‘Forgotten Communities in Liberia,’ How Are Citizens Faring with Life?

There are some communities in Liberia considered forgotten. And such communities were known during elections in 2005. People running campaigns for various parties were seen in these places, convincing citizens to vote for their candidates as every vote counted was important.

Little did these people know they were going to be forgotten or considered outcast once their votes were cast for candidates showing so much attention during elections season!

It was so pathetic to see people who claimed they voted for ”Ma Ellen” (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) as she is known, reduced to eating  wild roots such as bush eddoes, yams and potatoes, because the price of a cup of rice is sold at L$25.00 which many people can’t afford.

Talking about bush eddoes, known as “hummie,” I’m a living testimony because during the beginning of the Liberian civil war in 1989, I ate it. Because there was no food, bush eddoes were the only food available for survival at the time but it itched my mouth the whole night that I did not sleep. Just imagine what those people are going through when they have to scratch their mouths after eating what they consider food!

When FPA visited a part of Rock Hill described as “Forgotten Community” in Paynesville, Montserrado County and saw almost everybody including men, women and children breaking rocks to make ends meet, a family comprising of father mother and three children would go on the field to break rocks.

During the breaking of the rock into crushed rocks, the children would be piling the crushed rocks to make a big pile for sale. The chances of buying the piled rocks are slim because they are so many ‘crushing rocks,’ the only business they know. Hence, they must resort to eating hummie when there is no buyer for the day or the day’s catch is small.

Most of the residents in this area are living in zinc, mud and mat makeshift houses that could be easily penetrated by snakes or other crawling creatures. Some of these makeshift houses look so deplorable that one won’t believe that human beings live in them.

One such person crushing rocks for livelihood is Blessing Jackson; a junior high school dropped out who left school because she got pregnant for a boy she claimed paid her school fees from the money he made from breaking rocks.  Blessing pointed out that since he left her six months pregnant to go Nimba and find a job; she has been breaking rocks to sell at L$30.00 retail price for a five gal oil container, to feed her and the baby.

Blessing who lives in a mat house, said she wishes to go back to school but can’t because she has no one to care for her baby. She disclosed that she and some friends are forced to find boyfriends to help them break rocks because when new to the trade, it is difficult to break a giant size rock from under the ground.

“When a boy or man helps you, they will also expect help from you by giving your body in return, and if you say no, you will suffer because a man won’t help you for free.”

During tour in the area, FPA encountered Old Man Jacob, burning some tires over a big rock to make it easier to break.  The whole area was polluted with black smoke from the tire burning. Taking into consideration the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental laws the smoke from the tire is dangerous to those inhaling it.

Old Man Jacob lives in a rustic zinc house with his wife and five children, including a two month old baby. He said “I have to burn four or five tires over a big rock like this. One truck tire costs L$100.00, equivalent to almost US$2.00. I will burn it today and when it cools of by tomorrow, I will start breaking the rock to sell so my family can at least have rice to eat tomorrow.”

He said rock breakers sometimes buy the rocks from those who have them in their yards but referred to the transaction as “buying pig in a bag” because if he spends more money in buying the rock and getting less after selling the rock, then “the whole business is lucky ticket.”

There is also Abutu Zorleh who also breaks rock in the area. A father of two children, Zorleh dropped out of secondary school. He told FPA he left school to break rocks when the unfortunate death of his child and sister’s occurred when a fence broke and fell on the kids, killing them instantly. The sorrowful part about his case is he still lives in the same place the fence fell on his kids in a mat house he later built.  But when one looks at the house, you would wonder why he is living in a place fit to be an animal house.

When asked why he still lives the same place that reminds him of his kids, he answered, “I have no where else to go but hang right here because I can’t afford money to buy a land of my own. The money I make is only enough to feed my family on a daily basis.”

The house Zorleh lives in indeed hangs over a cliff, where a disaster could occur at any time. It is so close to the edge that if they make mistake and break just a piece of rock from around the house, it will slide into the pit.

Also breaking rocks with a big hammer was thirteen year old Darhukai of the kpelle tribe. He said his father who is a watch man (night guard),   had gone to work and instructed him to break some rocks and sell to buy food to feed him (Darhukai) and his smaller brothers. He said, “I watched my father break rock, so it was how I learned the trade.”

Many children Darhukai’s age, whose parents can’t afford school fees, usually go to school in the morning and break rocks in the afternoon and evening hours. Others don’t go to school at all because their parents can’t afford.

There are many others who have created death traps for themselves by breaking rocks from the same spot they build their houses. They are not conscious of the danger they put themselves in because they need money. Therefore, they break any rock they can lay their hands on, even if it is their death warrant.

Rocks extracted from most of these places have created large holes or pits that even if one builds a house up to roof level, the top won’t be seen. Some of these pits are approximately thirty to fifty feet deep.

The other time a tragedy occurred when a two year old fell into one of the smaller holes a rock was extracted from due the rain that filled the hole. The baby went to draw water innocently as she used to see the older children do but no one was in the yard to see the child walk right into pit and drowned. The only reason the parents knew the child drowned was because the slippers of the child were seen floating over the water.

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