The Tomato Can Kids Roam to Beg Again: A Total Human Tragedy Hidden Under the Pretense of “Koranic Education”. Episode #2

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Child Beggars Walking the streets under the guise of Koranic Education. We simplyrefer to them as “The Tomato Can Kids”

Imagine student beggars…. forced into begging on the street for their Koranic teacher (marabou), living in poor quarters, filthy, hungry, sometimes hundreds of miles from anyone they know as families.

Read this popular background post, to properly understand the situation. It received considerable attention:  The Tomato Can Kids Part#1

What makes this subject of “student beggars” difficult to broach is that exposing the truth of this human tragedy gets lost the moment someone changes the subject to accusations of “disrespect for Islam”. The Tomato Can Kids’ voices are silenced instantly, even though they too are Muslim.

This article has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. It is about human trafficking, negligence, child abuse, a modern form of slavery, and the poor helpless boys trapped into a hard. This system isn’t merely “poor” education, it is almost no education at all; Providing these kids little knowledge and no skills for the future.

There are excellent private schools for Muslims and Christians all over Mali. However, these Tomato Can Koranic schools are private schools too, but under no supervision or control by the Malian education system. These school are operating under the guise of education.

I do not claim to understand the whole situation, as I am not on the inside. However, I see clearly what these young boys are doing, what living conditions they endure every stinking day. I see them every day, all day, in Sikasso. The Tomato Can Kids are not part of an “Education System” at all.

“Knowledge is like a baobab tree; no one can encompass it with their hands” (West African Proverb)

We were going out this evening, so we loaded up on the motorcycle and pulled out of our building. I realized I forgot something, so I pulled over by the far entrance to our building while my wife ran back upstairs to retrieve what we needed.  

Of course, “The Tomato Can Kids” arrived (See picture, a different bunch). I chatted  with them as much as I could, few of them understand any French at all (despite French being the language of the school system here).

Here are a few factors to generally keep in mind about The Tomato Can Beggar Kids”.

Our approach to this delicate issue might be skewed because of some common misunderstandings.

1. It was not the boy child’s choice to enter into “The Tomato Can Kid” lifestyle of Koranic Education.

They were put there by their family (they may have been ignorant of the reality or not – they all can’t be unaware). The boys cannot exit on their own. They can not run home; to run is to disobey and dishonor their families’ choice and wish. They are trapped by parental choices, and a Koranic Education system that is flawed at the core.

2. Generally, the tomato can kids are not homeless.

These children have a family and a home, and while at the boarding school they do have a place to sleep. It’s a pathetic situation, but it is where they sleep each night. The Koranic Teacher actually goes out recruiting boys by visiting heads of families families hundreds of miles around the region, even into near by Burkina Faso, seeking families willing to send their kids to his Koranic “school”, with the offer of good Koranic education, free schooling, a room, three square meals a day. My child will be a devout Muslim with this good teaching they think. If the Koranic recruiter can actually get the family to pay a “school fee” they will take it, of course. If not, we will still take your child, but no one asks how these fees are raised. The kids have a home, they have simply been sent to school, a very bad one that ends the out on the street to beg, and into child labor to work for nothing.

3. The Tomato Can Kids are not orphans.

They do not require adoption. I suppose in a rare case a child here and there might be. However,  “orphan” does not mean the same thing here in Mali. “Orphan” to us westerners means a child with no father and mother. To a Malian a person, a child is only orphan when they have no father, mother, uncles, aunts, grandparents, or cousins left alive to take them in. It is the very ethos of this nation to take in your relatives’ children when they are in need. This is why in a country of almost 16 million, the least developed country on earth, one of the poorest on earth, where 95% of the population lives on $2 or less a day, in the most finely balanced life cycles on the planet – The Sahel….. there is only one orphanage. Most of humanity believes kids should be raised within a family structure, not an institutional dorm one.  And I’m one of them.

A journalist in Canada recently asked me what we can do about The Tomato Can Kid tragedy. A very good question.

As a foreigner, I can’t do much about government policy. However, as a journalists, writers, bloggers, FaceBookers, and Twitterers,  we can put a voice to “The Tomato Can Kids” story. Let’s expose the reality and this will bring pressure on the Malian government to step up and address the situation.

Canadians should be lobbying the Canadian government to highlight the plight of “The Tomato Can Kids” to the Malian Government. The Malian government must agree to address this issue before receiving Canadian aid money. This falls squarely under the critical areas of child health, education, child abuse, child malnutrition, trafficking children, and the modern child slavery issues.  Are you surprised to hear about conditions to aid? Foreign aid ALWAYS comes with human rights and policy manipulation. The plight of the Tomato Can Kids should be highlighted on these lists of human rights and health issues.

A few days ago I was speaking to a local man here in Sikasso about these kids. I was told a story about one Koranic Teacher he knows who owns a huge plantation. The kids get up in the dark each morning and by lamp or candle light memorize and recite Arabic Koranic verses they don’t understand. However, as soon as it gets bright, the dozens and dozens of students are forced to work as free labor in the teacher’s huge plantation field until about eleven am, and they are then “set loose” for dinner. What does he mean by “set loose”?  The person telling me the story said,

“At eleven, after working hard all morning in the Marabou’s plantation, the teacher sets them loose to go beg on the street for food and money for their dinner, while he goes home to a meal his wife had prepared for him. Imagine working hard in a field all morning, and then not even being given dinner, not even knowing if you will have any dinner at all, day after day.”

Is the issue clear enough now? This is trafficking children, a form of modern slavery hidden behind the pretense of Koranic Education.

Some day, I’m going to take a full day and count how many Tomato Can kids I see in front of my office. Then I’m going to drive around on the motorcycle as well, to different parts of town, just to see what number I come up with. 

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