Nestlé’s Mathilde Koua N’Godo Sokoty admits to working as a child labourer herself when she was growing up. She recalls how difficult it was to concentrate at school in the afternoons because she was so hungry and the school didn’t have a canteen. She would run home and head straight to the fields to help her parents work just so she could get her next meal faster.
As an adult, Mathilde met a young girl of around 13 during one of her village visits. Though clearly very bright, the girl had, however, stopped going to school. Given her personal situation, the girl was deemed as being at high risk of child labour.
Mathilde took the time to talk to her. After about an hour the girl was brave enough to mention that she secretly wanted to go back to school but felt that it was impossible. She was also worried about having fallen so far behind that her friends would laugh at her.
Mathilde followed the case up herself, speaking to the girl’s father, and getting his support for the idea of a return to school. She also organised a school kit with all the materials, like pens and books, that the girl would need. Mathilde then encouraged the father to go with the local Community Liaison Person to speak to the director of the school.
During the meeting, the pair managed to convince the director to allow the girl to re-enter the school even though it was the middle of the academic year.
“It turned out she didn’t need to worry as she is very intelligent and soon caught up,” said Mathilde. “Her results one year on are really quite brilliant. I still follow the case personally and when I see her grades come in, it really moves me. We were able to make a huge difference to her thanks to the system.”
Now working as the Nestlé Cocoa Plan Human Rights Manager in Côte d’Ivoire, she feels it is particularly hard for girls here to study after school, as their mothers expect them to help with chores around the home for hours. That leaves them too tired to do homework and they often start to fall behind the boys.