May 1 2009

Breaking rocks for a living

Today, much of the international community is celebrating Labor Day, also known as International Workers’ Day. Labor Day recognizes the social and economic achievements of laborers. Though much has been accomplished for workers, including safer working conditions and representation through labor unions, workers like those in Tanzanian rock quarries still labor under very difficult conditions.

Mary Dawn Reavey, the Dar es Salaam project coordinator in Tanzania, gives us a look at the working conditions of people who break rocks for a living.

Story by Reavey, and video by Freddie (sponsored) and Emma (formerly sponsored).

Freddie, Emma and I interviewed and filmed some guardians of sponsored children who break rocks for a living. Because many parents die from AIDS, their children are often raised by guardians such as uncles, aunts, brothers or sisters.

At a quarry outside Dar es Salaam, workers break rocks near the road to be more accessible to potential customers. To protect them from the blazing sun, the workers construct a covering with sticks and old flour sacks.

They pound rocks for at least eight hours a day, starting around 6 a.m. to avoid the intense midday heat. CFCA is helping many of these guardians start small businesses, allowing them to significantly reduce the time they spend breaking stones, or stop altogether.

The rock is blasted out with dynamite. Much of the area has holes up to 30 feet deep, creating a dangerous environment for children. We also see many injuries to the hands, face and eyes.

Breaking stoneThe workers sit on the ground and pound the rock into gravel size chunks with a small hammer. Sitting in the dirt all day exposes them to skin and parasite infections. Breathing the dust contributes to chronic lung disease and makes them more susceptible to pneumonia, upper respiratory infections and tuberculosis. Most of them have a chronic cough.

Price varies with size and type of stone. Workers earn the same amount of money for the number of hours worked, regardless of the size or type of stone. The rock is used for the construction of buildings, roads and bridges, mainly in the foundations.

Typically, a woman can break five to seven buckets of stone in eight hours. A healthy man can break 12 buckets in the same amount of time. They earn 100 to 150 Tanzanian shillings per bucket, or 7 to 11 cents per bucket.

The guardians told us that most people have to sell every day in order to eat. The women are able to meet their daily needs with proceeds from their small businesses, and then earn more money breaking stones.

0 thoughts on “Breaking rocks for a living”

    1. Hi Kathy,

      That’s a great question. At the Dar es Salaam project, each family selects the benefits they would like, based on their familyís needs. Project staff do not decide which items they should receive. If the family does not request a particular benefit, then we do not provide it. Instead, the staff focus their attention on helping the families find other, healthier ways to earn a living so that they can get out of the rock-breaking work all together.

      Thank you for you concern,

      International Department

  1. I have pictures of the guarry in Bluefields and sponcer a child whos mother breaks rocks there. It’s easy to become a sponcer after you see people “Breaking Rocks” for a meger living!

  2. In Nicaragua, in the city of Bluefields womens an man do this same job in order to receive incoming. it is a whole day job they get paid about a $1.00 for each sack of breaked rocks. they past the day in this job and have as a meal only a bag of natural juice with a pice of bread.

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