By: Gloria Wleh – [email protected]
Liberia’s unemployment is high. The World Bank said in 2018 more than half of the population (50.9%) lives below the national poverty line, with large geographical disparities in poverty.
Liberia’s unemployment rate was at a level of 3.3 % in 2020, up from 2.9 % the previous year (2019).
Unemployment refers to the share of the labour force that is without work but available for and seeking employment.
Nowadays in Liberia, artisanal rock crushing is one of the only options for many elderly women and men including youths and children to make ends meet.
The crushed stones are being used in Liberia’s construction sector, but operators say profits are hardly trickling down.
There is an increased number of rock-crushing sites around the country. These sites host several Liberians including unprivileged men, women and children.
They are seen under the scorching sun at these locations using heavy tools, hitting on gigantic stones, turning them into crushed rocks for construction purposes among others.
Children, especially of school-going ages, are also seen helping their parents break apart those weighty stones daily while their peers are learning.
Recently, The Stage Media has been visiting the Goshen Community Rock Crushing site on the Paynesville Red-light – Kakata highway to ascertain the challenges artisanal rock crushes are facing especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many other Liberian women, Alice Kerkulah is a 24-year-old and a mother of three children.
She is a high school dropout and has crush rocks all days as a means for survival for the past six years at this site.
Alice’s children’s father abandoned them and she is left with the huge burden of providing for her three kids.
She will have to wake every morning, find meals for the kids, and then lead the way to the rock crushing site located on the Paynesville Red-light -Kakata highway.
The three children are now of age but they are not currently enrolled in school due to the financial inability of their mother (Alice) to sponsor them.
“I feel frustrated most times when I see my children here crushing rocks along with me when there is no much income to cater to their needs”. She said.
“Life is not easy. Sometimes you feel like giving up but again you have a huge responsibility (to take care of your children who are abandoned by their father for years).” Alice mentioned in a very frustrating tone.
I just want to call on the President of Liberia (George Weah), humanitarian organizations and other well-meaning Librarians to help me send my children to school, so they can get a better life for themselves tomorrow”.
As I walk past Alice and her family the next was Darius Josiah. Little Darius is 12 years old. Sitting under the blazing sun fighting high to crush a very heavy rock, he is here with his 15 years old brother.
“My parents are at home unable to do anything to support the family; so my elderly brother and I have to come here every morning to crush rocks to survive”. Darius said.
Narrating his story with tears rolling, Darius said he hopes to be in school one day like his peers as his dream is to become a Medical Doctor.
“I want to go to school. My friends are in while I am also out here crushing rocks to survive. For me I want to become a Medical Doctor”. “It will help me safe life”.
Achieving his dream might be tough because as one of three children for his unemployed parents he has to help his elderly brother to fend for the entire family with no sign of improvement in their daily activities.
Lorpu Kollie, 34 years old, a mother of five children has been crushing rocks at this site for the last seven-year.
Like Alice, Lorpu has to drop out of school, crush rocks daily, sell them to meet up with the family obligations.
“I have to drop from high school to crush rocks and sell it, to meet up with my family’s needs”. She said.
Lorpu had gone through medical surgery because of rock crushing, which is a physical job, that one must put in strength as they crush.
“Crushing rock is risky for my health more so when I am a surgery patient. But again my sister I have no other alternative means of survival”. Lorpu mentioned.
This site on the Paynesville Red-light – Kakata highway seems to be a famous rock-crushing center with lots of people here.
Jeremiah Kollie in his early 20s is another high school dropout who has been crushing rocks here for nearly seven years.
“Crushing rocks is for machines and not human beings. I am a young man and seeing myself during such work for survival is humiliating, but again there is no enough job in Liberia”. Jeremiah told TSM.
According to him, the high cost of living in the country has given him no other choice, but to do such high labour work, because he doesn’t want to end up in the street.
The Chairman of the Goshen Community, Rock Crushing Center Aaron Miller said most people would prefer buying crushed rocks for factories instead of those done by the artisanal rock crushers.
“Most people who want to buy rocks prefer going to the factories to buy their rocks instead of coming here to buy from us. This is so frustrating”. He said.
“And if the customers are buying from us, they normally see it as a taboo to pay the $350LD that is required for a load of rock but pay a lot to the factories”. Aaron mentioned.
He is calling on the government of Liberia’s Public Works Ministry to decide to do business with the artisanal rock crushers to promote them to enable self-sustainability.
Micheal Flomo, 26 years, rock crusher of the Rock hill Community along the Monrovia-Kakata highway, says creating jobs for young people should be the priority of the government.
“The rock you see me bursting here is not my own rocks, I crush them for people on a contract level and I am being paid LD$30 per bucket,” explains Flomo, who is a father of three children.
Fifty-year-old Ma Yamah was also seen among the young folks in Wakor crushing rocks. She had left her hometown in Nimba County to seek medical attention in Monrovia but has not returned since completing her treatment three years ago.
She now crushes rocks to cater to her three children and grandchildren.
Another crusher, Boima Tahn complains that crushing rocks is difficult- work, which he thinks should be done by machines instead of human labour to do it manually.
Tahn is however calling on President George Weah to help modernize the rock crushing industry to enable unskilled Liberians to work and feed their family.
“We used our hands and it is difficult for us and we can’t sit while job business is hard like this, I suggest that the president provide us machines and other modern instruments to enable some of us that are not educated to work,” he appealed.
Although the Ministry of Public Works has warned against rock crushing, by erecting a sign to emphasize its message, artisanal rock crushers are undeterred from carrying out the act because rock crushing is their way of life.
“What to do; we are seeing the warning but government can’t stop us right now because there is no job for us to do. We are doing it to survive and not to challenge the government,” explains Tahn.