For these women, working underground is a bright opportunity
Mothers will do everything to ensure a bright future for their children.
For Ofelia Magastino, in her middle age, she took a job unusual to women in her village in the Philippines where they take care of the personal needs of their children at home and accompany the husband when he is engaged on certain gardening tasks, which women in other villages do not do.
A bus and water truck driver, Ofelia took greater challenges beneath the surface of the ground in Barangay (village) Didipio in the mineral-rich upland town of Kasibu in Nueva Vizcaya.
Ofelia started in 2013 as an assistant cook and housekeeping personnel of Didipio Community Development Corporation (DiCorp), a community-based corporation which the Australian OceanaGold miner helped established.
OceanaGold, a significant multinational gold producer with mines located in New Zealand and the US, has been contracted by the Philippine government to operate the Didipio mine.
In 2013, the company started its commercial operation of its Didipio mine gold and copper project producing 100,000 ounces of gold and 14,000 tons of copper per year on average and has an estimated 16 year mine life. This year's first quarter, it has already produced 62,748 ounces of gold and 5,955 tons of copper in Didipio.
"While I was working as a truck driver for a local contractor in Didipio, I decided to apply for the Underground Mining Work Readiness Course at Site Skills Training because I needed a secured job to support my family," Ofelia said.
With her background in heavy equipment, OceanaGold chose her to be one of the 10 candidates to undergo the three-month training at Site Skills Training in Clark, Pampanga.
"It was challenging because I also had to do the same tasks as my male colleagues. But, it was even harder because I was away from my children. I persevered because I knew that the training will help me a lot to ensure a bright future for them," Ofelia said.
When it started operation, OceanaGold was already preparing for its underground mining and needed to train at least 150 underground miners. It was programmed that the Didipio mine will go full underground operation when their surface mining ends in early 2017.
But there was no training facility in the country where students can be trained in underground mining, thus, OceanaGold in collaboration with Site Skills Training in Clark opened a US$2-million underground metalliferous mine training environment in Clark, Pampanga in 2015.
Site Skills Training is part of Site Group International, a registered training organization under the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) that operates a network of training facilities in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
Its facility in Clark, Pampanga provides Australian and internationally recognized training to the oil and gas, mining, construction and hospitality industries.
Ofelia was part of the 5th batch together with another woman, Alma Gonsay, also from Didipio village, who completed on April 26 the underground mining work readiness course designed around classroom theory and practical exercises that are conducted at Site Skills Training's immersive underground mine training environment.
At Site Skills Training, Ofelia said female trainees are trained in the parameters exactly the same as those for male trainees where they are taught Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) awareness, heavy vehicle operations, service works, emergency response and soft skills.
”I learned how to manage my time and I learned that I am also capable of working in the underground mine, which I thought only men can do. Ultimately, the training helped me gain confidence on what I can do as a woman in the mining industry. It is difficult to be a mother and a miner at the same time, but I know I can do it," Ofelia said.
Ofelia has been separated from her husband since 2010. The father of her children does not have a job that is why she has been solely taking care of her family's financial needs ever since.
She has three children. The eldest is 21 years old, the second is 19 and the youngest is 12. Her eldest and youngest children are living with her.
"My children are old enough to take care of themselves, but we always take the time to eat dinner together in our rented home in Didipio," Ofelia said.
According to her, working underground has given her the chance to provide for her three children.
“During Ofelia’s time here [at Site Skills Training], she was not all discouraged by the fact that there were more male candidates and that her trainer was a 30-year miner from another country. She seemed to have great purpose and goals to set. She listened to the advice given and pursued the training with vigour, stepping up to the day to day challenges," Gregory Davis, Site Skills Training Trainer for Underground Metalliferous Mine Work Readiness Course, said.
Alma, on the other hand, was a 100-tonner truck driver at the open pit before entering Site Skills Training at Clark. Before getting certified to operate a giant truck, she went through a series of various vehicle handling from light vehicles to water trucks.
“I am a graduate of Nursing and who would expect I would be working underground, driving a giant truck," Alma said.
Like Ofelia, Alma is also a single parent. She used to depend on farming to support her four children, one of which is already in high school. When she is at work, she depends on her sister and father in taking care of the children.
Now, both Ofelia and Alma are drivers of Articulated Dump Trucks that load rocks from the underground. Their training continues in the real underground world with the assistance of their in-house trainers at OceanaGold.
They said that their experience during and after the training in Clark has been the biggest thing that ever happened to them which they have always prayed for.
"Working on surface is way different from working kilometers to the ground. It may be difficult at first, but if you want it, you can do it," Alma said.
Another woman working underground is Marilou Nablul also of Didipio village who graduated from the 4th Batch who said she became more confident after her training.
"I learned how to discipline myself working at the underground after my training at Site Skills Training in Clark,” Marilou said who now works at underground mine survey section.
OceanaGold has already produced 54 trainees who spent their time at the Site Skills Training and were trained with the highest international standard in underground mining for a period of three months.
"We firmly believe that this new development in the mining industry will produce highly skilled mining professionals in the Philippines," Chito Gozar, OceanaGold’s Senior Vice President for Communications and External Affairs, said.
OceanaGold Philippines general manager David Way said the company has sent for training as a priority residents of Didipio village and the surrounding communities as long as they are fit to work in a challenging environment.
"The first of its kind in Asia, the underground simulator has been constructed to provide students an immersive environment with training materials and exercises based on OceanaGold standards to best prepare for work in our underground Didipio mine," Way said.
He said the company initiative aims to employ more residents from the host and neighboring communities especially now that OceanaGold is transitioning to underground on full swing.
He said OceanaGold continues to open job opportunities without gender preferences.
At OceanaGold, Way said women come across all job titles as 100-tonner truck drivers, mining engineers, metallurgical engineers, geologists, members of the emergency response team and even security personnel.
"We have nine departments, three of these managed by women including 41 female supervisors," he said.
Mining has been known as a “man’s world" but not anymore, he added.