Kolwezi program draws attention at Vatican conference

The Kolwezi program that Good Shepherd Sisters run in the Democratic Republic of Congo drew the attention last month of Pope Francis and the Vatican. Catherine Mutindi, RGS, is one of three founders of the Good Shepherd program in Kolwezi. The program is unique for being the only child labor intervention in a mining compound. Sister Catherine spoke about the program to end child labor in the cobalt mines at a Vatican conference in November 2021, where she met Pope Francis.

Two years earlier, on November 21, 2019, Sr. Catherine received the $1 million Opus Prize for the Kolwezi program. The Opus Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious recognitions for faith-based, nonprofit innovation and work. The newsletter published by the Province of Mid-North America, Items of Interest, includes a story about Sr. Catherine accepting the Opus Prize.

In 2021 the Kolwezi program was awarded the Stop Slavery Hero Award by the Thompson Reuters Foundation in recognition of its significant impact in the fight to eliminate child labor and eradicate modern slavery.

How the Kolwezi program began

children in the Congo mining before Good Shepherd Sisters began the Kolwezi program
Children laboring in the mines in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2013 three Good Shepherd Sisters began a journey that changed forever the lives of thousands of people working inside copper and cobalt mines in the mineral-rich area of Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The mined materials in Kolwezi are used to make vital components for computers and mobile phones. Very little of the multi-billion dollar mining profit reaches the people of the region, resulting in widespread poverty, chronic hunger, and disease.

The Sisters started the Kolwezi program after the local bishop had invited them to work with widows and orphans in the city of Kolwezi. Interested in what the bishop proposed, Sister Catherine decided to hear first-hand what the women, men, adolescent girls, and children had to say about working in the nines.

She listened intently to the community and within 10 months developed a five-year plan to address alternative livelihoods to mining, including farming and skills training programs, and education for the children.

Today the Sisters in Kolwezi consider the location of their efforts to be an inclusive and democratic Congolese society where the rights of girls, women, and children are protected and promoted. To realize this vision, the Sisters put into place a network of resources and programs to address human rights abuses. Over the years, the Kolwezi program, through a holistic model of intervention integrating education, alternative livelihoods, and social protection, has been able to reach almost 35,000 people in eight artisan mining communities. 4,800 children have quit the mines to attend school.

Film documents the Good Shepherd program in Kolwezi

The DRC government and numerous leading Non-Government Organizations (NGO), including Amnesty International, have recognized the work of the Sisters. Good Shepherd is the only NGO working effectively to address the widespread human rights abuses in the Kolwezi communities.

Maisha: A New Life Outside the Mines is a short documentary that shows the fascinating beginnings of the Good Shepherd program. Good Shepherd International Foundation funded its production. You can watch the documentary at www.maishafilm.com

Clare Nolan, RGS, wrote an article in Global Sisters Report about the Kolwezi program in 2015.

Screenshot of the film Maisha, a documentary about the Kolwezi program

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com