When the government legalized sand harvesting in Mbeere South Sub-County two years ago, residents thought they would benefit from the trade; little did they know they were inviting trouble in their region.
On your way to Kiambere village from Embu-Kivaa road diversion, there is a dusty stretch of a once tarmacked road whose state tells it all. It is only 40 kilometers long but an inexperienced driver can take more than an hour.
Along the way are several sand filled trucks heading from dried up streams while others are getting into the sites. The sand business is a booming one and with the area producing the best sand, the trucks waste no time along the way.
Almost to the main sand collection centre along the Kiritiri, Kiambeere, Karuura Road is Karuura Primary School. It once boasted of being the best performing school in the area academically. The learning environment was friendly but not anymore.
Pupils are now being forced to bring curtains from home to cover the windows. Classes are dusty as the speeding trucks passes, one after the other. Books have been turned into curtains.
The school’s Head Teacher, Edward Njeru, stands at the school gate, looking a disturbed man. “We have no peace here not even once because of these,” he says, pointing at the speeding trucks.
The situation, he says, is dire for the pupils as well as staff. “Pupils are forced to wash their classes three times a day to enforce some freshness which is always short-lived. This is challenging given that the area is semi-arid. Sometimes, classes end mid-way as the noise from the lorries becomes unbearable,” he laments.
The situation becomes even more disturbing with truck drivers sexually abusing young girls. “One class six and two class seven girls have gone missing and from the information we have got from the villagers, they are with some truck drivers. This situation disturbs us,” said the Njeru.
Drop out of school
Boys too drop out of school to idle around the sand harvesting sites and are paid to lead the trucks.
The situation is no better a few kilometers away in Igumori Secondary School as dust is everywhere. Here students cannot dare leave the windows and doors open. It is a disaster as teachers are forced to leave classes early.
Almost all the girls at the schools have short hair which in most cases has turned colour. They say they care about smartness and decency no more.
Those interviewed said they would rather not go to the salons to do their hair. They also do not apply body make ups as it would not only be embarrassing but also seem senseless given the environment that they learn in. One can hardly spot a student or teacher dressed in white attire.
“Cleanliness stopped being a priority in the school. We arrive at the school with dusty shoes and hair. We see no reason to keep long hair,” said Jaclyn Kanini, a form four student.
Students also complained of chest and eye complications adding their cries seem unheard.
Joshua Mwendwa, a form four student explains that they have to clean their classrooms twice or thrice a day. He could not hold a cough as an oncoming truck passed by.
“This is the situation that we are exposed to each passing minute. For the last three months, we have developed serious health complications. Concentration levels are too low in class and in fact some teachers are forced to stop teaching midway when a lorry is passing along,” said a helpless Mwendwa.
The students and teachers in all schools lamented that despite their relentless complaints to have sand harvesting in that area banned, nothing has been forthcoming.
Taking away their wives
Those who live close to the road also complained that they cannot hang clothes for drying in their homesteads while house roofs and plants have turned dusty.
Men too raised concern that the truck drivers had developed a habit of taking away their wives. “They seem to have a lot of money and the women from these dry regions are lured to them, to earn some extra shillings to support their families,” a resident said.
Other residents claim that the lorries have created gaping potholes on roads making travelling hard and uncomfortable for smaller vehicles.
Residents therefore called on the Government to either gravel (murrum) the roads or ban sand harvesting in the area to stop further harm that the sand business has caused them.
By Muoki Charles