Pissy Quarry

Burkina Faso

Pissy Quarry is an indescribable and unimaginable place. Every day, from sunrise to sundown, people descend into the mine to break stones. Whole families work together, with children working alongside their parents, helping to increase the family income.
Every little income helps towards buying food and basic supplies, to school shoes. From around 7 a.m., the families begin their descent into the vast crater that is their workplace. The trail is very slippery and quite treacherous.
Most women wear flip flop sandals and many children walk barefoot. Work lasts between eight to ten hours a day, six or seven days a week. Stones are crushed by hand using heavy metal hand chisels and then loaded onto trays. These heavy trays are then balanced onto the worker’s head to be carried up out of the mine where they will be sold for very little profit.
Children toil in dangerous conditions. They are exposed to visible risks, injuries are common and the risk of internal disease is high. The mine is a place of unbearable intense heat. Tires are burned to help loosen rocks and children breathe in these toxic fumes that choke the air.  As the hard granite is hammered with chisels, dust from the ground is dispersed into the air and mixes with the fine white powder that splinters from the granite as it is crushed into smaller stones.
A layer of dark dust and white powder cover the clothes and skin of each child in the mine. Yet in the midst of this hardship there is a place of hope. Some of the younger children are dropped off at the Bisongo daycare early in the morning as their parents make their way to the mine. The Center is a safe place where children can laugh and play and make friends. Here they are free to learn, to explore and discover their environment. Close to the mine, in a small dusty playground, children are free to run around and play games. I met their teacher, Paul, a man with amazing patience and the skills to keep the children both disciplined and engaged. Paul leads them in creative activities such as singing or using their fingers to draw in the playground dust. There is a time for learning to read and write and to learn to count, and then you see the children sit quietly on a mini chairs or wood bench and listen attentively to their teacher. Paul asks a question and everyone puts up a hand to give him an answer.