I watched a boy of about 12 years old entering into a zinc house that had a lot of people walking in and out of it. I was curious to know what was going on inside.
So I followed him in.
“Hi aunty, my name is Etay and this is where I come to look for my daily hustle. You can follow me,” he offered.
As we walked into a heated but rather spacious room, you could see a handful of children mixing, rolling flour and baking bread in a smaller adjoining room.
Etay immediately ran towards an oven built with mud and started working.
“Every day I come here to make bread and sometimes I leave with LD40 or LD50 and two slices of bread for me and my mother. We are grateful,” the happy child shared.
What struck my attention was not the fact that children and teenagers of all sizes were shirtless in a very heated room, but the fact that their working conditions were very unsanitary.
“As you can see inside, there isn’t a hand washing bucket, towel or anything to help keep the sweat and dirt from the kids hands and body from rolling into the baked bread,” added Mohammed, a Sierra Leonean working there as well.
While I searched for a clue as to why the children were working unsupervised around food, I met a man of about 40 years old sitting in front of the zinc bakery.
“The place is heated inside and I can’t stand the heat, so I sit outside. If there’s any problem, they’ll come outside here to tell me. But our rule here is if you misbehave, you lose your privilege to work here,” the owner added.
After asking that his name not be mentioned because of labor laws, a loud ruckus erupted inside involving two little girls. In the spacious room where the baked bread is placed for sale, two girls began to wrestle causing dirt particles to sprinkle on the bread.
“You see what you two are doing, they are recording how we take care of the bread that we sell and you’re in here putting dirt all over it,” stated a boy of about 16, who took his own time to remove the dirt from the baked bread.
Meanwhile, I asked Etay if baking bread was something his family asked him to do.
“No, my mother thinks that I am outside playing, but whenever I bring her the money and bread, she only shows appreciation but never asks me where I get it from,” he told me.
“I don’t think it’s a crime for me to work here. Is it a crime if I want to do it?” he asked.
Also, the oven that is being used to bake the bread is very hot, and a shovel is used to take each plate of bread from within.
I watched Etay place a plate of bread in the oven while explaining his situation to me and I became concerned when I noticed he was too short to reach the oven door.
“My man, dress, let me help you open it,” a taller boy of about 14 volunteered.
Etay says his life is good. He feels most children don’t have a facility or skill where they can go to earn a bit of money for themselves or their families. For him, as a child who loves to “take care of his mom,” he feels blessed.
“Sometimes I get tired of eating bread but that won’t stop me from working here. I get paid to help here while some of the guys pay to bake their bread. For me, this is the best thing that could ever happen for me and my family,” he smiled.