CRPL’s office is housed at the Research Center for Natural Sciences, a government-run organization that founded CRPL (the sanctuary) and donates our land and facilities. Apparently, ‘the Directors’ of the center have been pocketing a portion of workers’ salaries, (which is only a $100/month, if that). Fed up, all 800 workers rallied a strike, which has lasted for two months with no end in sight. Tensions have been building since I have been here, with frequent demonstrations in the courtyard. I assumed that the strike had little impact on CRPL, since our relatively small staff of 32 has continued working. What I didn’t realize was that our staff is also supposed to be paid by the research center, a promise that has not been delivered for 7 years! This means that CRPL has been paying all of the salaries and medical care for all staff members since its inception. As it stands right now, we only have enough funds to cover three months of food for the animals, with no new funding on the horizon. It is a constant battle between finding the funds to pay to workers who feed the animals, and finding the funds to feed the animals. And, since the research center will not pay their workers and the workers refuse to work, the offices are closed and there is no electricity (it’s also been out throughout the entire area for over two months…curious). CRPL has been supplying the gasoline necessary for the generator (which is crazy expensive, about $6.80/gallon) so that we can continue our work.
So, in short, the directors are robbing the workers, the workers have stopped working and receiving their full paychecks, and yet, YET, ‘the officials’ have issued the revival of the ‘annual census’ (which has not happened in 8 years). This means that every single person employed here has to pay a fee and provide copies of their identification cards and paperwork to present to ‘the officials’. If they don’t provide the documents, they don’t exist, nor will their salaries (if they ever get reinstated), period. However, since the government has yet to fix the broken power line, refuses to pay for the gas to fuel the generator and will not provide a service to facilitate the census, all 800 of them came to our office to make their copies!
At around 8am, people began trickling in to use the copy machine. Word got out, and within half an hour, hundreds of people began flooding the halls and pushing their way into our already over-crowded office…chaos ensued. I sat frozen at my desk, not having a clue as to what was happening, nor the capacity to communicate and try to help. Carmen finally regained control of the situation and thus commenced the excruciating process of calling in all 800 workers, one by one, requesting their necessary documents and making copies of each. Nervous chatter-an indiscernible mixture of Swahili and French, varying degrees of body odor and the scent of an overused printer cartridge permeated every inch of the room. And there I sat, silent, for 5 hours, my bladder on the verge of exploding, which at the time seemed a better option than pushing my way through a mass of hot, irritable, hungry, unemployed workers.