Truck in Sierra Leone - Risking it All
Risking it all

Gruelling Road to Recovery in Sierra Leone

Truck drivers and quarry workers fight against the odds to support their families in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.

Sierra Leone is on the road to recovery after years of civil war, but the ruinous effects of the conflict continue to be felt.

Nearly half of the population is illiterate, drinking water is scarce, and electricity is practically non-existent. 

While there have been improvements in the country’s infrastructure, daily life for most people is still a struggle.

Vandi runs a small transport business and is on a mission to retrieve a damaged truck and return it to his garage, but the 150km route he must take is pushing his team and his vehicles to the limit.

The brakes went bust,” driver Sheku says. “I was driving fast and all of a sudden there was a problem with the mechanics. I couldn’t break. I started swerving and the truck tipped over, onto the passenger side, and the screen broke. I waited three days for someone to pick me up. I didn’t drink water, I didn’t eat … it was really tough.”

Now Vandi and his team battle the terrain and conditions for a gruelling 24 hours using shovels, stones, branches and even taking the help of a taxi driver. The road itself makes the journey difficult. 

“The road isn’t in a good state. It’s going to be a difficult journey, especially with this truck,” Vandi says. “Every time I take this route, between Liberia and Sierra Leone, I suffer. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s always the same – the government does nothing.”

Sierra Leone - Risking it All
Workers for Vandi’s transport business travel to retrieve a damaged truck [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Fatimata: ‘We are fighting to survive’

After Fatimata’s husband died a few years ago, her brother’s friend agreed to house her and her seven children.

“His house is not finished. It’s still under construction, so sometimes it’s difficult to sleep. But we thank God every day for having this place,” she says.

The whole family lives in a single 10sq metres sized room in the ramshackle house. To make a living, they work together in a stone quarry, breaking down granite into gravel.

Sierra Leone - Risking it All
Quarry workers use hammers to break down heated granite blocks [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

“None of my children go to school. They come here with me instead to break stones. We have to do it, we don’t have a choice. If we want to survive, they have to help me here,” Fatimata says.

“We don’t always make money. Sometimes we go one or two months without earning a single cent. When we do manage to sell, we get 10, 20, 30 dollars. It depends.”

Fatimata and her children don’t have grinding or crushing machines to do their labour in the quarry; they use hammers. To make the job easier, the rock grinders use fire to break down granite blocks; but even heated granite is hard to break down.

Around 100 men and women toil away in the quarry every day. Their fate rests in the hands of the foreman who has taken advantage of the country’s reconstruction and subsequent demand for gravel. But the slightest challenge to his authority can lead to their dismissal, and put their livelihoods at risk.

“Before the civil war, life in Sierra Leone was good. The country was developing, we lived well, we had a bright future ahead of us,” Fatimata says. “But during the war, the country came to a standstill. Everything fell apart. Now we are fighting to survive.”