By Thokozire Nyirenda – Mana.
The awn has just cracked in the Village of Jingani in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Chikulamayembe in Rumphi.
After a rooster crow, they slither out of their beds and sleeping mats.
A hive of various morning domestic chores is underway characterized by clinking sounds of cooking utensils; this marks the start of a long and hectic day for 10 women of the village.
After rounding up morning domestic chores they join a rush to different jobs and business activities.
The atmosphere is characterized by a regular mix of paddling thuds of footsteps, intermittent revels of engines and honks of hooters for both cars and motorcycle.
They trudge to the nearby local hill to toil for their bread and butter. They go uphill collecting huge stones or pushing rubbles too heavy for their arms.
Amidst the cacophony sounds of clanging of hammers, crush of stones, and churn of billowing of dust, slowly mounds of different shapes and sizes of tiny stones piles up.
Most of these women who have taken this plunge are widows or single mothers. Quarry production for trade was what makes their ends meet. They sweat profusely to produce enough to provide for their financial struggling families in an area where men are considered bread winners.
It was the month of May, where everyone was busy harvesting their different crops including staple maize, a chore that was usually associated with the womenfolk across the district.
But to a stranger, these women would seem farming was none of their business.
Shockingly, they acknowledge to this reporter that they farm to supplement quarry production venture.
Constance Gondwe, 68, a mother of three is part of these group womenfolk. She lost her husband and found refuge in this extraordinary trade she has plied for six years now.
“It was difficult for me to find money to care for my family when my husband died 2011. I decided to start this business to care for my children in terms of food and school fees,” she explained.
Rumphi District Social Welfare Officer (DSWO), Joshua Luhana said the collapse of social structure of extended family has made womenfolk in the district have nowhere to turn to when their husbands passes on and that the same has befallen divorcees.
He said under the extended family system in the northern region when the woman has lost a husband the family of deceased weighs in to take the reins of raising the children.
Similarly, the children of the divorced woman would get child maintenance assistance from the former husband once the couple union has been terminated after irreconcilable differences.
But it has emerged in recent times that traditional value centre was not holding out. The legal avenue is being ignored that makes a woman to bear all brunt of raising children.
“When divorcing parents do not want to go to court, implies that the maintenance of children is not taken into consideration.
“Children are left with their mothers, the father decides to marry and continue living his normal life without considering those other children,” Luhana pointed.
He noted that if all cases of divorce were able to go to the court, the court could look at issues of maintenance and wealth distribution.
Nonetheless, Gondwe added despite the enormity of works involved, she has reaped some benefits from her sweat to make some ends meet which would have been extremely hard to attain if she had just folded her arms to rely on the sympathy of well-wishers.
She said through the business she was able to earn enough money to pay tuition fees for her children, manages to bring enough since the day she took to this roaring trade.
“I managed to pay fees for my child who was at Chankhomi Secondary School and am paying for my two children at Rumphi Secondary School,” Gondwe stated.
She noted that with the same business, she has managed to construct a house in her village and she said the business has completely turned around her life as a single parent.
On the same root, Esther Nyasulu a divorced lady, 30 said the enormity to keep her economic stability afloat worsened when her husband left her with two children and a burden to care for her two sisters.
“When my husband divorced me, he left me with two children to look after. Worse more to this burden, I was added to a responsibility of taking care of my two young sisters and paying their school fees,” she disclosed.
Nyasulu said she has plied this business since 2010 as such she was able to foot tuition fees for her two sisters, at the same time she is rearing pigs from the money raised.
Another woman, Jane Nyirongo, 27 her life has turned round through the same business of quarry making. She is a mother of two living with her husband in the same village of Jingani.
She has done the business for six years now. When she saw her fellow women cashing in from the sweat of breaking rocks she felt it would be ideal for her to join them instead of just staying home and begging from people.
Nyirongo is able to differentiate her past and the present and that she is able to find money to bring food to her family table and managed to purchase a plot where she intends to construct her second house.
“Since I started doing the business my life has really changed for am able to find money on own my own and care for my family, I have managed to construct a house,” she summed.
Like any other business, quarry production has accompanying rough ages, it is laborious with rowing or carrying of huge stones, crashing them into smaller pieces then bearing the pail or tin load on their heads to selling points.
According to Gondwe, though there has been a boom of construction industry in the district both by the public and private sector, it remains a hassle to find markets for their stones.
She said sometimes it takes almost a year for their products to be sold which compels them to involve middle men, who usually demand a cut from their earnings once the deal has been successful.
“On many occasions, we have to rely on agents to find us market. This is problematic to us as it eats into our profit margins,” Gondwe pointed out.
In spite of engaging into this backbreaking toil, the women of Jingani have lofty dreams to venture into other types of businesses that would ease their economic plight. But the major snug standing on their way was scarcity of business capital.
“I wish I could stop doing this business because it’s so tiresome but because I don’t have enough capital to start another business. I just keep on doing this business since it only requires my own power,” Nyasulu lamented.