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Raquel left behind her three children and her small stand selling tomatoes in her village to try her luck in the gold mines. At the end of her 12-hour working day, she earned a bucket of soil.
© UNICEF Mozambique/2012/Mark Lehn
Raquel left behind her three children and her small stand selling tomatoes in her village to try her luck in the gold mines. At the end of her 12-hour working day, she earned a bucket of soil.

At the age of 40, Raquel worked 12 hours a day under the harsh sun, sifting the soil for nuggets of gold. Between 5am and 5pm, she only had a five-minute lunch break, which she shared with her fellow prospectors in the gold mine in the northern Mozambican province of Tete. At the end of the day, she laid her tired body down in an improvised tent made of plastic sheeting.

- I did it to feed my children, says Raquel, a mother of three, in her thatched one-room house.

Despite being rich in natural resources, Tete still is a province of extreme poverty, with tens of thousands of orphaned or otherwise vulnerable children, many of whom would not survive without the social assistance they are given, which is not much to begin with.

Raquel left behind her three children and her small stand selling tomatoes in her village to try her luck in the gold mines.

She travelled for two days, walking the last 30 kilometres to reach the mine near the border with Malawi.

At the end of her 12-hour working day, she earned a bucket of soil. Any gold found in that container she sold to the mine owners, for a daily amount that rarely exceeded 100 Meticais, or about 3 dollars.

- When I arrived there, I saw that the work was hard, recalls Raquel, who is now back home.

While she was away, her children were left to fend for themselves. Samuel, 17, earned a living by helping people cross illegally into Zimbabwe. The middle child, aged 14, crosses the border at will. Both left school to make a living, and have no plans to return. The youngest, a 13-year old girl, is the only one interested in studying and has completed grade 6.

During her mother's absence, she earned some money as a domestic worker at their neighbours'. But they felt she was a burden and kept firing her. In a border town known for heavy trafficking, this childheaded household was living precariously.

The entire community became concerned.

To convince Raquel to return home, the community committee, in coordination with local social services, did everything they could to make her aware of the risks her children were facing, if left alone for much longer. They managed to trace her and get her on the phone of a co-worker at the mine, and the chair of the committee spoke to Raquel personally, trying to persuade her to return home. It worked. Once back home, Raquel and social services worked together to find a way to make her stay.

Raquel and her eldest son Samuel joined a rural employment programme to help supplement their income. But schooling remains a challenge, the two boys reluctant to return. But perhaps with time, and with continued support from social services and their own community, they will come to realize the benefit of an education. Life will probably always be hard for Raquel and her children, but now at least the children are protected. And united, they will face life's daily hardships together.

 

 
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