Child Labor in the City
A Play by Shola Sesay and the AEI Drama Troupe in Makeni
AEI Drama workshops build on the traditional West African practice of social reform through public drama. In this spirit, our workshops focus on child rights education, HIV and AIDS awareness, and peaceful conflict resolution. The play Child Labor in the City, performed by the AEI Drama Troupe in Makeni, confronts an all-too-common issue in Sierra Leone: child labor and exploitation. Many of the children we serve live with foster families that treat them as little more than indentured servants, refusing to pay school fees and demanding grueling physical labor in return for food and shelter. For these children, our programs provide the only free education and vocational training opportunities available.
The play begins with a traditional welcome song, calling everyone in the community to come and watch the play. In welcoming the fambul dem (a Krio term meaning literally “all family,” but used to refer to the community or nation) the children acknowledge the importance of the support and attention of their township peers and elders.
In the opening scene, we see a mother toiling on her farm in the village. She is complaining that her work is so difficult, and that her finances are very poor. She calls her two daughters, Fatu and Maggie, to come and sit with her, and laments that she can’t afford to send them to school. As if hearing their plight, Auntie comes to visit from the city. She takes pity on the family and offers to bring her two nieces to live with her in the city. She says that she will pay their school fees so that they can be educated at the best primary school in the city. The mother is so happy and agrees to send her children away. She thanks her sister for making all of her dreams come true, and says goodbye to her children.
We next see Fatu and Maggie at their Aunt’s home in the city. Their Aunt comes to wake them up early in the morning, and forces them to collect water to go and sell on the street. The Aunt has tricked her sister, and was never planning to send the children to school, but only wants them for their labor. Fatu and Maggie sell water in the streets for ten hours each day. The Aunt, however, sends her own son to school and insists on the very best education for him. She buys him anything he needs: shoes, a uniform, a knapsack, all with the money that Fatu and Maggie earn. One day, a friend of the mother is passing through Freetown and recognizes Fatu and Maggie. She immediately reports the Aunt to the police, and runs to tell their mother of the abuse. They play ends with Mohamed, a young student, warning the community audience to send all of their children to school, and not to use their foster children as “traders.” He warns that the abuse of children not only hurts the child, but the community.