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January 2023

The LME visits project communities in the DRC and Zambia

In November 2022, the LME’s Responsible Sourcing team visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to find out more about our charity partner project with The Impact Facility, which aims to tackle child labour and children’s rights issues in mining communities.

The LME School Improvement Fund

The LME’s donation is funding the reconstruction and rehabilitation of three schools near Kolwezi in the DRC through The Impact Facility, in close alignment with the multi-stakeholder platform, the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA). The team was invited on a week-long visit to the area, as part of an FCA delegation of members and partners, during which time they visited the schools as well as a local artisanal mining site.

The communities where these schools are located are surrounded by both large-scale and artisanal mining sites, which creates a higher risk of children becoming involved in mining activities. These sites draw in people from all around the country, and neighbouring countries, causing huge overpopulation in the Kolwezi area. Poverty and lack of basic infrastructure and utilities are serious problems here, and the need for support through projects such as this one is only too evident.

FCA delegation visiting a rehabilitated school funded by the LME

FCA delegation visiting a rehabilitated school funded by the LME.

School visits

After meeting with provincial and local government representatives, the delegation met with the headmasters and teachers of the different schools, who discussed the impact the projects on the community. Each of the headmasters talked about increased enrolment, such as one class at the Kabulungu school, which previously had 27 students enrolled and now has 75.

They also explained that some classrooms are currently accommodating three year groups in one room, with over 100 students in total. Once the new classrooms are built, the classes will be split into more appropriate classes, with one year group per room.

Children studying in a classroom yet to be rehabilitated

Children studying in a classroom yet to be rehabilitated.

The projects are well underway with a significant portion of the school works already completed, which is an impressive feat considering the delays from COVID and global supply chain disruptions affecting construction materials.

Children studying in a rehabilitated classroom

Children studying in a rehabilitated classroom.

Local children playing after school

Local children playing after school.

Artisanal mining site visit

Day four of the trip was spent visiting one of the artisanal mining sites. Though not run centrally, the site is still very well organised. The delegation was greeted in the morning with a large gathering of over 1,000 workers all dancing to the beat of a band on a makeshift stage at the edge of the site. The cooperative that controls the site works with the FCA to arrange these types of activities periodically, where the band and a group of actors perform skits and songs related to mine safety and responsibility, such as not going into the pits while intoxicated, wearing the appropriate gear, and celebrating those who become first aid responders.

After the welcome gathering, the team went to learn more about the manual process involved in mining cobalt at these sites. A team of men work to mine the material, creating a chain of people to pass the bags of hand-dug ore from the depths of the shaft up to the surface. The materials are then washed in the lakes by female workers before being reloaded into the bags and taken to trading depots co-located on site. Here the material is tested for quality, before being purchased. The cobalt is then loaded onto 40 tonne trucks that are driven off the site and sold to mineral processors.

Women washing cobalt ore

Women washing cobalt ore.

The site, which had about 1000 shafts dug (of which around 400 were actively being excavated) felt like a small town, with tin-roofed trading depots, small stores selling equipment, food and clothing, interspersed between digging areas. This is not a casual undertaking, but an established place of work that has a clear though non-centralised structure. The cooperative provides various services, including the construction of a new hospital for the community, and establishes rules such as not allowing children on the site.

Women running the loan programme for protective equipment

Women running the loan programme for protective equipment.

The cooperative provides various services, including the construction of a new hospital for the community, and establishes rules such as not allowing children on the site.

Depot leader with the day's prices for cobalt shown on the wall

The rest of the week involved visits to large-scale mines, lab-testing facilities, the Musompo Trading Centre, women’s savings and loan association groups and more, which put the wider work of the local government and FCA in perspective. Though the LME is funding important work of removing children from hazardous work in mines through improving school infrastructure, this trip emphasised that children in mining is a symptom of the wider challenge of poverty. The work that the FCA and others are doing to improve local economic development more broadly is essential to bringing about long-term changes.