MONROVIA – These are trying times for many Liberians particularly women who most times bear the economic burden of any form of crisis, and the COVID-19 crisis is no exception.
By: R. Joyclyn Wea with Journalist for Human Rights
The pandemic has caused a global economic crisis and Liberia, being one of the poorest in Sub-Sahara Africa, has not been spared its brunt.
The COVID-19 pandemic came on the heels of drastic austerity measures in Liberia. The Liberian people continue to endure the pinch of economic hardship since the end of the civil crisis—a situation that was compounded by the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 and a slump in the prices of the country’s major export commodities, rubber and iron ores for years now.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation, further shrinking incomes and rendering the masses more vulnerable, amid an unbearable unemployment rate.
Macrotrend.net, an online platform that has taken stock of the nation’s unemployment statuses since 1991, puts Liberia’s unemployment rate for 2020 stands at 3.30 percent, a 0.41 percent increase from 2019.
The harsh economic conditions Liberians have experienced over the years have prompted many of them to turn to informal labor options for survival—leading some women to venture into the crushing of rock for survival.
For decades, this trade has been an all-men affair but with an increase in demand for construction purposes, women have opted to join their male counterparts in the venture to supply the country’s thriving construction sector and get daily meals for their families.
With a scanty profit, women involved in this trade said they are in just to meet their daily feeding needs.
Marolyn Williams sits under the burning sun in the ‘Rock Hole’ community at the Boulevard Junction toiling on giant size rocks trying to break them into tiny pieces for sale. This has been a routine for Williams for the last ten years.
“I come here every day with a determination to get small money for me and my five kids,” Ms. Williams 45, says.
For a lady who is living through the trauma of being abandoned by the father of her children, she says crushing rocks has become both a source of survival and some form of therapy for her. “This hustle is helping me not only feed my children but a way of keeping thoughts of my former fiancé off my mind.”
Like many other women, she missed out on the opportunity of acquiring formal education due to the country’s devastating 14-years of civil war. “I may not have completed formal education, but I know the value of education that’s why I come here every day to crush rocks to get money to send my children to school,” she reveals.
A bag of crushed rocks is sold for L$250.00. On good days, she sells between seven and twenty bags. “I can make good morning when business is really going. Thank God that more people are doing some kind of construction houses now,” she says.
Ms. Williams is also catering for her aging mother, father, and other relatives all from the small funding she gets from the rock sale.
Nancy Torkpa, who sits not too far from Williams, has also been crushing rocks for years. She is a single mother.
“I am doing this because I don’t have any other work to do to sustain myself,” she says, “I crush the rock and sell it to get money.”
“This is what I do to also get money to pay school fees and buy food to eat. “Nancy added.
Like Marolyn and Nancy, Krubo Kullie believed to be in her middle 50s, is a mother of six children. She has been fending for her and her children on rock-crushing fields. She says income has been shrinking since the coronavirus pandemic.
“Most people have stopped their construction work due to the virus so more people are no longer buying rocks like before. At the moment, two of Krubo’s six kids are out of college. Another just completed high school, while three others are still in grade school.
“It is from this job that I pay their school fees regularly,” She continues. “I have been able to secure a plot of land and built a three-bedroom house,” she narrates.
Krubo made a lot of money from her trade and thought of building a house but got scammed while trying to get a parcel of land to begin the construction of her house.
She revealed that her former lover deceived her into buying two lots of land she is yet to have access to “I brought the first two lots of land on the Duport Road. But my children father stole the deed from behind me and abandoned me and the children,”
Kullie further alarm over health risk that rock crushing poses to the lives of people involved in it. “It is not small pain in this work, but we have to get our hand on something; if not our children will die of starvation and we will become a laughing stock for people,” She tearfully explained.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its mobilizing media in the fight against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa.