…appeal for assistance
Health Nhokwara grips a heavy hammer in one hand while the other handles a block of stone that she smashes into pieces with heavy blows as she narrowly misses her fingers. She stops for a few seconds to rub off the sweat that is flowing from her head with a rug that is already wet with the sweat.
She has been doing this for a long time now and spend up to 11hours a day bent over this work in the heat temperatures of Kwekwe, pulverizing stones while two of her children are at school and the little one who is three years will be with her covered by dust under heat temperatures of 44 degrees Celsius according to the meteorological department. Her husband who has disabilities will be selling detergents in the ghetto streets of Mbizo in the early morning and join in crashing stones later on during the day.
She works on a pile of stones along the road in Mbizo Section 7 close to the Shops as she narrates how it all started.
“I noticed other women crushing stones and I inquired them on how they go about doing it and they invited me to visit their places of work so that I could learn from them. I did not know how painful it was because some do it as a family together with their husbands but as for me, my husband is a person with disabilities so it is difficult for me to gather the stones from the pits that we dig from. So since it is hard for me to dig I end up taking the stones that will be lying idle at the top of the surface. Some of the stones are heavy to lift so it becomes a burden for me. But I have to do it to make sure I feed my children and pay fees. Working, though is hard helps me not to look at other people’s lives.
“It is a good thing that as women we should work hard. The challenge I have with this type of work is that often times we do not have proper clothing or even glasses to protect our eyes, but due to the economic hardships in the country it is difficult to leave this work because there is nothing else to do out there, we will end up coming back here. The small money we get here will be better than nothing at all,” she said.
Quick internet research reveals the dangers of inhaling dust, including irritation of the eyes and sinuses, lung problems, and even cancer.
“For the past week I was resting at home, I just resumed work yesterday because I was having chest pains as a result of crushing these stones. The place where I gather the stones is heavy for me and sometimes I feel pain in my chest. Even the stone particles coming from the stones that we crush affect our eyes as well. But we need to do our best to feed the family because staying at home does not bring food on the table,” she said.
Nhokwara is 44years but like women around her she bears the pain of the grueling work, her face is usually smudged with dust while small stone particles affect her eyes as she works without protection. Her fingers are raw from the contact that she always have with grit that comes with crushing stones daily. Her husband cannot do much especially when it comes to gathering the stones because of his condition.
“My husband has disabilities, his left leg and left arm do not function. So to gather the stones and bring them here is difficult for him it is a challenge, I have to do all that. But it is a difficult job for me to push loads of wheelbarrows full of stones daily. But for a woman who has love for his family I have to push myself hard. So I do my best while my husband does what he can afford and our children do what they can afford since they are young.
“It is important to discover that as a woman who has a husband with disabilities I have to do my best in order to help him. I do not have to take advantage of him but we help each other when he cannot do something then I will be there for him and when I cannot do something he also helps me out,” she says as the hammer strikes the stones.
She is sometimes discouraged by the amount of money that she receives from customers. But she realizes the small amount that she gets is better than nothing at all. She says it is better to get that little and buy food for the family than to let the family starve.
“One wheelbarrow cost $USD2.00 but because of the challenges that we face in the country sometimes people negotiate the price and we will accept $USD1.50. To say that in a week I can manage to crush twenty wheelbarrows will be a challenge because I am not able to dig for the stones like other men do. The type of stones that I gather I difficult to crush since like I told you I just take the ones I find lying on top other than digging for the much softer ones. So it becomes difficult to reach twenty wheelbarrows a week. At the moment wheelbarrow, we are charging $USD1.50 but it does not suit the labor that I provide because sometimes I have nothing at home I am forced to accept.
“Sometimes we are let down by the builders who come to negotiate on behalf of the owners, these builders force us to accept the $USD1.50 because they also take away every fifty cents from each of the $USD2.00 they are given and leave us with little profits that cannot sustain us. But it was a case that the owners of the houses who come to buy on their own may be the situation might be different for us. The builders let us down and our labor goes in vain. The money we get is not even enough and as stone crushers, we struggle to make ends meet,” she says with a heavy heart.
Exposure to extreme heat has been linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, kidney disease, and mental illness. Women such as Nhokwara need help so that they are better protected from the extreme heat conditions while working.
Her dream is to have someone who can help her acquire machinery to crush stones without too much hustle.
“Firstly I wish if we can get customers that buy with better prices so that we make better profits from what we produce in order to sustain our families. Secondly, I wish to get assistance from well-wishers so that I can have my own machine that crushes stones or even do something that is sustainable to people living with disabilities. I also wish to have the protective gear so that I protect myself from the stones that we crush and even the heat conditions. Sometimes if I have money I buy milk to drink so that I get rid of the dust I would have breathed here,” she said.
Women such as Nhokwara are negatively impacted by extreme temperatures and according to feminist and environmental reporter Partinella Ngozo, there is a need to address such issues so that these women do not suffer from such problems.
“There is need to include women in climate change issues, educational campaigns are necessary and we also need to help these women with other projects that do not expose them to the high heat temperatures. For a person such as Nhokwara to struggle with life like that is a sad situation, the way she handles the heavy work to help her family especially her disabled husband shows how strong she is. Furthermore, it shows that if given an opportunity she can work hard to help change the environment for the better. Let me urge Zimbabweans to do their best and help Nhokwara and others doing the same work as her. Once we do this we will empower women to do great in life,” said Ngozo.
The informal sector activities in Zimbabwe are viable in reducing poverty amongst families. Yet, the full potential of the informal sector in reducing poverty in the country may not be attained if women continue to struggle. This can also hamper the progress of achieving the United Nations poverty-related Sustainable Development targets.