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Plights of women stone breakers

By Maria Famakinwa

* Work  rigorous but it is our only hope of survival- workers

* May lead to life threatening ailments- medical doctor

The women were skinny, looking haggard and unkempt, sweating profusely under the intense sun. Their heads were buried in what they know how to do best with  sledge harmers in their hands which they use to break rocks to pieces .

This was the situation this reporter met when she visited some women at High School area  in Akure engaging in an energy sapping job of stone breaking that ordinarily could have been  reserved for men as they explained to The Hope why they embraced the strenuous job .

 According to a 50-year-old mother of four, Mrs Elizabeth Shittu, a friend who was aware of her challenges introduced her to the work. She said that though the work is rigorous and tough but it has remained  her only hope for survival. “People say the work is meant for men as it has many challenges, but we persevere in it because we need to make a living and help ourselves and families.”

 When asked what attracted her to  the job, she said that her interest does not matter as far as she get little to feed herself and the family. “My fourth child was barely five months old when I started this job seven years ago because the money I was trading with  went down and my husband, a commercial driver abandoned me and my children to marry another woman who had four children from another man because I was yet to have a male child. When the new wife my husband married gave birth to a male child, I decided to have the fourth child and prayed that it should be male.  Though  God answered my prayers today, I am regretting my action because my husband abandoned   the  care  of the four children to me.”

 On how much they are paid, the school certificate holder explained that one must be able to break 80 tonnes of granite into pieces which will be measured with head-pan before collecting N7,000, a target that takes her three days to meet despite  her years of experience on the job.

 Asked if she was ready to leave the job (Fighting back tears) she said, “though, if I do not do it for a week, it will be as if I want to fall sick,  yet, I never enjoyed good health. Even as I speak  to you, I am feeling backache and if I decide to rest for a few days, the pain becomes more intense. So, it is better to keep working and  taking pain reliever drugs as usual since my body is used to the stress.”

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Another young lady with a nine month  old baby, Ope, was sighted breastfeeding her baby after which she laid  her under an umbrella to protect  her from the scotching sun while she monitored her with one eye and use the other eye to break the stone. Asked why  she settled for such a job as a lady who just gave birth she said that she needed to provide for her baby.

Her words: “I joined the job of stone breaking when my baby was six months old in order to fend for her. I went through hell during pregnancy but I thank God for safe delivery. With what I went through during my pregnancy, I need not to be told to look for something doing to feed my baby. The man who impregnated me was no-where to be found. It was only  my family that have been there for me since I became pregnant. Though, I am a nursing mother since I  have a baby but I need to provide for her. What I do is to put her under the shade while I continue my job. The take home is small but it is better than nothing. I will keep doing it until I get a better one,” she said.

The story of Mrs Olabisi Olotu, a 38-year-old mother of four is similar to that of Mrs Shittu as she disclosed that she joined the tasking job of breaking stone to cater for her children six years ago because her husband is lazy and jobless.

When asked if the husband supported her doing the job, she retorted: “When I started, my husband disagreed and forced me to stop but when my children were sent out of school for fees, I found my way back to the job because my husband who claims to be a carpenter prefers to always sleep at home and most times ask me for money.

“When he got to know that I was back on the job, he warned me to stop but I demanded for N50,000 to start a business and he promised to give me N20,000 which I am still expecting up till now. I cannot stand seeing my children crying of hunger. Though, they pay us N7000 for 80 tonnes of head-pan,  but  at times, when you need money, you can get part of the money and get the balance when you complete the job. I cannot steal and I do not have higher certificate so I should accept what is available.”

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Speaking on the job hazard, the primary six certificate holder explained that regardless of the job stress, the financial gain does not always commensurate with the energy put in as she revealed that they are not being paid regularly. “Worst still, we suffer body pain, catarrh, eye problem and physical injury. If you look at my face carefully, you will observe that there are some black spots, it is as a result of stone particles that hit me while  breaking them into pieces, yet I am not deterred. I often suffer from cough as a result of constant exposure to the dust particles that often come from breaking stones. I am ready to quit the job if given alternative,” she said.

To Mrs Caroline Jejelowo, a 35-year-old widow and mother of three who has been in the business since the death of her husband nine years ago, breaking of stones with hand into pieces is energy consuming and not profitable, it  remains her only source of livelihood. “The highest amount  you can be paid is N7000 and that is when you have been able to produce  80 tonnes of head -pan. With many mouths to feed without helpers, the little money I get from stone breaking takes care of my children’s school fees and feeding as my husband’s family members are not ready to assist.”

Using her wrapper to wipe her face in an attempt to remove the speck of dust in her eyes she said, “You can see that it is not easy breaking stones under this hot weather. Look at my hands with different wounds as a result of difficulty in breaking the stones. As a widow blessed with three children without formal education, I must struggle to provide for them. What compounded my problems is the rising price of foodstuffs which is affecting my survival with that of my children. Though, my children are doing manual jobs but it is still not enough to meet all our basic needs. My plan is to leave the job soon because my health is failing me. I am not as strong as I was nine years ago when I started the job and I need to save my health from further deteriorating.”

Another  woman simply referred to as mama Uyo, who is in her early 60s betrayed emotion when she narrated her experience as a stone breaker. She said: “Though tasking and exasperating, manual stone breaking remained the only hope for now. As labourious as the task is, I have found respite in it for years as the only way to make ends meet. I struggled to train my children in school without helpers thinking that I will rest after they completed their studies. But my calculation was  wrong. Today, I have two of them who are graduates for years without job. (wiping her tears) What else can I do than to accept my situation till when mother luck will smile on me. Despite the fact that we spend much money on drugs daily, what makes the job more discouraging is that our money are not being paid as and when due. “

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On why they cannot protest and leave the job due to irregular salary, she said, “If we do that, they will quickly employ another set of people who are ready to give them cheap labour. This situation happened at another site sometimes ago when  those working there left because they were being owned, while they were still expecting to be called for their money, they were surprised that another set of people had taken over the job with lesser offer. They agreed to pieces 80 tonnes of head-pan for N6,000. That is the situation we are facing. We just need God’s intervention. Look at that my small bag over there, it is different pain killer drugs that I kept there. I take them regularly in order to meet my daily target.”

The Hope spoke with a medical doctor at Ondo State General Hospital, Dr Bola Arohunmolase who advised that the fact that people must survive should not lead to endangering their health and added that when one’s health is down, the person cannot do anything. On the hazard of stone breaking to one’s health, he said, “aside being exposed to mosquito bites which can cause malaria parasite, the particles coming from the stone which are formed whenever silica-bearing rocks are drilled, blasted or crushed find its  way into the lungs which may result to serious respiratory infection that may be life threatening. They will also be having constant pain especially in the chest and back which are also serious health problems. It is advisable to quit such a job than exposing one to life threatening ailments,” he warned.

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