By Emmanuel Una
UGEP- UNDERPRIVILEGED children between the ages of seven and 11 years face the danger of lung contamination as they rummage local rice mills at Ugep, Yakkur Local Government Area, Cross River State, for cast-off rice chaff, which they sieve for grains, stockpile and retail to pay school fees, buy books and support their parents.
While sifting and playing on the heap of chaff, the children are covered with dusty particles, which make them look like tailor’s dummy.
A medical doctor at the Ugep General Hospital, Angela Ekpe, said the rice chaff, which are tiny particles when inhaled, could cause infection to the lungs and therefore, not advisable for children to be exposed to such particles.
“They go there on their own, but if you ask me, I will say children should stay away from that place because it is not good for their health and wellbeing,” she admonished.
I pay school fees from the proceeds – Thomas
One of the boys, Thomas, told NDV that he does the rice filtering all year round and pays his fees in Ugep Community Secondary School and buys books from proceeds generated from selling the rice he gets from the dustbin.
“I come here after school on school days, but on Saturdays, I come here in the morning and each day I come here, I filter between 20-30 cups of rice.
“Sometimes, the traders come to the house to buy while some women who run canteens sometimes ask me to bring for them though they buy at a lower price,” he said.
My grandmother prepares meals with what I gather- Etong
Another of the boys, Etong, said most of what he filters is used to prepare meals for the family, as he gives it to his grandmother to cook for the family.
“I live with my grandmother and the rice is very useful as we prepare our Sunday meals with it and I am very proud that I can contribute my quota to the feeding of the family.”
He said he got itches from the chaff in the past, but after some time, he became immune to it and can now play, lie on the mountain of rice chaff without feeling any itching on his body.
Why I don’t want to stop them – Ewa, rice mills owner
Owner of the rice mills at Omilakwa, Festus Ewa, noted: “I see them everyday here and some of them run errands for my workers and since they are doing it on their own initiative to help themselves and their parents, and are happy doing it, I cannot stop them.”
He said in the past, women used to sieve the chaff, but when the boys came on the scene, they stopped going there, perhaps, they could not compete with the boys.
His words: “We always set the chaff heap on fire after some time, but we allow the boys to filter all they needed to before we do that.”