Mining Life

Posted by Daniel Feuer on

Looking down I know it's dark in there, very dark. A pitch black where you only know your hand is in front of your face when it touches your nose. During a trip back East, I had an opportunity to tour a non‐functioning coal mine in Nova Scotia. The mine hadn't been in production for years, but the tour guide explained how dangerous these places were. The miners carried actual canaries with them as an early warning system for toxic gases such as carbon monoxide or methane.

The mine that I'm looking at today bares little resemblance to the one back East. The opening is at least a 30° pitch with wood rail tracks heading down. I don't think I can see more than 50m into the mine before it's completely dark. This is a new mine with some “technology”. Not high‐tech mind you, wood rails were laid for a metal cart that's moved through a diesel‐powered pulley system. It's rudimentary, but it does save the manual labour required to haul the coal out in buckets.

Welcome to the many independent mines that populate this area of Colombia.

Out from the coal mine and in to the classroom

I took a four‐hour ride from Bogota to the community of Morca. Located in the mountainous area in the town of Sogamoso, they depend heavily on coal mining to sustain its livelihoods. Excessive and long‐term mining in this small town of Morca has made farming impossible, leaving the local residents with coal mining as the only source of employment. Men and boys are responsible for supporting the family, but are also the victims of these unforgiving and unsafe working conditions. Casualties and deaths are common in these mines, either due to mining‐collapses or the inhalation of poisonous gases.

Learning about the Coal Project
Fortunately, in 1995, the Colombian government established the Morca-Boyaca workshop to keep young men and boys out of these hazardous mines. The Morca‐Boyaca project aims at being able to eradicate child labour in the mines and provide these young boys with a better and healthier source of income. The mine's owner donates the coal allowing the workshop to teach how to make jewelry from their local coal. Since its inception on the program has grown to two separate workshops and continues to expand through local markets and partnerships.

Some of that the kids have madeThe most basic of toolsThe pieces coming out from the workshop is impressive. I'm shown rings, pendants, beads, figurines all made from coal. What surprises me is that the coal doesn't rub off on my clothing or skin. Nothing more than water and polishing seals the coal. More impressive is the fact that the tools being used are rudimentary at best. Among the tools that I see are a chop saw, drill press and repurposed cobbler knives (used for cutting leather in shoe making.) None of the tools being used are specific for jewelry making or carving. Nothing. Yet with the skill and patience of their mentor Jose, the quality of the work is fantastic.

I have a strong belief in doing good and giving back. These are hard working people who are making beautiful and meaningful products. At this point I'm a firm believer in what they are trying to accomplish. I want to support their efforts.

After spending a couple of hours in town, I leave Jose and his kids with two promises. One, I'm definitely supporting them by placing orders for coal ankers. Two, I ask what Jose needs to make the teaching experience better. Over the next couple of months Jose receives several Dremels, sandpaper, face masks, safety goggles, Dremel bits, carving tools and files.

I get occasional updates and it always brings a smile to me knowing that there are families that will have a better life because of a few people like Jose are making a difference.

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