Monday, June 23, 2008

Elizabeth and Naomi

We first met 14 year old Elizabeth in our collaborative work with Active Kids Canada and a Liberia elementary school. AK Canada paid to have a library built and stocked with texts, and wanted to hear about some of the children who attended the school. The principal of the school told us about several children, all of whom have stories worth telling, but we wanted to make sure you met Elizabeth. She is a hard working student, gets good grades, and really loves her school. She lives with her mother Naomi about a mile and a half from the school. There is no father in the picture.

Elizabeth and her mother crush rocks for a living.

In Liberia, the need for crushed rock is high and constant. Almost any construction project in requires crushed rock to provide support in the sandy soil. Roads, cement houses, walls all use crushed rock. Elizabeth and Naomi live in a community of rock crushers near a quarry-- appropriately dubbed Rock Hill. The quarry cliff face is heated, then large rocks broken out by the rock breakers and sold to the rock crushers for $150.00LD ($2.50US) per load. The rock crushers break up the large rocks into small rocks and sell them by the pile for $500LD ($8.00US) to the rock retailers who in turn bag, sell and transport them for roughly $3,000LD (50.00US) for the bags coming from the pile. The method of crushing big rocks is simple. Using a ball peen or other small hammer, the crusher hits rocks into the required smaller size, and throws them onto a pile. When the pile is a few feet high and a few feet wide, the crusher calls the rock seller to come and haul it away.

Elizabeth has been crushing rocks since she was eleven. She starts work when she gets home from school at 2:00pm—Saturdays she works all day—and continues until around 5:00pm. Her early thirties-something mother has been crushing rocks daily for fifteen years. Elizabeth and Naomi sell about three piles every two days for a total average (subtracting the amount the pay to the cliff-side rock breakers) of about US$5.00 a day. The money is just enough to feed this family of two and send Naomi to school.

Most Liberians work very hard in difficult conditions for very little return, and for some like coal makers or rock crushers, the work is almost incredibly demanding or tedious. For Elizabeth and Naomi, and the rest of the residents of Rock Hill, the strain of everyday life shows on their strong and calloused hands, and on their tired faces. For mother Naomi, this is the only method of making a living she has known, and there are no real alternatives. She does not entertain dreams of a better life. For Elizabeth, it is different. You can see it in her eye and in her commitment to school: She wants out of Rock Hill. How long she can maintain that desire is anyone’s guess. At least until she graduates I'm sure. But her desire for a better life is challenged by tradition, inertia, the lack of friends outside Rock Hill, and the general Liberian economy. Eventually she will either use the rocks to help her escape, or the rocks will bury her. I imagine she knows she is in the race of her life.

The quarry from Elizabeth's house. The center of the Rock Hill community.

Elizabeth just getting home to mother Naomi.

Renita, the school principle and I chat with Elizabeth and Naomi about their world. Naomi did not speak English well, and Elizabeth was shy and quiet throughout.

They demonstrated how they spend their days for us.

The Rock Hill area-- piles of rock, everyone by hand-- are everywhere to be seen.

Elizabeth and Naomi, with their latest rock pile behind them.

Weather: The rains have come, as they always do, and as might be expected, not all day yet. During the last week, the rain came mostly at night, but at times heavily for a few hours. Total last week: Monday, 2 inches; Tuesday, 2 inches; Wednesday, 2.25 inches; Thursday 2.25 inches; Friday .25 inches; Saturday, Trace, Sunday, Trace, and by this Monday morning, 1 inch has already fallen. Total for the week: just under ten inches. Hi temps in the low 80’sF and very humid when the sun shines, low temps in the low 70sF.

NEXT WEEK: The Return of the Pros from Dover. We look in on the team from Calvin and Kuyper Colleges as they meet with the MPCHS staff, and tour Liberia with social workers' eyes.