The quarry workers toil under the hot Kenyan sun 10 hours a day, hammering rocks into smaller rocks. For each bag they fill with gravel, they earn 20 cents. The labor exposes them to particulates that can cause lung damage and respiratory illnesses. It’s backbreaking work, but someone has to do it — and in Muyeye, Kenya, “someone” means mostly women and children.
Quarry work hasn’t always been the best way to earn a living in this community, located on the outskirts of the coastal town of Malindi. Subsistence farming and fishing used to be the residents’ primary means of survival. But in recent years harvests have been failing. A lack of rain in 2016 left 1.3 million Kenyans needing food aid, reports the Kenyan government. And fish stocks have dwindled in some parts of Kenya. The government cites illegal overfishing and the monsoon weather pattern as causes. The World Bank says mining runoff is affecting fish stocks in some communities. Meanwhile, growing economies in larger Kenyan cities demand more construction materials.
In Muyeye, opportunities and hope have dried up along with the crops and fish populations. Men who can no longer provide for their families resort to a local palm liquor called mnazi. They see quarry work as demeaning. As the fathers of their children drink, the women of Muyeye work. Mothers often take their babies to the quarry. Older children, some as young as 6, join in the work of breaking rocks. Some kids attend school in the mornings and work at the quarry in the afternoons. Others don’t attend school at all. Their mothers know that they should, but their families need to eat. And school expenses keep education out of reach for many families anyway.
Getting kids out of the quarry and into school is a top priority for Compassion’s church partners in the area. Salama Jali Karisa, a 13-year-old girl in the sponsorship program, does not join her mother in the quarry. Instead, she attends school and a Compassion center, where she receives health checkups, food, tutoring and Bible education, and enjoys free time to play. Her mother, Kadzo, continues to work hard so her daughter can enjoy opportunities she never had.