Spare a thought for the low-skilled workers who work in desperately hard conditions for little pay and whose lives could have been very different if only for a better education, writes Peter Njoroge from Banana, Kiambu in Kenya.
The title for this post is both literal and metaphoric. My blood brother, so dear to me and my family has had a taste of what it is to labour on a casual contract and see first-hand the dire hardships hardworking Kenyans face on a daily basis.
I myself experienced a different aspect of the pursuit for such a contract and feel strongly that something urgently must be done to show this segment of our society that we have not forgotten.
They toil for the good of our society – it is only equitable therefore to ensure they receive adequate remuneration for their work in doing jobs most of us are afraid to try.
Everyday while I head to town laden with my heavy laptop, I watch these brothers toil under the watchful eye of supervisors devoid off humor or empathy. I see the sweat trickle down their worn faces, disappearing under the confines of their dirty covers underneath the bright green jackets that they always wear.
I look at the sad hard eyes that gaze upon me as I pass the sad procession of workers on my way to the stage – eyes that wonder about the unfairness of the kind of life Kenya offers. They look at my smart official clothes and think about the office that I head to, to sit on a comfortable desk and consider some paper, waiting for the days to do until I receive my fat pay check.
They are wrong of course, but there is no forum to tell them so. So I bear their stares, some admiring some hostile.
I can’t help but wonder about the path our lives take. While I pass by my fellow youths toiling under the glaring sun, I say ‘hi’ to those I know. I know them because most were my schoolmates in primary school when our spirits were free to roam when all our dreams seem possible.
We received similar schooling and most of us came from a similar background. But after primary school most of them dropped out convinced that further schooling was a waste of their valuable time and that it is best used in the pursuit of a few meagre shillings. The advice of concerned parents fell on deaf ears and the years have passed. Most realise the folly of their ways only when it is too late.
But that does not give the government or private contractors the right to diminish their God-given dignity and offer them wages that are unlivable.
Some of you might be conversant with the global debate against sweatshops and the paradoxical ideals that the various arguments present. Some people have questioned the legitimacy of adopting western labour standards, bearing in mind the vast differences in resources.
Against such a background, insisting on higher wages would lead to the loss of casual work and submerge these people into a deeper miasma of poverty and, possibly, open the gate for other lethal vices like drug abuse. But something has to be done, at least to improve the lives of these hardworking Kenyans.
I remember a time whilst in second year doing my degree – I was seeking employment to fill the idleness of the five-month holiday. (Perhaps at this juncture I can petition the government to consider reducing university holidays from the current five months to one month and in doing so reduce the overall years necessary to complete a university programme).
Someone told me that a local pharmaceutical company was offering casual employment and that I should submit my CV for consideration. I obliged without hesitation and early one morning made my way to the gate where I was duly informed ‘leave it here and come check from tomorrow whether there is vacancy’.
I obeyed without further question and the following day I made my way to the aforementioned company. I was rudely informed by the watch lady to cross the road and, like everyone else, wait until names were called, if at all. It was at that point that I noticed the horde of people, some sitting while others stood, patiently waiting for their names to be called.
I sauntered to the other side of the road, fully dressed in official attire, and I still remember the look of sympathy and empathy cast at my direction by my fellow countrymen. Looks of pity at our naive hopes.
To cut a long story short, the vacancy never came, despite the three weeks I went to that gate every morning. But during that time I got to know that some had been coming there every morning for the last three months. Many more who are currently employed had turned up for months before they were finally given the chance to secure employment with the firm.
And for all that I went there, no one ever bothered to inform me that there were no vacancies so that we could go and seek work elsewhere. It was as if we were mere shadows below the huge trees, unrecognisable, undesirable and, most importantly, not human.
So when I walk by at lunchtime and watch these brothers tired and exhausted resting below the protective shadows of a tree at lunchtime, I mourn for them.
I wonder where they derive the strength to carry those huge stones in the afternoon without even enjoying lunch. I pity the wives and children who bear with them the hardships of life, remembering that I too once knew what it was like. And I glare at the fat man who rides a huge Mercedes and comes to inspect their work – a tyrant who profits in exploiting the desperation of fellow brethren.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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