Biting poverty pushes grannies into strenuous quarry work
Esther Wanjiku Ngugi should ideally be seated at her home enjoying her sunset years.
However, the 89-year-old granny is among many elderly women and girls in some areas of Thika in Kiambu county, who have been pushed by biting poverty to quarries, where they eke out a living crushing stones. She has been working at the quarries for 40 years.
At the quarries, elderly women, young mothers and children break giant rocks into ballast, which they sell to builders.
Wanjiku says her husband who also used to work in a quarry introduced her to the business, traditionally a preserve for men.
The octogenarian, who works alongside her two daughters and her sister, says it does not matter how back-breaking the work is as long as it helps feed her grandchildren and enable her to save some money.
Despite working under the scorching sun at BAT quarry in Thika the whole day, the income she generates is meagre and she can hardly make ends meet. She also relies on Inua Jamii funds the government doles out to the elderly.
Despite her age, she manages to make more five buckets of ballast a day taking home at least Sh200, money she says is hard to find elsewhere.
Mary Njoki, 65, who has worked at the quarry for over five years, says poverty pushed her into the business.
Njoki, who breaks between five and eight buckets a day, takes home between Sh200 and Sh300 on a good day.
Despite living with Vitiligo, a disease that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches, Njoki says she is not ready to depend on anyone.
“I use my hands because that is what I have to prove I’m able and indeed I don’t beg,” she says.
For Rose Nyambura, a mother of two who joined the aging women after her watermelon business collapsed five months ago owing to economic fluctuations in the country, working in the quarry will help her raise capital afresh to restart her wholesale trade.
“It’s my business that collapsed but I still have the brains. I will resume my business once I save enough,” she says.
Nyambura manages to break ballast that fills a pickup vehicle guaranteeing her over Sh1,000 a day.
Lucy Wanjiku, who has also worked at the quarry for over 20 years, urges women to go for every job no matter the challenges.
“Don’t fear what people say, go and do what you feel is right and make a living out of it. I love what I do because that is where I am. Instead of parading myself in Thika town as a prostitute, my conscious is at peace when I toil this way,” she says.
Some of the challenges the women face include the risks of rocks falling on them and harassment by men.
Sometimes, the women have to market the ballast themselves.
Timothy Njoroge, the quarry manager, says the women are hardworking, resilient and committed to beating the odds to earn a living.
“Most of these workers are educated. Some even have skills in various disciplines but due to joblessness, they found themselves here. The vigour with which they operate is just amazing,” says Njoroge.