What you need to know:
- Nancy Irungu, Elizabeth Wamboi and Margaret Wangeci are among the few women in the remote village who have devoted themselves to work in the quarries as miners, a duty that is male-dominated.
- The three are optimistic that with the recent opening of the Lamu Port and the other State projects being undertaken in Lamu, the government may consider giving them tenders to supply building materials instead of outsourcing.
It is 5pm and three women are busy hammering on heavy rocks at a quarry situated in a bushy area within Manda-Maweni village in Lamu County.
Nancy Irungu, Elizabeth Wamboi and Margaret Wangeci are among the few women in the remote village who have devoted themselves to work in the quarries as miners, a duty that is male-dominated.
The work is tough and labour intensive, a scenario that has kept most women at Manda-Maweni away; they have instead chosen periphery sources of income, including selling food to the quarry workers.
But for these three, their concentration is so high on the job with a focus to fill their sacks with ballast before sunset.
For them, there is nothing like a man’s job when they have to put food on the table.
“You can’t be choosy about the job you want to do as long as it helps feed and educate your children. I am a widow. I have been in the quarry business for over 40 years. Despite the harsh environment, I have never given up. It is a job that has helped me feed my children and grandchildren,” says Ms Wamboi.
The 55-year-old, however, admits there are times she feels too weak to work.
“I wake up at 5am to complete my house chores before starting off my journey to the quarries. I ensure I am at the quarry crushing stones by 6am. There are days I wake up with hurting arms, shoulders, back and chest. But the thought of my children and grandchildren sleeping hungry gives me the energy to push myself,” she says.,
Margaret Wangeci, 50, another stone miner at Manda-Maweni village was widowed in 2016.
The mother of seven says that even before her husband died, she had devoted herself to work in the quarries.
This is her 20th year dealing in stone crushing. She too admits that stone crushing is a tiresome job.,
“Sometimes you feel like the joints on the back have disconnected. They crack when you stand after long hours of bending,” says Ms Wangeci.
But she has no other means of raising her children and therefore, has no intention to quit.
“My husband died six years ago. Some of my children are still very young. I can't get a better job to feed them since I never went to school,” she explains.
She tried farming and business earlier but all failed.
“The unpredictable weather failed me. Manda-Maweni area is bushy and wild animals used to destroy the crops on my farm. I then decided to immerse myself in the stone mining,” says Ms Wangeci.
Nancy Irungu, a mother of 11, says she decided to try her luck in the stone mining business 30 years ago. She had earlier tried her hand on water vending trade but it collapsed in what she says was competition from a tycoon within Manda-Maweni village.
Since then, the quarry has been her source of livelihood. Her husband, Irungu Maina, is also a renowned quarry worker in one of the quarries in the area.
The 54-year-old reiterates that stone mining is a tough task, especially for women and that people like her are often pegged on hope and perseverance.
Stone mining involves enduring the dust and scorching heat all day.
Ms Irungu says her husband’s earning from the quarry can barely meet their basic needs.
“That’s why I also decided to join him. There is no way I can ignore this work and let our children sleep hungry no matter how strenuous it is,” says Ms Irungu.
Through quarrying, they have been able to educate their children.
“Our last-born child is in his final year in college and all this is through stone mining. Despite the challenges, I am happy seeing our children eating and getting an education,” she says.
But as these women strive to make ends meet, they face several challenges.
Lack of protective gear, for example, has put their health at risk.
Ms Wangeci reveals that some of their colleagues have withdrawn from the quarries due to eye and respiratory problems. She is appealing to the county and national governments to come to their rescue.
“We can’t afford protective gear. This is exposing us to respiratory and skin ailments. At least we need gloves and masks,” she says.
The village also lacks a functional health facility where locals can seek treatment. Water shortage is also a huge challenge in Manda-Maweni.
The women miners say they have had to endure working without water many times.
“The job requires drinking a lot of water but unfortunately, we don’t have the commodity. Sometimes we work without water. When you go back home after a whole day’s work, you don’t bath and it’s uncomfortable,” says Ms Irungu.
They also lack ready market for their produce; when they get clients, some want to buy the construction materials at low prices. After crushing 40kgs of ballast, for instance, they sell them for between Sh15 and Sh20 only.
“The prices are too low. Getting buyers is also a headache; it can take weeks or even a month before a buyer comes along,” says Ms Wamboi.
The stone miners are, however, optimistic that with the recent opening of the Lamu Port (Lapsset) and the other State projects being undertaken in Lamu, the government may consider giving them tenders to supply building materials instead of outsourcing.