Harsh Economy Drives Women in Sanniquellie to Sand Mining

SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – Artisanal sand mining was once seen as a male-only activity because of the physical energy required. However, in Sanniquellie, more women are getting involved in sand mining. They say the worsening economy is pushing them in that direction.

At one sand mine in Sanniquellie, many of the women – mostly single mothers – say their decision to mine sand was triggered by hardship and the lack of alternative sources of income.

Esther Tozay, a 65-year-old grandmother, told The Bush Chicken that she began sand mining when her contract ended with Compagnie Saheliamae D’Enterprises, which paved the Ganta-Sanniquellie Road.

Tozay said she had no other way to provide for her family, as the small business she started experienced a slow flow of customers and losses that caused her to discontinue it. Although sand mining is tedious, Tozay said it was her only means of survival.

Another woman who would only identify by her first name, Esther, said she and other women working at the mine could only generate enough money to feed themselves for the day and take care of daily basic needs, as the energy required for the work is intense.

Esther said she and her colleagues usually join together to load a pickup truck and sell the sand for L$1,300 (US$6.72). From the payments they get from the sale of the sand, she said a portion is given to the owner of the mine as a payment known as a ground fee. Another payment is made to people who help load the sand on the truck.

“This work is mostly not for women, but we have to do it because some of us have children; others have husbands who cannot support them. So, we’re all here to help support our families,” she said.

“As women, we should be courageous to be able to help our families by doing work. I am not proud doing this work, but I am doing it to help myself.”

Women transporting sand on their heads from the swamp to the point of loading. Photo credit by Shalon Gonlor of Radio Nimba

Another woman, Mary Gbon, 57, is a mother of six. She said she escaped from her hometown in Buu Yao District because she was indebted to a savings club, and her partner left her in debt and ran away.

She said that through sand mining activities, she raised money to repay her debtors.

Gbon said the last six years she worked at the mine had helped her to cater to her children and her sick mother, reducing her dependency on men.

She promised to leave the sand mining work once she receives assistance from the government or philanthropists to venture into business.

Patience Mankeh, a 23-year-old mother of five, said the money she gets from the sand mine adds to her husband’s meager monthly income and helps to take care of their home and children. Her sister, Jenneve Mankeh, 18, also helps her sister at the mine, which helps pay for the younger sister’s tuition.

Many of the women often bring their children to work alongside them. Some of these children were as young as ten.

Kids helping their mother to mine sand. photo credit by Shalon Gonlor of Radio Nimba

Joe Morris, who manages the sand mining site, said he began seeing more women attracted to the pit when he helped the first woman who had asked him to mine sand in the area. To date, he said the mine is dominated by women and children looking for their livelihood.

Morris noted that money he collects from the women after each sale is used to pay land rental fees to the owners of the land.

Featured photo courtesy of Shalon Gonlor of Radio Nimba

Jerry Myers

Jerry T. Myers, Jr. is a student of the Nimba County Community College, studying Natural Resource Management. Since 2008, Jerry has worked in the media sector, including at the Voice of Tappita community radio station, ELBC Radio, Radio Nimba, and New Public Trust Media Group. He is the current secretary-general of the Nimba Community Radio Association and a full member of the Press Union of Liberia.

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