Lesson from the Garbage BoysBy Frederick S.

Lesson from the Garbage Boys

By Frederick S.

Published on Thu, Oct 06 2011 by Frederick S.

This AFRican magazine correspondent spent the evening of Tuesday, October 4, at the simple but chic Branche Lounge of the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra, where the last installation in the 2011 "Adventures in the Diaspora" (AiD) film series took place.  The ‘AiD’ Series began in September 2010 as a platform for critical discussion on the role of creativity and design in Ghana’s development. The film series, an offshoot of the forum, aims to "bring together both local and global renowned African filmmakers to Accra to showcase and foster dialogue between various members of Ghanaian society about their work." The feature film for the night was "Nyamanton, La Lecon Des Ordures" which translates in English as "Lesson from the Garbage Boys."


Produced in 1986 and directed by Malian film-maker turned politician Cheick Omar Sissoko, Garbage Boys delineates the typical travails of poor African families trying to make ends meet while attempting to educate their children. Set in  a village in Mali, the film opens with a scene of schoolchildren carrying their own chairs to school. Young Kalifa, one of film's main characters, is sent home from school because he has no desk. His sister, Fanta, is also sent home moments later for the same reason. Because Kalifa's father is a manual laborer and his mum is a maid and are thus unable to provide the needed furniture, they decide to put the children to work to raise funds for their education. Kalifa starts working as a garbage boy and his sister roams the streets selling oranges.

Despite the poverty Kalifa's family finds itself in, it strives to stay together as a unit, with everyone, including the frail grandmother, contributing to the family's upkeep. Although the film is almost entirely in Bambara, a local Malian dialect, the English subtitles convey many funny dialogues, especially between Kalifa and his partner-in-garbage-collection as they go about the city carting refuse.

A recurring theme in the movie was Kalifa and Fanta's frequent lament that they were going to end up like their parents--poor and illiterate. That observation prompts the question of whether government-sponsored social programs hold the key to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. Upon the death of Kalifa's aunt during childbirth as a result of delayed treatment, Kalifa's father exclaims that the government should be responsible for providing free education and health care to poor people.

That governments across Africa need to increase efforts in improving access to education is a fair point. Not only should government strive to make education free at basic levels, it should ensure that schools are adequately equipped with furniture and reading materials. Some governments across the continent have made basic education free. In Ghana the Free Compulsory, Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) Act has made basic education free, and parents who fail to send their children to school can be prosecuted. If similar models were applied to other African countries, the futures of children like Kalifa and Fanta could be safeguarded, breaking the vicious cycles of poverty afflicting families like theirs.

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