Loaders are men who wait by truck stops and along the border to load and unload truck cargo. The pay is high because the work is physically demanding and, eventually, damaging. The career lifespan of a loader is not long. The work is also inconsistent, and between loading gigs they become part of a larger group known as The Idlers.
The Idlers are possibly my least favorite subset of Kurian society. They lurk around the grain stores near our office in Nyametaburo and ooze out of every crevice of the border in Isibania. They shower foreigners with unflattering calls and hisses (“Sssst! Wewe, we!…MZUNGU!” [Sssst! You! White man!]), and push unwanted offers of tour guides or safari trips. Many of them disdain farming, but don’t have sufficient skills to do anything else. Annoying during the day, The Idlers take on sinister significance after dark. Locals avoid traveling or being out after dark. The villages, so peaceful in the daytime, are full of stories of brutal robberies at night and many Nuru members bear panga (machete) scars as evidence.
It’s easy to dislike The Idlers. They are offensive, almost arrogant. But need doesn’t always come in a likable form. The Idlers are another face of extreme poverty: rude, loud physical manifestations of poor education and lack of employment opportunities. Because of the good money, many young men feel pressure as early as secondary school to drop out and become a loader. The work is hard on their bodies so many spend their off hours drinking away the pain. Once a loader is too injured to continue the work, he has no other options.
I’m not making excuses for The Idlers, nor are they asking for my pity. I think the scorn and distrust is pretty mutual. But like it or not, The Idlers impact our program areas. The healthcare program can’t increase patient load without addressing safety concerns that prevent people from going to the health clinic after dark. The education program has to look at causes of school drop out for boys as well as girls. And if skills training and income generation are important goals for the CED program, then we can’t ignore one of our key demographics.
But why would an Idler work with me? Could I really understand his situation and needs? Maybe not. But someone in his own community could. I am not the CED Program; the members and field officers are, and I think this is actually our greatest hope of working together.
Josephat is a rockstar CED Field Officer. Despite being highly involved in the community, he is at every meeting. He saved money from his days as a loader, quit before becoming injured, and invested the money in small business. Among other things, he has a successful restaurant and is school chairman in his community of Gukipimo, a Loader haven. His savings group, Mkombozi, has the highest savings contribution amount and was the first group to qualify for a Nuru-matched loan through the Savings Club program. Other Nuru programs have equally dedicated field officers in Gukipimo as well. Gukipimo primary, a struggling school without books or full-time teachers, has one of the most proactive head teachers and highest parent involvement. The Idler situation is one of many that Foundation Team 3 is looking for innovative solutions to. But my bet is that the answer is probably in our Nuru community.