Women Staff Colombian Emerald Mines | God's World News

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Women Staff Colombian Emerald Mines

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    Emerald miners line up to enter the tunnels of a mine near the town of Coscuez, Colombia. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    Emerald miner Yaneth Forero stands at the entrance to a mine near the town of Coscuez, Colombia. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    Wearing a headlamp, Margot Avila uses a hammer and chisel to loosen rocks from the tunnel of a mine. The rocks that break off are carried out in carts, washed, and sifted in hopes of yielding emeralds. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    Deisy Alexa Gallo hauls a sack of rocks, drilled from a mine, to be washed and sifted. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    A female miner holds a fleck of an emerald on her fingertip. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    A trader inspects a piece of emerald in Coscuez, Colombia. The gems are one of the nation’s most iconic products, and are sold in dozens of jewelry shops in cities like Cartagena and Bogotá. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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    Female emerald miners chat after work. (AP/Fernando Vergara)
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In the small mines around Coscuez, Colombia, miners wear rubber boots and helmets and carry drills. They enter single file and branch off into different tunnels. Today, some miners are females who have selected a difficult path in the often perilous emerald industry.

Colombian emeralds are known worldwide for quality and size.

But emerald mining is hot, dangerous, and mostly considered men’s work in Colombia. Workers still use dynamite to open tunnels. But with few job opportunities, some women choose mining in hopes of striking it rich.

Despite the riches under their feet, most miners aren’t wealthy. Emerald merchants and large companies with high-tech machines make the highest profit. Still, rumors circulate that one miner recently found a $177,000 emerald and left ramshackle Coscuez forever.

Yaneth Forero works at a small mine near Coscuez. In three months, she’s found gems worth about $76 in total. Her earnings aren’t enough to maintain her family, so she works random jobs to make ends meet.

Mine work is tough—especially for women. After a day of drilling, they care for children and do household tasks that Colombian men often don’t do.

Women in mining was unthinkable a few decades ago in this South American country. Older villagers say men previously barred women from approaching the mines. They believed emeralds hid from women.

“They just didn’t want us to work,” says Carmen Alicia Ávila. She has been in the industry for almost four decades.

Currently, 200 women work the mines around Coscuez. Some labor alongside men; others work in small mines owned by women. The tunnels are so small that the women take turns working inside.

The women who are owners want the government to officially recognize them as artisanal, or small-scale, miners. That label would allow them to fully use the mines for profit—and receive other benefits like stability and access to financial loans.

Folks at small, unregulated mines likely won’t discover the emeralds that can change lives.

“Life is tough in these mines,” says Forero. “There are months or years in which I don’t even make $250.”

Forero doesn’t want to mine emeralds for long. She says if she finds a valuable gem, she’ll buy a house and set up a small business to keep her away from the hot, dark tunnels where she’s toiled for years.

“We continue to struggle here for the dream of having a home with tiles on the floors, a place that smells good,” Forero says, “and where no one can kick me out.”

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. — Proverbs 13:12

Why? Life often entails hard work, injustice, and disappointments. While perseverance is beneficial for everyone, Christ alone offers hope for eternal fulfilment.

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