Press Trip to Uganda: Journalists Visit Gold Mine

Press trip: A few weeks ago, Earthbeat invited German journalists to travel to Uganda and see for themselves, what Earthbeat is all about. EB advisory board member, Lilian von Trapp, joined in, too. And they could see: Dignified alternatives to the work in gold mines actually exist.

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The journalists were able to see for themselves the horrific situations in the gold mines

A problem is best understood when you take a closer look. Uganda is far away, though. Therefore, many people in Europe do not fully grasp the explosive nature of the situation for gold miners. In order to raise more awareness, Earthbeat invited a group journalists to join us in a press trip to East Africa. This way, they could take a closer look and personally speak to the people of our partner community in Busia. There they learned that alternatives to the slave-like work in the gold mines are not by no means just dreams of the future. They already exist. And: they work!

Press trip: First visit in a gold mine

The desperate need for alternatives to gold mining became evident the first day of the press trip during an on-site visit. Blazing heat and torn earth. People without protective clothing climb into deep shafts, flooded with water from the starting rainy season. The workers carve the stone with their bare hands. Mercury is used to separate the gold from the rock. Particularly disturbing was the sight of a woman, who worked with the highly toxic substance, while carrying a small baby on her back.

 

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During rainy season, many of the shafts are flooded

Despite all this, we were received with heartfelt warmth and – as customary for the region – with traditional dances. Later we all sat down together and the workers told us about their everyday life. They explained that the mines can collapse at any time and that people fall into the shafts. We learned about the low levels of oxygen inside the mines, the resulting respiratory problems, and that children work here despite a ban.

Before the visit to the gold mines, the journalists from Germany had the opportunity to speak with the local government. For Earthbeat it is always important to keep good relationships with the authorities. But their resources are limited. Maybe that’s why bans on child labor are not consistently implemented. Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand where lack of will favors the shortcomings and where it is simply the money.

Practical alternatives for more self-determination

The next morning our press trip invitees were still shocked from what they had seen in mines. But we took the opportunity and gladly proved to them: There are solutions. Gold is a finite resource and therefore, realistic income alternatives are urgently needed. Yet, there are many aspects to keep in mind: Mining activities have severely damaged the environment. Plus, structural problems prevent any kind of social protection. Therefore, we at Earthbeat base our intervention projects on three pillars: education, sustainability, networks.

 

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Advisory board member Lilian von Trapp alongside a group of miners.

Our Heartbeat Honey project offers a good example to see, how these components harmonize together. 80 gold miners have been trained by our partners from The Hive and now work as beekeepers. After the shocking visit to the gold mine, the professionally operated beehives offered a suitable contrast. Then it was time to eat some lunch. We ate alongside Mable Charity Namala, director of The Hive, and one of the mining groups. A perfect moment to exchange thoughts and answer questions. Mable and the beekeepers talked about the progress and achievements of the project and the challenges for the future. And: delicious honey could be tasted, as well.

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The first seeds of our new project Heartbeat Garden are planted.

Of course, we also presented our recently launched project Heartbeat Garden. Over the course of a year, twenty-five people will learn everything important about permaculture and sustainable agriculture. Our new advisory board member Lilian von Trapp and her company support us significantly in this project. The first acres of soil have been prepared, the first seed is planted. Our implementation partner SVR (Sustainable Village Resource) from Kenya has a lot of experience not only in training but also in the distribution of organic coffee – a great advantage for our participants. Because, like Heartbeat Honey, it’s all about staying on the market with a competitive product. But it is not only this point that makes Heartbeat Garden a perfect successor project to our apiary venture. The sustainable management of land helps to restore the environment. Then plants grow that are pollinated by bees and at the same time provide food. This results in new honey. A perfect circle.

Meeting the mining lobby

After all these impressions, the participants of the press trip from Germany had a lot of questions. Some of them were posed directly to representatives of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum. Main topic here: What is the lobby organization doing to protect miners in Uganda, of which 99 percent work illegally? The answer was not very satisfactory. Although there is an effort to register all workers, the Ugandan mills of bureaucracy grind slowly. Another problem: major companies secure mines in areas with many resources and chase away small companies. The technical term for this is land grabbing.

Our fellow travelers are now back in Germany. They took heaps of interviews, research, and lasting impressions with them. We are looking forward to their publications. Because even in Europe we need a differentiated picture of the situation of gold miners. In the end, only the truth leads to the right deed.