Posted by: rumnet | January 28, 2010

Women in Nangodi Live on Galamsey

By Bernice Agyekwena

Article published in January 2010 edition of The ADVOCATE:

For the past four years, Lamisi Mahamadu, a 45 year old mother of three, wakes up at cockcrow to perform her household chores and to send off her two younger children to school. However, Lamisi’s main motivation for waking up early is not merely because of the household chores she has to perform but because she wants to arrive early at the gold processing site where she indulges in galamsey -or illegal gold mining- activities with other women at Nangodi in the Upper East Region. “I Sometimes leave home as early as six o’clock in the morning to enable me process as much gold- bearing soil as possible”, says Lamisi.

Lamisi says her decision to indulge in galamsey activities was due to the fact that she and her husband’s farming activities never yielded enough produce to meet their needs. “Anytime we farm, the yield is never enough to feed us from one farming season to the next. Unlike the south, we have only one farming season and after the crops have been harvested, there is a long period of inactivity and lack of opportunity to earn extra income, especially to buy food. Besides, there are no other job opportunities apart from farming at Nangodi”

Nangodi women sieve gold dust seven days a week

She said apart from the need to earn extra income to buy food during the long lean season, she and her husband also have to see their children through school; “I saw galamsey as the only alternative to earn additional income to meet these needs. From galamsey I earn money to give my children pocket money for school and to meet their other academic expenses. I am also able to buy food ingredients to prepare nourishing meals for my family.”

Lamisi says the income generating capacity of men in Nangodi is generally low which makes it impossible for them to support their wives and families; “Our husbands never earn enough money to clothe us and our children; we are responsible for clothing ourselves and our children”. Some of us are also widows and single mothers and we have no one to help us take care of ourselves and our children”.

She said galamsey among women has become so entrenched in Nangodi that it is viewed as a legitimate and respectable source of income; “we sometimes use our work to stand surety for debts. We can borrow money from people to buy food or borrow foodstuff from people because they know that when we sell our gold we can pay them. We sometimes also borrow money from the buyers for emergencies such as paying school fees and pay them with the gold that we process”.

Processing soil for gold starts with conveying the soil to the processing site. The group of women whom Lamisi belongs to normally spend three days conveying soil that has been excavated from areas suspected to be containing gold, to the processing site. They then spend an additional week processing the soils. Processing involves passing large amounts of water through the soil along a wooden trough to separate sand and silt particles from metals and tiny stones. The sand and silt particles run off with the water whilst any metal or small stones are caught by a towel placed on the wooden trough. Afterwards, the residue left on the towel is washed in a bucket of water and a circular rubber tray, known as the ‘sample tyre’ which is used to trap the gold. Since only a small residue of gold dust is trapped at a particular time, the process has to be repeated several times until an appreciable amount of gold is obtained.

“If the soil is rich, we can get some quantity of gold, as heavy as a razor blade which we sell to gold dealers in Nangodi and Bolgatanga for 30 Ghana Cedis”, says Lamisi.

Christiana Kpembe, a 35 year old mother of four said from the sales of gold, she is able to provide her children with pocket money for school. “Most of us can comfortably pay school fees ranging from 20 to 60 Ghana cedis or even credit that amount from our buyers and repay them with gold”, she said.

On the impact that the absence of women from their families due to galamsey activities have on their children, Lamisi said women with older children normally rely on them to prepare food for themselves and their siblings when they come home from school. What these women do is to stock enough foodstuff at home so that their children can prepare food at anytime. However, due to the mutual understanding that exists among women in the group, those with younger children are allowed to take a break in the afternoons to see to the nutritional needs of their children. Children who have not yet been enrolled in school accompany their mothers to the processing site where they play with other children while their parents work.

Children play as their mother's work

According to Christiana, the women engage in ‘susu’ to save money to buy seed to plant during the cropping season; “We always suspend all galamsey activities during this time to indulge in farming activities such as groundnuts, maize and rice cultivation”. She said monies saved this way are used to support only farming activities because other economic activities do not thrive in the area. “The low population of Nagodi makes most trading activities not to be viable”, she says

Due to the hardship associated with galamsey work, women who indulge in it abuse pain killers a lot. “We are always in pain because we have to carry several trips of heavy soil and water for our work. At the end of the day, we have headache and body pains and our bodies ache so much that we cannot sleep without the relief of pain killers. Hence, at the end of every day we have to take pain killers. If we do not take pain killers, we cannot go back to work the following day”, says Lamisi.

Nangodi women take a rest from their back breaking work; reliance on painkillers is common

Christiana supports Lamisi’s view that galamsey work is very tiresome. “It is poverty that has forced us into this kind of job otherwise galamsey is not a job for women. It is very tedious and tiring. If we had alternative sources of income, we would never indulge in galamsey activities”, she says.


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