For more than 30 years, Hawa Wayebwe, a single mother living with disability and Zamu Namaga, also a single mother in Nabweya Village, Namanyonyi Sub-country, Mbale District have crashed stones on Kakungulu Hill to earn a living.
Wayewbe, who is in her late 50s, says crushing stones is her sole source of income which has enabled her to educate and feed her nine children that her husband abandoned her with. She adds that before joining the quarry, she used to earn a living from tilling gardens.
However, after suffering a leg injury, she could not work anymore. This prompted her husband to abandon the family home leaving her with nine children to take care of. Wayewbe says this forced her to start crashing stones to be able to look after her children.
“My life became a living hell after I suffered an injury. It drove my husband away since I could not help myself like I used to. He woke up one day and left; leaving all the responsibility to me,” she says.
Zamu Namaga, 30, says when her husband abandoned her with children, she was so distraught that she even contemplated becoming a prostitute.
“However, I knew that this was not an option and therefore looked for other ways of earning money so that I could start a business. I was desperate because I had children to feed and educate,” she says.
Wayewbe and Namaga say when presented with the opportunity to crash stones, they accepted immediately.
Namaga says stone quarrying is not an easy job because of the local methods they use to excavate rocks and crack them into pieces are risky. These two single mothers use a small flat metal which they place under the seating rock after heating the rock with fire then hit it with a hammer to break it.
“Sometimes we hit our fingers with the hammer. It is also very tiresome although we do not plan to quit because it is all we have to support our families,” they say.
“Most people think stone quarrying is a job for men only and think women cannot do it because of the many challenges involved in it but that’s not the case. We are examples that with hard work and determination, women too can do this job,” they say.
They say a heap of stones ranges from Shs100,000 to Shs250,000 depending on the size of the lorry or truck. They add that it takes them each a week to crash enough stones to fill one truck.
“If we do not get sick or if it does not rain, we can fill a lorry in a few days. We only think of the risks when a colleague is injured but we tend not to dwell on it too much so that we do not get scared and quit,” they say.
Wanyewbe says although they sometimes carry the rocks themselves, at times they have to negotiate with men who they pay to carry the rocks to the surface.
Both women say they have managed to build houses, educate their children and also employ other youth who do not have a source of income. They urge other women to stop feeling sorry for themselves but look for ways to look after their children.
“Do something for yourself. Do not wait for men to buy you everything. You need to start up something so that if marriage comes to an end, you can stand tall and still be able to give your children a comfortable life,” they add.
However, JJ Keki, the Namanyonyi Sub-country LC3 Chairperson of says he does not support stone quarrying on Kakungulu Hill because it is affecting the environment.
“The authorities are looking for a solution to keep that hill and rocks untouched and when we get it, those who crash stones will have to stop immediately,” he says.
Dr Nicholas Otwao, an optician at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, says without protective gear, these women are likely to suffer from eye infections and eye damage in the long run.
“When crushing the stones, small pieces can easily fall into the eyes and can sometimes lead to loss of sight. It is important for those carrying out stone crashing to have protective gear such as gloves and goggles,” he says.