The FabLab in Burkina Faso was put in place to give exploited children working in gold mines a place where they are protected and can build their skills. It is placed in a social protection centre of the government in a market town close to an artisanal gold mine. Even though these non-official mines are volatile places, children go to the market town one to five times a week to buy things and therefore have access to this space.
Next to the fab lab, we are also assembling an alternative method to extract gold from the earth, to diminish the risks associated with the current methods used.
The impact of the lab
“In my (polygamous) family, I am the 15th of 21 children. There was not enough money for me to study so I left school and started working in a gold mine to help my family,” says Ambroise, 17 years old. “It wasn’t easy, I really liked school.”
Ambroise is one of the many out-of-school working children in Burkina Faso. Poverty and scattered national protection instruments impart a heavy toll on Burkinabe children and youth. Young boys, who are more expected to support their families, are particularly vulnerable to child labour, especially in the dangerous and work-intensive gold mines.
Burkina Faso has a flourishing gold mining sector, with some fifty mining companies operating in the country. The informal mining sector, also called “gold panning”, is even more widespread: it is estimated that over 600 informal gold mining and quarrying operations are active in Burkina Faso. In informal mines, nobody controls the working conditions or the age of the workers. As a result, children represent more than 30 percent of the workforce, toiling under dangerous conditions, breathing thick and dusty air, carrying heavy loads, crawling down narrow tunnels, crushing stones.
To protect children from exploitation and abuse, in 2017 Terre des Hommes (TdH) put in place a Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) in Ganzourgou, housed within the premises of a governmental social center. The mission of the lab is to empower vulnerable children, especially the ones who are out of school and working in mines, through boosting their creative thinking, technical and social skills, and access to vocational training and education opportunities. The lab provides a set of skills supporting the entrepreneurs and employees of tomorrow, while promoting social integration, collaboration and resilience.
The lab offers a holistic and participatory learning package. With 46% of female participants, gender roles in learning are aligned and collaboration is encouraged. Children and youth learn new technologies, innovative thinking, manufacturing and other vocational skills. The lab is equipped with a diverse range of digital production devices: 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, and embroidery machines. Children and young people bring their ideas forward and create their prototypes. “It is very exciting: all the processes, all the machines are much more interesting when you are actively involved and not only watching tutorials online”, says Alina, 16 years old.
after just three months of creative work, students from 15 secondary schools and professional lyceums of Luhansk Region also presented their prototypes at the Youth Family Festival. Youngsters developed agricultural technology models, mazes for logic development, and even the prototype of a quadcopter. Participation in the Festival has enabled young people to develop and strengthen engineering skills and increased their chances to find a job in this field in the future.
The lab is an innovative and modern training center, designed to be “user-centric” – equipped with many digital production devices, such as 3D printers, embroidery machines, laser and vinyl cutters, it allows participants to design, develop and create projects that are relevant to their interests and needs.
At the same time, it also offers structured workshops, appropriate to the context and interests of young participants. Ambroise started attending the lab during a painting and renewal workshop: “I liked DIY! I enjoyed the workshop so much that I decided to attend another one on electronics.” This second workshop was a keystone in Ambroise’s life. “I had talents and ambitions hidden in me, and I didn’t even know! But the trainer (a local electrician) saw what I was capable of and, at the end of the workshop, I started an internship in his company.” After an 8-month internship, Ambroise managed to save enough money to pursue one of his dreams: to go back to school!
Thanks to the FabLab, Ambroise and other 139 Burkinabe children (57 percent girls) had access to a full package of services and opportunities: vocational training, education, protection services and engagement opportunities for youth. They learnt, made friends, and started building their future: the lab has been a concrete opportunity and an alternative to child labour.
TdH will continue to work to ensure all children have the opportunity to live their childhood today, and be the next generation of change-makers tomorrow.