Sierra Leone—Diamonds were first discovered in this West African nation in 1930, but it became unfortunately famous as the epicenter of the conflict diamonds issue. Although the civil war that sparked conflict diamonds ended in 2002, unfortunately the country still is dealing with reputational fallout. But the country’s diamond reserves provide a living for millions of artisanal diamond diggers, including a few thousand unique men who dive the vast Sewa river in search of diamond-rich gravels at the bottom.
SSEF’s Dr. Laurent Cartier made a film about the divers, who work in pairs with only rudimentary equipment. No scuba gear or even snorkel masks for most. One man (it’s all men) dives down approximately 10 meters to the river bottom with a bucket on a rope. He fills the bucket with sand and gravel, then pulls the rope to let his teammate—waiting in a rowboat or small outboard motorboat—to lift up the bucket. He must be careful not to get himself entangled in the rope. The diver comes up for air, takes the bucket and goes back down.
Most diving teams work independently. They will find a sponsor who provides minimal support—say, money to fill up the gas tank on the boat’s motor—and if they find a big stone, they are required to sell it back to the sponsor after negotiating the price.
For these divers, diamonds represent not only a living but hope for a better future. In the words of one, “If I find a large diamond I want my children to study abroad.”
Click here or on the image above to watch the video.