Eight schools making a total of thirty-six classrooms built by Cargill and its partners Mars Wrigley and Hershey, and implemented by ICI, were officially opened from March 16 to 24, supporting children in cocoa-growing communities to access quality education and removing many of the challenges the children were experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

"When I received my transfer here and came to do the handover, I was not happy,” explained Séri Bruno, Principal of the Brou N'Guessankro public elementary school in Okrouyo, Soubré, in Côte d'Ivoire. “The School Director was holding his meetings in a dusty classroom with no doors, no windows and a blackboard that was not very suitable. From 3:30pm onwards, the classroom was dark. There were appatams [thatched gazebo-like structures] and very often, there were snakes hanging from the ceiling, the children ran away, and so did I", he added.

He was describing his and the students’ experiences before the construction of the new school – an impressive building with its three classrooms, a principal's office, a block of three latrines and a school canteen.

A few weeks ago, Brou N'Guessankro was the starting point for a series of school and canteen inaugurations in the departments of Soubré (Okrouyo), Daloa (Bolouguhé, Léonkro, Kamblesso, Lolinzo and Yokorea) and Bonon (Loafla and Ouarebota). ICI, with the support of Cargill and its partners, is working in these cocoa-growing communities to implement a number of activities to tackle child labour, including improving educational infrastructure. To find out more about how improved access to quality education can help tackle child labour, click here.

Day to day challenges when good schools are not available

Kouassi N'Guessan Lambert lives in Brou N'Guessankro. A producer of 4 hectares of cocoa, he has two wives and two children, Adjoua Anicette and Salomon, both of whom are in the fifth grade and attend the school. He describes some of the challenges relating to the old school building: "With the old school, we suffered a lot. We used to cut wooden planks ourselves to build the classrooms. We also started constructing a building, which remains unfinished, to allow our children to go to school and to have a better chance in life than we had.” Indeed, in addition to the makeshift school of wooden boards and tarpaulins, the construction of three classrooms was started by the community. These rooms remain unfinished, due to a lack of financial means.

As there were no toilet blocks, to relieve themselves the children went into the bush: "The children relieved themselves under the cocoa trees. There were many risks because of scorpions and spiders," said Kouassi Ahou Pauline, Kouassi N'Guessan Lambert’s wife.

As Mrs. Goué Ponon Victorienne, mother of Marcelle Yobo, an 11-year-old student at the new school in Ouarebota, Bonon, said: "The children were under the appatam, they suffered and when it rained, the tarpaulin roof was often ripped off”, she said before adding that she was happy to see a new school that was spacious and airy. Children could also be visited by snakes in their makeshift classrooms: "There were snakes that passed by, we were afraid and went outside. Once, there was a whirlwind that removed the tarpaulin," said Marcelle Yobo.

For the parents of Diallo Assatou, a 12-year-old student, the construction of the new school has also helped lighten the families’ expenses. "We no longer have to take out loans. Before, every time the school's tarpaulin came off, we were asked to contribute to change it," said Diallo Mamadou Korka, Assatou's father.

Better schools leading to higher enrollment

If there is one thing that the schools’ principals are unanimous about, it is the enthusiasm that the new schools will generate among parents in the region when it comes to enrolling their children in the next school year. In Brou N'Guessankro, for example, the number of students has risen from 202 last academic year to 250, "It is a feeling of joy that drives me, we do not want to leave. For the start of the next school year, demand will be very high," said the School Director of Brou N'Guessankro.

In Ouarebota, in 2022 there are 146 students with classes of CP1, CP2, CE1 and CE2 available, up from 34 students in 2018. "In 2019, when it rained, we had to move quickly to save the notebooks of children, because often the tarpaulin that served as a roof would get partly removed. Today, parents who have seen the new school have brought their children who before attended school in Blablata, in the the neighbouring village," said the school director, Brou Kimou Felix.

“The new school is good, it is clean”

The children, for their part, are also happy to have a new school. Marcelle Yobo, who dreams of becoming a teacher, said: "The new school is good, it is clean. I really like the boards and the displays.” This sentiment was echoed by other pupils who also underlined the beautiful colours of their new school and the new blackboards, which are "clearer", "nicer" and "more visible". "In the old school, the board was spoiled. You couldn't see what the teacher was writing. In the new school, the benches are nice, the floor is nice," said Toure Dofinga, a fifth-grade student at the school in Seifla in Lonlinzo. He is 15 years old and dreams of becoming President when he is older.

As Sonia Lobry, in charge of Child Protection at Cargill, highlighted during the various inaugurations that brought together local and community authorities, in addition to partners Mars Wrigley and Hershey: "Cargill works for cocoa-producing communities. That is why we are committed to the respect of children's rights and women's empowerment". In order to support women’s empowerment, in addition to supporting the development of educational infrastructure, Cargill also provided equipment for women in the framework of alternative Income Generating Activities including, tarpaulins, shredders, tricycles, and chairs, which was also presented during the symbolic handover of the keys to the schools in Brou N'Guessankro, Ouarebota and Lolinzo. For Hershey’s, investment in education is key to the company’s strategy to tackle child labour. “As part of The Hershey Company’s efforts to eliminate child labor, we seek to prevent child labor from occurring by removing barriers to children being able to attend school. Through our Cocoa For Good strategy, we invest in initiatives and actions, including the construction of educational infrastructure, that make it easier for children to access and continue their education,”said Tim McCoy, Director of Cocoa Partnerships at Hershey’s.