The area has over 1500 small scale miners who use harmful chemicals like mercury without any precautions. Some of the children interviewed admitted to have abandoned school so as to earn money. “I come and work here so as to raise money from the wages I earn, to buy pens, exercise books and uniform I have no other way out,” Mwita Mariko,15, a standard seven pupil at Nyabichune Primary School, located near the mine said.
Mwita says he lost his father a few years ago. Mwita claimes he earns about 2000/- after working for not less than 10 hours a day. Teachers are at a loss as to what to do with students who skip class so as to earn money from what they describe as risky activities, moreover at the expense of gaining an education. “The rate of absenteeism is alarming, and some of them are expected to sit for the national standard seven examinations this year.
We are forced to follow up and ask their parents or guardians whether or not their children will sit for the exams,” Ms Baby Tambuko, the head teacher at Nyamongo Primary School said. Some of these school children have joined gangs who sneak into the mine to gather gold sand, putting their young lives at risk. But it is not only the children who are in danger. A large number of women including grandmothers taking care of their orphaned grandchildren are some of the desperate souls trying to eke a living.
The women are not spared the wrath of the police officers guarding the mine. “I come here because I have no body to depend on. My son and his wife died many years ago and I was left with three grandchildren to look after. One of the children was expected to join secondary school this year but I cannot afford to pay the school fees or buy stationery and school uniforms.” Mrs Ghati Hussein from Nyangoto village lamented.
The old and tired looking woman said she earns an average of 20,000/- from gold sand she sneaks from the mine every week. “After washing out the soil we sell the gold grains to the small scale miners. It is dangerous work as the Police are always after us. In some cases I am lucky as some of the Police take pity on me and leave me alone,” she says. North Mara is one of the gold mines under African Barrick Gold (ABG) in Tanzania.
Recently the mine signed a 10 million US dollars (about 16 bnl-) deal better known as the Villages Benefits Implementation Agreement(VBIA) with the aim of improving social services in the surrounding villages. The money is expected to be invested in education, health, water and roads sectors, according to local leaders.
Many schools in the area face an acute shortage of desks, classrooms and teachers. Nyamongo is the oldest school in the area but a desk is shared by five pupils The school has 1193 pupils hailing from the areas adjacent to the mine.