The teenage miners of Bolivia

Jorge and Alex are teenagers looking for a way out of desperate poverty and lives blighted by mining-induced ill health.

Jorge Mollinedo and Alex Choque are best friends. They have worked together in the tin mines of Bolivia, hammering out a living from the underground rock.

They are now teenagers and looking for a way out of their desperate poverty and lives blighted by silicosis and ill health caused by mining. Jorge sees the military as a way to change his life and his country. But Alex’s plight keeps him tied to the mines.

This is the third time that Witness has filmed with these two, the original Child Miners, over several years. Teenage Miners is a poignant look at the lives of two young people fighting the cycle of poverty as they grow up into young men.

Here, filmmaker Rodrigo Vazquez writes about turning the idea of filming two child miners as they grow older into a reality.

Jorge Mollinedo, the main character in the award-winning film Child Miners, is now 15 years old and has become an energetic teenager determined to have a better life than his father, who has been a miner all his life and has contracted silicosis, the ‘miners’ disease’ that kills thousands of people every year.

Thanks to the possibilities opened up by Evo Morales’ government in the mining areas, “leadership courses” have been set up in Huanuni, Jorge’s town. Jorge has begun attending these classes because he says that he would like to become a “leader of the poor” and to “raise awareness about the need to stop child labour”.

Child Miners 1: Part 1Child Miners 1: Part 2

The use of this kind of vocabulary by Jorge would have been impossible when we started filming, six years ago. Back then, he was articulate but did not realise that he was caught in a deadly cycle of poverty, forced labour and sickness that kills miners before they reach 40.

Making the film has been a blessing for all of us. I have learnt from Jorge and Alex what is like to have no idea of future. To be in their shoes for a moment has strengthened my resolve to combat child labour, poverty and social exclusion through cinema, and has increased a feeling that made me start making this film in the first place – one that makes me relate to the injustices committed in the world as if they were being committed against me. This experience has increased my awareness of the need for social change and the need to protect the environment against extractive industries such as open-pit mining.

Jorge and Alex have, through the simple experience of watching the films we have made together, become aware of their own lives from the outside, have been able to observe themselves and contextualise their plight. Now they know that their situation is not normal, that poverty is not a natural state for human beings, that child labour is wrong and that it could kill them in a short time.

Although Alex has not quite quit working in the mine, Jorge has – in no small part thanks to donations sent by Al Jazeera viewers that have managed to fund the kids’ education at crucial times.

Child Miners 2: Part 1Child Miners 2: Part 2

Thanks to this process of increasing self-awareness, Jorge has decided to become involved in politics somehow. So every Friday, Jorge gathers groups of child miners to talk about the need to get out of the mines and sings a bit of hip-hop with mine-related lyrics that he has written.

In this film, Jorge is finishing the compulsory military service and visiting Alex in the mining town. Alex, who is now 12, is not doing so well. Alex’s mother forces him to work in the mine and Jorge is trying to make her understand that this could kill Alex. At the same time, Jorge is trying to get Alex to go to school regularly to finally learn how to read and write properly. In addition, Jorge has decided to find work in Bolivia’s capital La Paz and wants to be trained to work on television, as his desire is to shed light on social issues such as child labour.

We will continue filming Jorge and Alex next year. Jorge is slowly becoming a responsible adult and is an example of willpower to transcend one’s own circumstances. Alex’s plight to quit mining is worth following as his life is at stake.