For several decades, Ribeira da Barca has provided the aggregates needed for the construction of a large part of the island of Santiago.
Over the past few years, the extraction process has become more regulated and restricted to Charco beach, to the south, or the riverbed, to the east and inland. The extraction is physically demanding, leading to a split of labour by age group in each of the locales. On Charco beach for example, younger women who are more resilient and physically fit, will work, often in groups. The process consists of wading into the sea to where the sand is, filling up the container and carrying it on their heads along a winding path to where it is unloaded, far from the reach of the sea.
On the riverbed, the extraction is a more solitary activity and is typically where older women carry out individual tasks. Here the ground is dug up, the rocks and stones are separated out and the sand is sieved away, leaving the aggregates. Although conditions seem less demanding than on the beach, working on the riverbed means constant exposure to dust and rubbish. As a result, respiratory pathologies are not uncommon.
In both locales, the wear and tear is noticeable in the women carrying out the work.
In addition to the physical impact, the welfare of a number of families is becoming precarious with the gradual decrease in demand for natural aggregate products. Gone are the times when a team of four women could sell a "galucho" of sand at the end of one week of work (on Charco beach this equates to 5 thousand escudos, less than 50 euros, and on the riverbed to 3 thousand, less than 30 euros). Today, months can go by without a family receiving any income from a sale.