On a desolate land and in an isolated valley in the western countryside of Taiz, specifically the village of Al-Ashrooh, where the young man Wissam Hammadi works in collecting gravel sand (stone sand) from the village valley or from the ground near the valleys. After a laborious excavation process using a traditional machine called in the local area as “Hijna”, he collects the extracted sand in the form of large piles, then screening it using large sieves (metal nets with narrow openings, and metal beams, fixed on wooden or iron legs) to filter it from impurities and stones to produce fine stone sand. Once the screening steps are completed, Wissam offers it for sale to those interested buyers to use it for multi purposes building and construction process.
Wissam said in a statement to Khuyut: “We have known the profession of extracting and refining gravel sand and selling it to customers since a long time in this area. It has been taken up by many people as a profession that generates a modest income that helps the extractors and their families to survive.” The daily hard work average hours that Wissam works are about ten hours a day, amid challenging work conditions and under the hot sun.
Associated Risks and Difficulties
Due to the high rates of unemployment and the had living conditions as a result of the prolonged conflict for years, workers adopt this profession as a way to obtain an average income of 8 thousand riyals for every car load of 100 buckets of fine sand. That is, less than $6, according to the exchange rate in that area.
Anas Saber (17 years old), one of those working in the sand extracting profession, told Khuyut: “I started working in the field of extracting and selling rock sand since I was a student in the seventh grade of basic education, when I dropped out of school after facing extreme difficulty in completing my education for various reasons, including my family’s poverty. Therefore, this work was a refuge that I resorted to as a source that generated some money for me and my family to cope with living conditions, despite the harsh working condition of this career.”
As for the difficulties that workers in this profession face, Saber summarizes them as: “Working under the heat of the scorching sun, and long waits before selling the product to customers,”. This because the area in which they work is somewhat far from permanent construction projects, in addition to the damage caused by floods, which creates a lot of hardships and obstacles facing them.
(Tawhib), another young man who works in the same profession, told Khuyut: “Working in collecting sand is exhausting, but it helps many residents of the area to get a simple income to meet some of their difficult living needs, especially since most family members have begun working in this business; (Children, young men, men, and the elderly.) It has become like a tradition that everyone practices, as the young man at the beginning of his life engages in it, and makes great efforts to overcome the difficult situation of poverty.”
Hard work for an insignificant dream
In the same context, the teenager, Ghaith (13 years old), told Khuyut: “Throughout my childhood, I did not know such a thing as money to put in my pocket, because my family is extremely poor and could barely get a living, so I decided to work in this business in order to get money to buy a mobile phone and any other things I want without the need for others."
Similarly, Salem is a teenage boy who also works in the same profession. He kept dreaming of buying a mobile phone in order to keep up with the current internet and social media means, as he says, so working in sand collecting was his only option to achieve this dream.
Salem added, in his interview with “Khuyut”: “It is true that the work in collecting gravel sand is difficult, but it is not hard to gain practical experience in how to deal with customers and methods of selling (the product) to those employers and contractors who work in constructions, regardless of the need of someone to coach you.” He said.
Child labor is one of the key risks that threaten the lives and future of this segment, according to UNICEF. During the years of war, child labor spread widely in Yemen, and created a state of imbalance with an absence of solutions, as the work in collecting gravel sand, which most children practice in this village, represents a critical problem, especially since the residents believe in the popular saying circulating in their area: “Hard work makes a man of you,”.
Sociology professor Ameen Dahlan refutes the risk of child labor, as he told Khuyut that: “Children are exposed to various forms of psychological and mental harms because they involve in hard work which is greater than their physical ability. Therefore, hard work leads to negative consequences on the child’s life. On the contrary, if the work that the child practices is appropriate for his age, then at least it does not expose him to the burden of hard work, and if there are some risks, it will be manageable to some degree.”
“Life has become harsh and exhausting, but we should never surrender to these challenges and remain idly folded. Therefore, we must struggle to provide living for my children, and I had no choice but to practice this toilsome craft in order to survive.”
Floods threaten people's profits
Floods are one of the disasters experienced by sand collecting workers in the valleys, which are often exposed to the risk of floods flowing into the stream due to seasonal and sudden rains, which leads to the washing away of the piles of fine sand that they had prepared for sale.
Badie Saif, one of those affected workers, told Khuyut: “During the flood season, we suffer greatly, as we are exposed to many financial losses, which we calculated as expected gains after selling sand due to the floods sweeping away the fine sand piles in which we exerted hard efforts for days and sometimes for weeks.”
Saif added: “It happened many times that we transport piles of sand ready for sale from the valley to some nearby locations that we think are safe or far from the dangers of floods, but many times it these bags of fine sands were swept away! That's because it is really difficult for us to transport more than a thousand or two thousand buckets of it up to higher and safer locations. In addition to the sudden and heavy rains that fall in most of the times so that we could not protect it from the floods.”
Montaser Muheeb also told Khuyut saying: “This year, due to the flowing torrents, I lost more than a thousand buckets of fine sand, which I worked in collecting and purifying it for two weeks. I was shocked to see the sudden sweeping torrents that swept away all the sand I had collected, in addition to the piles of sand that others had worked on.” Montaser estimated the amount of one shipment of sand as a car load at 100 buckets, and the price of the load reaches 8 thousand riyals.
An alternative to the engineering profession
The profession of extracting and selling sand provided a source of income for heads of families in the area, as it became an essential revenue for those who were adversely affected by the current economic circumstances that pushed them into unemployment, so they took this tiring profession as a means to combat hunger.
Taha Mujeeb, married and father of four children, is one of those who engaged in the profession of selling rock sand instead of practicing the profession of engineering, after all paths were blocked before him. He told “Khuyut in miserable sad tone”: ““Life has become harsh and exhausting, but we should never surrender to these challenges and remain idly folded. Therefore, we must struggle to provide living for my children, and I had no choice but to practice this toilsome craft in order to survive.”
He added: “The war left disastrous impacts that severely damaged the lives of many people, and made the citizen an easy commodity for consumption and exploitation, and even to work for low wages that no one would accept Such catastrophic conditions had negatively affected people’s lives and made them easy prey in the face of this deteriorating living situation. What you notice in front of you is that all residents of the village have begun to practice the profession of extracting sand to earn some money for a living. To have s source of income has been a huge challenge and exhausting dream, requiring bitter struggle and effort.”