The Price of Gravel

Although dangerous, this quarry remains a main source of income in the area.

Although dangerous, this quarry remains a main source of income in the Acholi Quarters.

Most slums in Kampala are situated in low lying areas, muffled by the hills around them. Wealth here is a vertical concept, but the Acholi Quarters in Kireka break this mold. One of the few low-income areas perched with a view, the neighborhood is a world away from the hustle of Kampala.

This small community is made up almost entirely of Northern Ugandans who had fled the LRA’s bloody insurgency years ago. Many here suffer from PTSD and psychosocial care is badly needed. However most NGOs in the area focus on skill creation for the women.

While well intentioned, this has created its own disparity. Focusing primarily on women, and leaving out men, has been blamed for the high rates of alcoholism in the area. Some men say that they are being left behind, and without the ability to contribute, feel worthless.

Those who do find work spend their days cutting and hoisting large stones out of the pits. They are brought to the surface where women sit, pounding them down into gravel. Most workers are paid less than 5,000UGX per day (about $1.50 USD) for up to 12 hours of labor.

A heavily pregnant woman spends her day pounding larger stones into gravel. Most residents are paid by the kilo for their work.

A heavily pregnant woman spends her day pounding larger stones into gravel. Most residents are paid by the kilo for their work.

It is a poor neighborhood but residents say that crime is low. This is because it’s a tight knit and somewhat secluded community. Discrimination against northerners, and Acholis in particular, is high in Uganda. Those with darker skin and thinner bodies (hallmarks to many of Acholi ethnicity) are often ridiculed. This is particularly true with children. It is because of this discrimination that many residents have a strong preference to keep to themselves.

A few years ago the Acholi Quarters opened a modern primary school for their children. They say that when their kids were finally allowed to learn without being picked on, they excelled in their studies. Many of the women bragged about some of the best students in Uganda coming from their schools.

Homes on the outskirts of the Acholi Quarters. The community could be seen as self-contained, with schools, shops, clinics and bars within the small area.

Homes on the outskirts of the Acholi Quarters. The community could be seen as self-contained, with schools, shops, clinics and bars within the small area.

Although there has been progress in recent years, dangers still exist throughout the area. Last year at least 3 children died falling into the quarries. Many families need both parents working outside the home, and with little time for supervision, accidents are common.

Yet this small ethnic enclave, which started as a refuge from violence, has high hopes that extend far beyond the quarry pits. Rather its the newly built schools, funded in part by the residents themselves, that leave most parents optimistic. Hopeful that their own children will never have to learn the price of gravel.

Just feet away from this quarry, trucks sit waiting to carry the gravel into the city.

Just feet away from this quarry, trucks sit waiting to carry the gravel into the city.

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