My Trip to Sierra Leone
By Phillip Chen
As the Supply Manager for Hedgestone with a strong background in
material science and engineering, I have always had an inherent interest
in the places and processes involved in the extraction of gemstones
that I work with on a daily basis. So naturally, when the opportunity
came up to visit diamond mines in Sierra Leone in February, 2011, I was
delighted and said yes.
My visit to Sierra Leone started in Freetown, which is the
capital city. The city is full of constant activities and has a very
rich history, being one of the first British colonies where freed slaves
returned to settle. Being an area of liberation, it became known as the
“Province of Freedom” soon becoming simply named “Freetown”.
During my visit, the country was preparing for a visit from a
member of the Royal family so there was a great deal of construction on
the main roads leading into the capital. Due to construction, travel to
the city can be a full days event because of the traffic congestion. As a
result I found it easier to get a driver for my visit instead of trying
to find my way on my own. Being driven also allowed me to take in the
architectural designs of the buildings in the downtown core near the
Ministry of Finance.
*Road leading to the mining village
A trip to the mining site and village took about four hours from
Freetown and requires a four wheel drive vehicle to navigate the huge
pot holes that are remnants of the rainy season. Entering the village
close to the mining site, I was warmly greeted by the village chief, his
family and other villagers. Life is simple but wholesome in the
village, and the villagers make a living from mining and farming. For
artisanal mining the miners take advantage of the dry season as very
little mining is done in the wet season.
* Members of the village visited
Some of the homes in the village are constructed with mud on the
external walls and have a corrugated zinc roof. The village has
running water but it has to be collected at a central water station.
Electric power is generated by gas powered generators, however, only a
few villagers can afford a generator so the majority use kerosene lamps
at night. While in the village I sampled a traditional dish made from
cassava leaves, chicken and palm oil, which was served on a plate of
rice and was very delicious. The graciousness and hospitality offered to
me by the villagers during my visit was quite humbling.
The walk to the artisanal diamond mine and new prospecting sites
took about one and a half hours through dense trees and open grass land.
The weather was 34 deg and humid. The chief’s father was a man in his
late 60’s and was very fit for his age. At times we had to ask him to
slow down so we could catch up with him (definitely made me rethink that
gym membership). The artisanal mines that I reviewed were 5-7
feet deep and varied in sizes from 20’ to 200’ in length. Rough diamonds
from these mines range in size from .75 to 8 carats. The colour of the
rough ranged from white to beige colour in appearance. We later found
that the beige coloured rough yielded gem grade diamonds. The villagers
and miners possessed tribal knowledge of the locations and different
grades of rough diamonds from working on a daily basis with the stones.
* Material from artisanal mine for sieving
All in all, I was quite impressed with what I found in Sierra
Leone. Despite the countries reputation as being an area of high
conflict and riddled with social injustices, my small journey seemed to
tell a different story, of a place with warm people working together as
one to make a living. There was no fighting and no stealing in the
village. My experience left the impression that mining is a great source
of income to the villagers.
We at Hedgestone pride our self in developing strong relations
with the villages that are in close proximity with the mines in Sierra
Leone. We believe that assisting in the development of social programs
within the villages benefits all.
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