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ActionAid empowers women miners

Ms Jessica Mbalina, an artisan miner in Mubende washes dust in mercury in search of gold

Ms Jessica Mbalina, an artisan miner in Mubende washes dust in mercury in search of gold

In 2014 Ms Kyomugisha Allen left her home in Nkaga n’aibiri in Ishongorero sub county, Ibanda district to join colleagues who had gone to Mubende to work in the gold mines. It was not an easy decision; she took a gamble and left an eatery business she was operating back home in preference for gold she had no idea about.

“I got to the mines with the little savings I had from my business; Even the first tarpaulin I owned was on credit,” she says. The tarpaulin she talks about is the basic form of any semblance to accommodation that dots the mines in Mubende. As one approaches the mines they can make out, from far off in the hills, blue dotted structures scattered all over the mining camps  that are home to over 60,000 people, according to Lujinji A LCI chairperson Mark Jjombwe.

With determination, Kyomugisha was ready to take on this intriguing part of the world. She joined a group of miners registered under Singo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association (SASSMA). Then, the Association had started a partnership with ActionAid Uganda under the Extractives Governance project that among other things, advocates for the mining rights of artisanal miners.

In 2015 a group of twenty miners from the Association travelled to the Geita gold mines in Tanzania to learn how mining is done there, thanks to ActionAid Uganda that sponsored the trip. Kyomugisha was one of the fortunate twenty and her life has never been the same. She is the only female member of the now 12,000-strong association who owns a gold pit where she employs up to 30 people.

Ms. Sally Henderson from ActionAid Australia is the reason behind the smiling face of Kyomugisha, and several other women who operate under the Women’s League of SASSMA. She runs a project that supports women in mining through ActionAid Uganda.

Ms Henderson, who was in Uganda last week to tour the project and another of women in farming she supports, met the miners in Mubende where she also donated a waste recycling machine used to make briquettes. The women shared their experiences in the mines and how they have had to start up other income generating activities.

She noted that the trip to Tanzania seemed to have changed their lives and was glad the women had picked important lessons.

Ms Robinah Kyakuhaire, the women’s league treasurer, said their trip to Tanzania was a life changing one.

“We never knew the dangers of handling mercury which put most of us especially mothers at risk; but, in Tanzania we found women wearing protective gear,” she said while addressing a meeting in Mubende.

Kyakuhaire also said they had the responsibility to spread awareness of the lessons they had picked to other mining camps.

Other miners that benefited from the trip said they learnt how to secure pits and have since then not had cases of pits caving in and claiming lives.

“We shall forever be grateful to ActionAid for that opportunity,” the Association chairperson Mr Jjombwe said.

Last year in October ActionAid donated an assortment of protective gear to the Association. The gear included gum boots, masks, gloves, flashlights and overalls which were mainly targeting women miners’ safety.

John Bosco Bukiya, the Association chairperson, said the women’s league was started under SASSMA because not everyone is into mining.

The women’s league also has a savings scheme from which members will be able to access low interest loans soon. Last year one of the members, Sarah Mangeni, told Oil in Uganda in an interview that in addition to money lending, they had plans to set up a daycare centre where children would be minded.

While touring the gold mines during her visit, Sally interacted with a mother who was panning gold dust; she went on about her work while a friend minded her child nearby.

More success stories

Ms Mbalina Jessica, a single mother, fends for her children by herself. Her source of income is from working in the mines. She pans a suck of gold dust for Sh25,000 each for three hours. Because the job is too manual she can only manage two sucks.

She told Sally she would love to be able to have frequent medical checkups because of the environment she works under and also the long hours she spends doing the manual work.

While concluding her visit Sally donated a waste recycling machine used in making briquettes. The machine was handed over to the Association chairperson Mr Jjombwe.

Briquette making venture is one of several other income generating ventures that the women have in plan.

The extractives governance acting project manager, Mr Ivan Mpagi, said the gesture was one of the ways to support such communities towards self sustainability in bettering their lives.

By Robert Mwesigye
Oil.Uganda@actionaid.org