Alonso Marín, 38, is thankful for having a job that lets him support himself, since it is his livelihood and his only income. While he is the Production Manager of Sociedad Minera Las Aves S.A. in Segovia, Antioquia, Colombia, one of his main duties – and the one he enjoys the most – is caring for the safety of people under his supervision. To him, the health and integrity of people prevails above all. He also has to fulfill the daily production goals of his mining organization.
Alonso was born into the artisanal mining sector, since his entire family has worked or lived off of the mining sector: his father, his brothers and sisters, and his grandchildren.
He has worked in the industry since he was 12. He started by helping his father in the mines: he would take his breakfast to his work. He then worked as a güevero, where he would ask for pieces of material at the mines, sought the remaining minerals, and shared his earnings with his partners.
When he was 17, Alonso started to work at the mineshaft, with a special permit to work as a minor. After 3 months of work, the permit was taken from him and some of his partners.
Since his eldest daughter had an illness, he decided to work illegally at a company washing off the earth, as a machuquero (an illegal mineshaft worker who spends weeks at a time below ground). They worked in concealment, together with other partners, in the mineshafts of a company that has been in the country for over 150 years. They entered the mines where there were no longer workers and took a container filled with water to work on the earth. The conditions were abysmal. They slept on cardboard sheets from powder boxes, warmed themselves with a sheet and cooked with alcohol. They normally worked between 16 and 22 hours non-stop. The most time they spent inside the mineshafts was 3 months and 8 days.
Alonso recounts that years ago it was common to work as a machuquero in Segovia due to the high wages that it implied, but this work has gradually disappeared with the passage of time. Even though many people still perform it.
His greatest work-related challenge has been leaving his family in tough times. On one occasion, when his eldest daughter was one year old, they told him that she would lose a kidney, and he could not be there for his wife and daughter because he had to be at work.
Alonso normally worked with other miners, supporting all efforts in the mineshaft: shoveling and installing gates, among others. He would finish his workday between 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but if anything came up during the day, he was in charge of solving the problem. Oftentimes, some machines stopped working, so Alonso had to return to the mine and fix the device so that the workday of over 20 people would not be affected.
He is currently working on a different role, so he starts his work between 4 and 5 in the morning, where he has to pump water until 6 or 7 in the morning, when his partners start working. Once all of the personnel has arrived, Alonso assigns their duties and leaves one person in charge of the mine, in case something unexpected happens.
On his days off, Alonso stays home, makes the breakfast and starts doing the chores until his 13-year old daughter gets home to help him. In the afternoon he visits his mother, since she deeply enjoys the company of her family.
Alonso says that there are many small and major companies in the mining sector that significantly harm workers and the environment, and considers that responsible mining should imply caring for workers in the sector, grant them fair working conditions and pay wages in accordance to their duties. It should also make its best efforts to avoid harming the environment. Alonso believes that one of the greatest challenges of his work is that sometimes he does not have the necessary resources to carry out mining activities properly. He believes that a responsible mining is necessary, because there is a huge, irreparable damage being made to the environment.
He states that Somos Tesoro, a project that the Alliance for Responsible Mining is a part of, has immensely helped Sociedad Minera Las Aves. Not only in regard to training, but also with advice.
Somos tesoro, we are responsible
The Somos Tesoro project, where he participated for 5 years in Boyacá, Bajo Cauca and Antioquia, was in charge of promoting a fair, responsible mining without child labor. One of the worst ways of child labors takes place in mines, and therefore, one of the main goals of Somos Tesoro was to reduce child labor in populations that work in artisanal and small-scale mining. Children and teenagers were taught how to creatively use their free time by means of activities and games.
In addition, support and training activities were carried out at homes in the communities where the project took place, in order to improve their economy and protective skills, with the purpose of overcoming economic vulnerability and supporting their social development.