Béatrice and Roméo’s story:
Learning to read to prevent child labor
“When clients came, I had no idea how to measure them. My parents didn’t send me to school. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t even write my own name.”
– Béatrice, Clothesmaker
When Béatrice opened a small store and clothes-making business she could neither read nor write. After enrolling in a Nestlé maternal literacy program, she has the skills to make her shop a success. She is now teaching her son, Roméo, reading and writing, helping to ensure he won’t be forced into dangerous child labor practices.
With a population of around 10 000, most of the jobs in Béatrice's village are farming related. However, the village is big enough to support other kinds of work, and Béatrice decided that running a store was more suitable for her.
From humble beginnings
At first, she sold cosmetics, setting up a modest shop on her front porch to buy and install a sewing machine. A talented seamstress, people from all over the village quickly began coming to her for repairs and dressmaking.
But there was a problem. Béatrice was unable to read, which made running her business all the more difficult.
Overcoming cultural barriers
Her case is far from unusual. In almost all cocoa-producing villages in this region of the country, there is a high level of illiteracy, and most adults didn’t go to school. And being female made the chances of getting a formal education even lower.
“Often it wasn’t considered necessary to send every child to school,” says Nathan Bello, Nestlé Cocoa Plan Manager, Côte d’Ivoire.
“Traditionally, girls were encouraged to focus more on gaining domestic skills at home. In terms of reaching higher education, girls often get married young as well. So, there is a cultural weight that stops girls getting access to education as easily as boys.”
The cumulative effects of maternal literacy
As well having wider career and lifestyle options, women who read and write are less likely to allow their children to engage in dangerous work. Enhanced literacy for women has a positive effect in limiting hazardous child labor for their families.
Despite missing out on a formal education, Béatrice discovered she had other options. “In January, a friend told me that there was a new course for adults where I could learn to read and write. So, I went along and enrolled.”
Learning across generations
The class Béatrice had joined was a new women’s literacy program set up by the Nestlé Cocoa Plan. This was good news for Béatrice’s 12-year-old son Romeo.
As Nathan explains: “All the actions we take are designed to reduce child labor risks. Women’s literacy classes are effectively a prevention activity. We hope that they will make it less likely for children to undertake dangerous activities and more likely that they go to school.”
Béatrice has only been learning for a year, but she already says the new skills have made a big difference in her life.
“Now that I’ve started learning to read and write, I can take measurements and note them. I can write the price on the products in my shop. When my son comes home from school, I can take his exercise book and look at how he is doing.”
Words of encouragement
It has also made her more optimistic for the future. Now that she and her son are both learning to read, she feels his prospects are very different.
“I didn’t go to school, so it was hard for me. Now I hope that my son gets the chance to take a professional role – to become a doctor or something like that.”
All this from a woman who just last year was still quietly dreaming that one day she would be able to write her own name. “Now I can,” she says, proudly.