctor. “Doctors give people injections and help deliver people’s babies”, she explains smiling shyly. “I want to be able to give people injections one day.”
We are very grateful to our partners the Jacobs Foundation. To learn more about their initiatives and impact, click here: https://jacobsfoundation.org/en/