What can we do about Justin the artisanal miner ?
I appreciate everyone’s feedback on the article about “Justin” the artisanal miner. First of all, let me say that “Justin” is obviously a fictional young person that painfully and honestly depicts the harsh reality of thousands of young boys and girls across Africa (I am sure in other countries, as well). Myself and my team have seen too many “Justins” over the many years that we have kicked up the Sahel red dust on our journeys through the mining villages in the heart of West Africa. Their plight is challenging, to say the least.
That said, in my opinion the solution is not as simple as some might think. If you consider humanitarian action that keeps children in school and collectively helps feed their village, yes that is a possibility and there are many organizations that offer that. However, that is not what that article nor Barksanem™ is about. Those programs are laudable and definitely provide a needed resource for those children but from our experience as long as there are “Justins” out there where their uncles or parents “need” them to work, they will continue to work in the most difficult of situations.
In our opinion, humanitarian aid is, indeed, much needed in crisis situations but less efficient where economic development is needed. In the context of Humanitarian Aid, you are giving a fish to the hungry. But soon the hungry become dependent on this assistance if this cycle of giving isn’t maintained. However, we could gift the person a fishing rod and show him how it works, in doing so, he would be able to feed and support his family. The idea, to keep the same analogy of fishing, is to propose a partnership in which he would receive a small boat and the necessary fishing equipment, adequate training to develop their business, create jobs, and learn to manage this new economic activity. This partnership would help him develop a profitable business that would not only allow him to feed his family, but allow others to support their own families and earn a regular salary. This is when an entire community flourish including the little Justins.
Until there are more business models like Barksanem™ (and we are surely not the only one) that offer livelihood alternatives for pregnant mothers and children, the Justins will continue to work. Until there are schools built in every village to educate the children and teachers trained to teach, the Justins will continue to work. Until there are water wells available in every village, the Justins will continue to work. Until there are economic solutions that bring enough income to a household and do not require their entire household to work just to survive, the Justins will continue to work.
Social Economic Development
Businesses and especially mining companies, like ours, should realize that the best answer for this situation is in their hands and not only in unsustainable humanitarian aid. This answer lies in a sustainable economic approach that offers job creation, social and environmental development and access to education. Businesses that can blend these concepts have a sustainable model for Africa and elsewhere.