If you could design the person best suited for ridding the world of child labor, you’d probably come up with someone much like Dalitso Baloyi. The African regional director of the Achieving Reduction of Child Labor in Support of Education (ARISE) project, implemented in partnership with JTI, Baloyi has studied the subject and devoted much of his adult life to it.
Child labor is not a simple problem, Baloyi says. “People say it’s about poverty, but it’s about more than poverty. … It has to do with the attitudes and also the practices that people have.” In Malawi, for example, education is compulsory, but there are no repercussions when parents pull their children out of class to work in the fields. The small farmers who make up much of Malawi’s population often don’t see education as a child’s job, and an estimated 38 percent of Malawian children are not in school. This is why ARISE’s first order of business was to create an awareness of the problem.
“First and foremost people should know that child labor is a problem, they should know that when children are subject to child labor it’s a problem for the family and for the community and for the nation,” Baloyi says.
ARISE (now in its ninth year) operates in Brazil, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, and Baloyi currently oversees the project’s work in all three African countries. But he was originally the project director in his native Malawi, where he instituted community-based child-care centers, village savings and loan associations, women’s agribusiness groups, and anti-child labor clubs.
The latter is especially unique and has put ARISE on the map. “When ARISE started, we were more focused on households, talking to parents about how they have to stop using children for this kind of work according to the laws of the country,” Baloyi says. “But then we thought, where is the child in all of this? … Can the child say, ‘Well, look Mom, I cannot go do this kind of work according to the laws.’”
Using what he calls the KID approach [Knowledge Informing Others Defending Rights], Baloyi developed a manual that teachers and students use with club activities. “We wanted it to be fun … so it’s being taught through songs and poetry and other ways,” says Baloyi, a published poet.
Children are taking the club’s message to heart. In one school, 15-year-old Leonard Thedison coaxed the parents of four former students to send their children back to school. “I explained to all parents that it is against the law of the country to let children work and not to go to school. This I learned from our club,” Leonard says.
The manual has been adapted for some ARISE schools in Tanzania and Zambia as well as the 18 ARISE schools in Malawi. Some districts began rolling out the clubs in September.
Baloyi has degrees in education and social development studies. He is also a coffee farmer, and he applied a program that he used first on his farm — the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) — to ARISE. GALS is helping women gain a stronger voice in family decision-making and this, too, is paying dividends for children’s educations.
Intrinsic to all these solutions is one simple premise: “The causes of child labor are within the community and the communities have the solutions to the problems,” Baloyi says. “What we do is to connect communities with the solutions. That’s our approach.”
GALS wasn’t part of ARISE in the beginning, Baloyi explains, but was introduced when the women’s agribusiness groups, in which mothers earn income they can use to pay their children’s pay school fees, weren’t making as much of a difference as he had hoped. The problem, he says, was that women “would get money from their village savings and loan to invest in their businesses, but then the father would take the whole amount and do whatever he wanted with it.” The gender balance that GALS is creating gives women a larger say in how money is spent in households, and this helps keep kids in school.
It’s not an easy job, trying to change a long-engrained practice on a national — and now regional — level. But for Baloyi, it’s personal. He remembers growing up with children who did not have the same educational opportunities he did. And he now has a 9-year-old daughter who’s coming alive to the world of words and learning. He wants the same for all children.
Baloyi says he keeps the faith by being flexible and willing to try a different approach if the first one doesn’t succeed. “I’m a very positive person. I’m very optimistic. I feel like everything in life works. But sometimes it can’t work the first way we plan it. We have to be patient.”