World Education for a Legacy of Liberties in Africa, or WELL Africa, is a non-profit organization that was created by Sery Kouma Kone, a junior in finance from the Ivory Coast. For almost a full year now, the WELL Africa teams in France, the Ivory Coast, and here at BYU-Hawaii, have been working to prevent child slavery one village at a time.
“WELL Africa, is a non-profit organization that I created to actually provide a solution, a sustainable solution, to the child slavery issues in the Ivory Coast. We have over 2 million children that are used as slaves and workers in the different farms. It has to stop,” said Kone.
Kone was inspired to create WELL Africa as he recalled a particular experience from his childhood where he and his cousin were severely beaten by one of the farmers for which they worked. Kone said, “After the experience that I had that day, I made a promise to myself, and said, ‘If I find myself in any situation where I could do something to help the other kids, I would do anything I can to help them.’ So when I got here, and I saw this beautiful land, with beautiful things, something happened in my mind. I couldn’t just be here and focus on myself, make money, and live like nothing happened before. So I started without knowing what I was doing. I wasn’t even able to articulate my vision.”
Most of the working children, which Kone hopes to help, come from poor families, or are without families, being orphaned because of AIDS or other various circumstances, he said. Speaking from his own personal experience, Kone said, “I was working to survive. This was the only way for my family to get food.”
In a situation as drastic as this one, the typical approach in today’s world would be to find someone to blame or someone at which to point the finger of shame. WELL Africa is taking a very different approach in trying to fix these problems.
“Our plan is nobody’s guilty, but everybody’s responsible,” said Kone. “We know the farmers in the Ivory Coast are looking for ways to increase their profit. So they’re looking for the cheapest workers available, which is children,” he said.
WELL Africa hopes to build multiple different schools throughout the Ivory Coast, particularly next to farmlands. “So the kids can go to school half the day, and work half the day. That way the farmers won’t get mad at us, cause we’re taking their workers,” said Kone.
“But at the same time, we’re bringing new agricultural techniques to the farmers to help them become more efficient and show them that it is useless to have children as workers. We show them how they can use proper techniques, make more money, and be more profitable. The deal is that they (the farmers) keep 80 percent of the production for themselves and give us 20 percent to feed the children while they are going to school. That’s what we’ve been doing, and so far it’s worked really well,” said Kone.
Construction is set to begin for a new school in the village of Touih, which will provide a source of education for more than 600 children. “I strongly believe that education is the right way to set people free because you’re not only giving them food and shelter, but you are giving them the most important tool that they can use to make their own decisions,” Kone said. “One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about it is because I myself have been in that same situation and I’ve seen the power of education in my life. Through education I was able to get out of the situation and come here. That’s why we created WELL Africa.”
Kone has worked hard to build this school, and now it’s become a reality. He hasn’t done it alone.
“I’ve received a lot of guidance, and help. I’m not an expert in agriculture; I’m just a big dreamer. But I’ve surrounded myself with people that have expertise in the different areas that I need. I just say, ‘Okay this is what I want to see. How do you do that?’ And they come up with ways and budget, and we find resources. Basically I’m more in the management role of it, setting the goals, and sharing the vision with everybody,” he said.
The team here at BYUH is working on a festival to help raise money for WELL Africa, which will take place on Nov. 16 at Gunstock Ranch from 3 to 7 p.m. Admission is free and there will be live music, events and food available for purchase to help raise money for the school.
Kone expressed his appreciation to the God when he said, “I strongly believe this happened, not because I am smart or different, or even passionate, but because of the power our Heavenly Father has in his hands, with what I’m doing.”