Sery Kone: Freeing Children Through Free Enterprise

By Rich Cromwell Apr. 20, 2016

 

Enslaving Children to Harvest Cocoa Beans
When Sery Kone was a young child in Africa’s Ivory Coast,  his father abandoned him in a small village, where he was forced to work on a cocoa farm.  He would work ten hours a day – often more –harvesting cocoa beans with a machete. 

Human Kindness Meets Inhumanity
It was on a farm several years later when a young boy working beside him, also a slave, fainted from the heat and exhaustion. Sery took on the boy’s work to help him rest. When the cocoa farmer discovered them,he beat the two children mercilessly. It was then that Sery Kone knew:  he had to escape.

 

Two long years later, he saw his chance and took it, running away and making his way to Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidjan.  There, he worked on the streets carrying baskets for women while living in an orphanage, until he was miraculously found by his uncle who recognized him despite not having seen him for years. Sery’s uncle put him through high school and, eventually, helped him to enroll in college at Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

Sery Kone and Enactus: Facing Slavery Head On
At BYU, Sery yearned to return to Ivory Coast and help the child slaves who were not as “fortunate” as he had been. It was in college that he discovered Enactus and the organization’s purpose of creating a better world through entrepreneurial action.

 

Kone and Enactus focused on one village at a time.  Astonishing as it is, Sery met with the cocoa farmer that had enslaved him as a child and asked him what it would take for him to release the children on his land. The answer was simple: The children were there to meet production needs; if he could meet the same needs without the children, he would set them free.

The Answer to Freedom Was There All Along
Working relentlessly, Sery and his team discovered was that the answer was right at their feet.  By adding to the chemical fertilizer mulch containing the cocoa husks discarded during harvesting, cocoa yield was increased by 40% and costs were cut in half.  This increased productivity enabled the cocoa farmers to release the children from their work.

 

The team wasn’t content simply to free them; they also looked to the children’s future and built a school for those children recently freed from working in the cocoa fields. To pay for the school’s books and supplies and provide and second income, they developed a self-sustaining microfinance program for the women in the village. 

During the time that the BYU–Hawaii Enactus team was working on their project, five children in the village died from malaria. In an attempt to find a sustainable solution to the malaria problem, they realized one method of reducing malaria could also be a source of income. Tilapia fish eat mosquito larvae, which prevents the carriers of malaria from being born. By cutting off all other water sources and building a pond with tilapia, they were able to reduce the rate of infection by 94% as well as provide a source of income for the village. Since implementing the program, no children have died of malaria in the village.

Champions Championing a Just Cause
Through his involvement in Enactus, Kone was able to lead the BYU–Hawaii team to become Enactus USA champions and to a second place finish at the 2015 Enactus World Cup. After presenting their work at a Walmart Saturday Morning Meeting in Bentonville, Sery Kone was offered a job at the Walmart Home Office. Sery continues to work on freeing children in tandem with the WELL Africa organization. To date, over 500 children have been set free, but 2 million more remain.


Meet The Author
Rich Cromwell Production Manager for The Walmart Museum

As a believer in Sam’s maxim that you should never take yourself too seriously, Rich’s favorite part of the museum is the picture of Sam dancing the hula on Wall Street as it brings that statement to life.