By Jesse Finfrock & Rachel Lichte
Sierra Leone is a country at a crossroads. Decades of resource exploitation and a brutal ten-year war have taken a deep toll on the environment and the people, which are among the poorest and most uneducated in the world. Yet as the country celebrates its 50th year, Saloneans are appropriately proud of their success with post-war reunification and reconstruction. Children are learning, infrastructure is expanding, and healthcare is improving.
In Kono, the diamond-rich and war-ravaged district along the country’s eastern boarder, mining is a way of life for many people. During the dry season, when it is possible to dig down to the diamond-laden gravel, many young men head to the diamond fields. Some strike out on their own while others are hired by mining companies as short-term laborers, often for less than a dollar a day. With few alternative employment opportunities, most men don’t have a choice but to work in the mines for part of their lives, and many are forced to give up school to do so.
At this critical moment, it is imperative that Sierra Leone attracts the right kind of investors and NGO partners; along with diamonds and gold, the country recently made public discoveries of large deposits of iron and oil. Fortunately Saloneans, all of whom have been affected by the war, are strongly motivated to break free from the resource curse and craft their future to ensure that the value of their precious resources remains within their country and communities.
In May 2011, The Clarity Project, which has previously written about diamond mining and Fair Trade Gold for TriplePundit, joined local miners and officials from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Minerals to visit diamond and gold mining operations throughout the Kono District. The following photographs, taken during this trip, show artisanal, small-scale, and large-scale diamond mining techniques, conditions, and environmental consequences.
Jesse Finfrock and Rachel Lichte are Cofounders of The Clarity Project. The Clarity Project works directly with miners and their communities to build a more fair and responsible alternative to the conventional diamond industry. We sell high-quality jewelry with only the fairest diamonds and invest all of our profits to build schools and rehabilitate land in mining communities. To learn more, please visit our website (www.clarityproject.com), or view more photos and get engaged at our Facebook page. You can also email Jesse, or follow us on Twitter.