December 10 2015

Think you're too small to make a difference...?

...then you have never been to bed with a mosquito" Anita Roddick

Not that we are comparing brave & courageous miner Josaphine Aguti to a mosquito, but she has certainly made a huge difference to the lives of her community and that of the next generation. From her  childhood as miner, to galvanising her community to create a cooperative, her story is quite inspiring. Having never before left her country, we asked her to come to London to share her story at the Fairtrade Gold press day...

Josaphine Fairtrade Gold Africa Miner

As the eldest of 9 children growing up in Uganda, Josaphine was responsible for the family, often staying home from school to accompany her Mum to the mine or do the housework. The more you mine, the more you earn. Even when she started at a boarding school she would return to mine on holidays and any free days to pay for her tuition. After eventually qualifying as a teacher, Josaphine realised that the salary was not sufficient, so returned to what she knew - mining.

Fairtrade gold mine in AfricaThe mines would pop up (or down!) wherever there was a gold rush, with no formalisation or safety standards. Pits would collapse with people inside, and without any barriers people would simply fall into the mine holes dug in the ground. In her community, there is a huge number of illiterate people who started life as child miners.

Busia United is a group of 16 women & 6 men. The young men, just out of school, do the energetic work. but still there are older women spending the day crushing rock by hand. Their hands are worn out from the pounding. They then go straight to sluicing - washing the rock with mercury to extract the gold.

Josaphine had had enough. She got in touch with EWAD (Environmental Women in Action for Development) who came to speak to the miners, empowering them to become formalised, and putting them in touch with Fairtrade International as part of their pilot for Fairtrade Gold Africa.

"When EWAD told us about the effect of mercury, the whole room went silent" Jospahine recounts. To this point the women had been using a bowl & ladle to sluice with mercury, then taking the same bowl home to serve the food and wash the children. They then suddenly made the connection from this work to the babies in the family born with defects.

Fairtrade Gold Mine Safety codesAs part of their journey to become Fairtrade gold accredited, Busia United had advisors assess the community & the environment. They now have strict Health & Safety codes displayed at the mine, barriers all around the mine with no under 18s allowed. They have closed-loop chemical use, and are also working towards a chemical-free extraction process.

As well as mobilising her fellow miners to become a cooperative, taking their livelihoods into their own hands instead of being at the mercy of local traders, she also organised the erection of posters to try and spread the word about the effect of mercury. Here she is stood with her fellow miners, and Cred Jewellery's Alan Frampton, at the mine in Uganda.

Fairtrade Gold Miners with Cred Jewellery Alan Frampton

After she told us her story, Josaphine said
"So jewellers, consumers, this is the story of the beautiful Fairtrade gold you wear. It is hard work"

I think we could award her with Understatement of the Year!

We hope you are inspired by Josaphine's story, and difference Fairtrade Gold is making to her community and others like it across the world.