Digging for their lives – and your electronic needs

Photojournalist Carlos Villalon went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to tell a story of people trying to survive by digging for coltan, used in modern cell phones, with their bare hands.

“Warlords control the small mines. They enslave the people and sell what they find, indirectly, through local companies operating in Rwanda and Uganda. These then resell the coltan to bigger companies, until it is finally installed in ordinary laptops and other consumer electronics.” Carlos Villalon, a 43 year old photojournalist, decided in 2006 to explore one of the most uncovered stories in the world – life in the mines ofthe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He describes that effort as extremely difficult, and he was arrested several times for taking pictures of people fighting for survival.

“I wanted to go to the mining areas, and find stories that communicate how people there live,” he said. Born and raised in Santiago de Chile, Villalon now lives in Bogota, Colombia. What he found was people trying to escape starvation and a quality of life below any acceptable standard by digging for diamonds and coltan, a material that enables modern communication and electronic gadgets. Even children are forced to work in mines, often to help support their families, because they are small enough to fit in narrow mine shafts.

“Children grab the leftovers of the minerals on the sides of the mines. They take the bad diamonds, the bad coltan and the bad tin. They work ten hours a day and make a couple of dollars a week,” he said in an interview for this article. Even local farmers are trying to unearth their own pits where they were growing vegetables before.

“In the DRC you can get the purest coltan on earth. And the companies don’t have to pay for any of the things they usually have to,” Villalon said. “Most people are jobless. There is an incredible amount of poverty. They die of starvation and curable illnesses. It’s a complete disaster.”

To continue reading this article, please follow this link to the Upstream Journal. The web publication is 100% free and green !


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