11 Year Old Rebel - My niece Rachel

Last year I posted a blog, Kids Say the Most Revolutionary Things, about my 9 year old nieces speech about slavery in the chocolate industry (you can find it here). Well, my niece is at it again, educating kids from Kindergarten through Grade 5 about things that we usually ignore.

At first Rachel was going to do a speech on "playing sports" to have more mass appeal and increase her chances of winning her speech finals. This approach didn't last long however, Rachel was bored and thought about quitting the public speaking club until she decided to go back to where her passion was and talk about another significant justice issue; Coltan Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I got the great honour to go to Rachel's public speaking finals at her school; this is what she said.

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It is the shame of an entire nation when a child is forced into work. But it is a bigger shame when a child dies because of that work and no one cares, not even the government.

Good morning, staff, students, judges, and visitors. My name is Rachel and I will be talking to you about Coltan mining in Africa.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children work in dark, cold mines. They are mining a small mineral called Coltan. Coltan is a very valuable mineral because it is heat-resistant and can be used in cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronics. We all know how much we love our gadgets!

In the Congo, Coltan is mined by hand by thousands of workers. Some of them are kids our age! Could you imagine that instead of going to school we would all be heading to the mines working 14 hours a day? That is approximately from when you wake up to when you go to bed.

The mining of Coltan is causing a civil war in the Congo because there are groups of people who are mistreating others in order to make lots of money from the sale of this mineral. Not only that, but the mines are found in places that are home to the mountain gorillas whose population has been cut in half due to the destruction of their habitat.

Coltan mines are controlled by either the country’s government or the rebel militia. In the case of the government, companies like Rogers and Sony purchase Coltan from the government at about $500 per pound. It takes a worker a full day to mine one pound of Coltan and out of that $500, the government pays them about $7. The militia-controlled mines are even worse! They sell the mineral at a higher price and they don’t pay their workers anything at all. The militia also do nasty things to the kids who work for them. More than 2 million children have died over the past 10 years in mine-related accidents. Some children suffer from broken bones and bruises. Others are abused, raped, murdered or dumped like dirt. And some are even forced to become child soldiers, attacking and killing their own friends and family! Isn’t that horrible?

Imagine this story of a young girl in the Congo named Nicia. She is five years old, just like some of you kindergartners here, and she works in the Coltan mines. She has been working there for two years already – since she was three! – and she knows she can’t complain or she will get beat up. She has to crawl into the mines before the sun comes out and work until the sun goes down. She sloshes around in the stream of the mine and uses a basin to scrape the mud from the surface of the rocks. The Coltan ore settles in the bottom of the basin. She may get hurt, but she has to keep working. She doesn’t get paid a penny. It’s possible that she might die in the mine and no one would care because other children will be forced to take her place the next day.

Just like Nicia, hundreds of thousands of children crawl into the mines everyday to get that little mineral for our computers, X-boxes and iPads.  We NEED TO HELP!  How?

1.     Donate money to organizations like World Vision or Save the Children who are working in the Congo to free children from the mines.

2.     Re-use and Re-cycle your electronics so that there isn’t as much need for Coltan.

3.     Make other people aware of how children are being mistreated, and

4.     The next time you have urge to get the latest and greatest technology, remember where it came from and how it was made.

In conclusion, mining Coltan is not bad, but forcing children to work in dangerous mines for no money is wrong, and whether we realize it or not, when we buy and upgrade our phones, TVs and computers, we just might be participating in mistreating kids half a world away.

If we all help, we can make a difference for them and for their future!

Thank you.

 

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I was so proud of Rachel, I have to admit, there were some tears from this big softy as I listened to my niece urging us to care about what is happening in place we never see, hear about or visit. We care more about our next gadget then about the life of Nicia half a world away. Rachel was 10 years old when she wrote this speech; her empathy already more well-developed than many twice, three-times, four-times, five-times her age.

I was also glad that this year she got some recognition as she place second overall. Ironically, the winner spoke about imagination and used Steve Jobs as an example in her speech whose imagination gave us so many gadgets which use... Coltan.

Way to go Rachel!! You continue to give me hope for our future and that we might one day follow our children and youth into a whole new way of thinking, and living.

 
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