The Bakoteh rubbish dump is located in a district of the busy township of Serekunda. Spanning over 1km 2 in size, it is the largest and most toxic refuse landfill in The Gambia.
Child Aid Gambia first visited the site in 2014, where we discovered large numbers of children who were walking barefoot among burning piles of waste. We found children as young as four scavenging amongst the rubbish for scrap metal to sell, and families of up to ten children picking through the waste to provide for themselves. Some of them have no homes, some have no parents – and none of the children working on the Bakoteh rubbish dump are attending school.
Child labour on the dump
The dump is a minefield of waste, fumes and dangerous materials, all of which pose a serious health risk to the children working there. The children are at risk of poisoning from the carbon monoxide and cyanide gases released by burning plastic, as well as deep gashes from broken glass and sharp materials which can lead to serious infections. Children run in the paths of trucks and heavy machinery, their faces and bodies completely exposed. Bacteria on the waste they are handling combined with lack of sanitation in their communities can lead to life-threatening illness, with these children unable to access basic health care or self-protection tools. Carcasses of animals that have perished from malnutrition present a further risk of contamination and pollution.
Children working on the Bakoteh rubbish dump are some of the poorest we have encountered in The Gambia. They are often orphaned or from single-parent families, where their contribution to their family’s small income is absolutely vital. The necessity to work keeps them away from school, and they remain trapped in a cycle of poverty as a result. These children’s lives are at imminent risk from illness, infection and injury, but they have no other choice – without the work they are doing on the dump, they face total destitution.
Our role in Bakoteh
No child should have to work before they have a basic education, and these children are working in appalling conditions. Child Aid Gambia is transforming the lives of children in Bakoteh, striving to turn the tide on the poverty trap.
Our sponsorship scheme works in partnership with the local schools in Bakoteh, to release children from the rubbish dump and integrate them back into education. Child Aid Gambia sponsorships are comprehensive, covering not only the basics of school supplies and tutorial fees, but allowing a child to flourish without fear of financial hardship or missing out due to personal emergencies. Children from Bakoteh who are sponsored through us can attend school every single day, with the money they would usually earn on the rubbish dump and more reimbursed to their families by their sponsorship. We can provide the extra tutoring many children require due to falling behind, and medical intervention for any illnesses that have arisen as a result of the conditions on the dump.
Building a future
Sponsorships allow the children to gain the education they so desperately need, to empower themselves and begin rebuilding their lives beyond the rubbish dump. For the first time, these children can consider a future for themselves – enjoying a normal childhood, attending school and unleashing their potential as they grow. Children on the Bakoteh dump are like any other, dreaming of being doctors, lawyers and teachers, of living securely and helping others. But they cannot do this alone.
Neneh is the third eldest of nine children, and we discovered her and her family working on the Bakoteh rubbish dump in 2015. She was twelve years old, and had not attended school regularly for four years. Unable to read or write properly, she was forced to work alongside her siblings to find materials to sell, earning just 15p for an entire bag of recyclable metal. She often skipped meals to ensure that her younger brothers and sisters did not go hungry.
Neneh was one of the first children who received a sponsorship through Child Aid Gambia’s Bakoteh sponsorship scheme, enrolling in the Lower Basic School where she attended regular classes alongside extra tuition sessions. She was able to make friends and excel, with English becoming her favourite subject – with the right support, she was able to go from working on the dump five days a week to achieving A grades in several subjects. By 2017, she had moved away from Bakoteh to enrol in a new school, where she no longer would live in close proximity to the dump – and her sponsor is still supporting her today, where she is thriving in a new environment. She never needs to worry about working on the waste dump again, and she can instead focus solely on her education.
What next for Bakoteh?
There are still so many children who need sponsorships in Bakoteh. The conditions on the dump are more perilous than ever, and the volume of young children working on the dump has reached record levels. We need your commitment for sponsorships now, if we are to succeed in pulling more children out of the poverty trap for good.
Alongside sponsorships, Child Aid Gambia is issuing protective equipment such as masks and gloves for children on the dump. We are working on the ground to locate children with illnesses and injuries, transporting them safely to medical centres and getting the treatment they need. But these children are stuck on the rubbish dump without sponsors, and the risks are only getting worse.
£15 a month will change a Bakoteh child’s life for good, but any donation will enable us to continue our lifesaving work. Visit our sponsorship page to find out how to sponsor a child, or click the donate button to donate straight away.