It is midday, and Osiri Matanda in Migori County is a beehive of activities.
Peter Onyango, an artisanal miner, is busy at his crusher machine as he helps a woman sieve crushed gold ores. He carefully washes the ores, which he sieved in a cloth, as the water drains to another point.
When The Standard caught up with the 30-year-old miner, he was moving from one small gold pit to another at his gold processing point. For Onyango, who grew up as an orphan after losing his parents at a tender age, gold mining has made him rise from grass to grace.
Onyango, who doubles up as a secretary of Osiri Matanda Gold Miners Sacco, was on the verge of dropping out of school at form three after an organization that sponsored his schooling withdrew their support.
He was forced to stay home for a year before his brother took the initiative to help him complete school.
After completing his Form Four, Onyango got into gold mining activities in 2011, where after two years, he used the money he got from mining to pursue a P1 teaching course at Kamagambo Teachers Training College in Rongo.
He would then proceed to pursue a diploma course at Rongo University after graduating with a P1 certificate in 2016. “I paid my fees through mining as I would do mining during the holidays,” Onyango explains.
He says he has been practising teaching partly as he mainly focuses on gold mining.
“If you are not a TSC teacher, then you cannot match the living standard of this area. Instead of being paid by PTA, which my parents can barely afford, I decided to do mining. Mining is more paying than going to work under PTA,” Onyango says.
With the mining activity, Onyango has been able to buy a crusher, and compressor and make a processing unit. He now engages in the extraction and processing of gold.
Phyllis Adede, a widow who was retrenched from her job in 2001, got into the mama mboga business in Migori town before she dumped the business for gold mining.
The mother of five says she decided to go out of town and settle at her home in Mikayi, Nyatike Sub-County. “When at home, I was idle and decided to go to Osiri Matanda and see what happens there,” Ms Adede says.
The widow who lost her husband the same year she lost her job had been left with school-going children whom she had to educate single-handedly.
She explains that she has never regretted getting into the gold mining business because it has helped her educate her children.
Adede, who worked as a personnel officer in the administration office in Migori town before losing her job, says gold mining has enabled her to get a passport and visa for her firstborn child, who is now overseas. She has been in the gold mining business for 12 years.
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“I have been able to build rentals where I get Sh28, 000 per month,” Adede narrates.
The widow usually buys gold ores from men who dig deep into the mines. A 90kg sack goes for Sh20,000 while a 50kg sack would be sold to them at Sh10,000.
She explains that in the gold business, one might gain or lose. On a fine day, she says, one can get triple the amount they used to buy the ores with.
Adede says one of her best days, is when she bought gold ores for Sh4,000 and got Sh35,000.
Gold mining in the county has been a darling to many youths and women, who were on the verge of losing hope in life.
One week ago, gold deposits were discovered in the Komire area, Awendo Sub-County, where hundreds of residents had rushed to collect gold ores, as others collected murram used to construct the Isebania-Kisii road that was deposited at Rongo town.
This was before being warned against going to the area as heavy police presence was deployed to guard the area, and Chico, a Chinese construction company working on the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), road directed to fence off the land.
Migori Mineral Miners Association Chairman Kephas Ojuka admits that several miners from Osiri Matanda had also gone to Awendo to do mining until the day they were warned against going to the area.
Mr Ojuka says miners migrate according to the availability of the mineral and could go as far as Kakamega.
“Mining activities have uplifted many lives across the county. Nowadays, most miners are educated or have taken their children to school,” he says.
Osiri Matanda, which is known as one of the largest mining sites in Migori County, has between 5, 000 to 7, 000 artisanal miners.
Environment, Natural Resources and Disaster CEC Rahab Robi says they look forward to establishing a Migori artisanal mining cooperative where the gold miners can get grants to help them develop themselves.
Additionally, it seeks to automate its systems that will help the department in licensing, renewal of licensing, revenue collection, and monitoring where they are and their welfare.
“Right now, even if they die at the mines, you can’t tell where they are and how many have died.
When we automate our systems, we will have their data at our fingertips so that in case of accidents, their welfare is taken care of,” she says.