Walking down the dirt roads on the outskirts of Malindi, Kenya, the breeze sometimes carries on it the distinct scent of the ocean, from which many people here earn their living as fishermen. While the men go out to fish, many of the women have turned to breaking coral into rocks to earn a living.
The women can’t afford child care for their children, so the kids come along to the exposed coral and find ways to play—or sleep—while their moms work. Without any safety gear to protect from the dust and flying debris, the children are at risk of injury.
Kadzo is a mother of 14. Her oldest child is 14, and the youngest is seven months. Kadzo has been working at the quarry for the last five years and is her family’s sole breadwinner since her husband is an alcoholic and does not work.
She leaves for the quarry early in the morning with her youngest child, Loice, firmly strapped on her back and her mallet and gunny sack in hand. She prefers to begin early, before the heat becomes unbearable.
Loice plays in the dust under her mother’s watchful eye, oblivious to the danger of the dust and debris. Kadzo has had her share of hospital visits and has been treated for a barrage of respiratory ailments, but she sees no other way to provide for her children.
“I do not wish to bring her to the quarry with me. But if I miss a day, we all sleep hungry and that breaks my heart… I just hope and pray that God would protect us.”
Kadzo earns USD $12 a month to sustain her 14 children. “I work this hard so that my children do not have to suffer in the future. I want [them] to get a decent education so that they are able to find gainful work that will pay them well,” says Kadzo.
Around noon, Kadzo heads home to cook for her children returning home from school. They usually eat vegetables and the staple ugali, a porridge made of maize.
Thirteen-year-old Salama is one of Kadzo’s children who is in school. She comes home for a quick lunch, before heading back to school for her afternoon lessons. Salama is in fifth grade. Her classroom is crowded and dimly lit. It’s typical of underfunded schools in Kenya—an incomplete brick structure that is hot and stuffy—hardly conducive for learning.
Salama is part of the Compassion program at a local church. That’s why she’s able to consistently attend school, as most of her fees are paid for and she receives school supplies, uniforms and other school resources at the Compassion centre.
“I am happy that Salama is sponsored and doesn’t have to assist me in breaking rocks like the other less-fortunate children,” says Kadzo. “She has the opportunity to concentrate on her studies and hopefully one day make us proud.”
The letters from her sponsors inspire Salama to work even harder in school. “I cannot let them down after they have believed in me like this,” says Salama. She wants to become a teacher so that she can champion the need for education for girls.
“My community is still caught up in cultural practices that undermine women’s and girls’ rights and deny them the opportunity to become great. I want to become a teacher so that I can be a role model to the girls who are not as lucky as I am to have a role model in my Compassion centre director,” she says.
Kadzo will continue to work hard all day breaking rocks to provide for her children. But because of the help from Compassion, her burden is lightened.
Kadzo has marveled at her daughter’s development over the years, and it brings her hope. “Salama has grown in confidence and knows and understands the word of God,” says Kadzo. “I desire that all my kids would have a good education and that their standards of living would improve. That is what drives me to keep breaking rocks all day in the hot, scorching sun. It is hard work, but I know it is for a worthy cause.”
Text and photos by Isaac Ogila