Sunday, September 18, 2011

Working at the Dump

Outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, the city where literally hoards of people from around the world arrive to visit the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, sits a unique income generating opportunity for the underclass in this region, the dump. Due to its distance from the city, Siem Reap's dump receives little aid from NGOs. Everyday 140 children and many more adults sort through the smelly paper, glass and plastic. Their schedules are dictated by the arrival of twenty garbage trucks a day from Siem Reap. The location of the dump makes access by NGOs difficult but some are trying to help. According to the article ""Life on the Margins" in the Siem Reap Insider/ Phnom Penh Post:

At the nearby Kaliyann Mitt Centre operated by NGO Friends International, group monitor Kem Phalla said there were 145 children living in the dump according to a survey this year, with 42 attending local schools.  “This is the last place that people come to when they need work,” she said. “Some days the mothers go to the dump and leave their babies for someone to find and take care of, and then go and find a job farming or something else.”  Phalla, who coined the “dirty little secret” moniker for the dump, said casualties from working in its disease-filled environment trickle into the centre’s clinic every few days, with broken bones and infected cuts among the most common injuries.  “Usually if a wound is bad it’s become infected from handling glass bottles. At the centre we mostly try to divert children away from working in the dump towards other jobs. We send the children who want to find skills to our education centre in Siem Reap where they can learn tailoring, cooking and other trades.”

However, another dump exists outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Stung Meanchey. For intrepid visitors, says, “If you ever wanted to remind your children how lucky they are, this is the place to bring them.” Dump tourism, who'd have thought. On a visit to Phnom Penh in 2006 a friend and frequent visitor to the city first made me aware of this unique travel opportunity when she told me about the dump and offered to arrange a visit. The Stung Meanchey dump is even mentioned in a two-page photo essay in a university textbook for introduction to sociology courses by James M. Henslin. But Cambodia is not the only place where the poor can scrap out a living on garbage.

While visiting India to volunteer for Empower the Children,
Garbage sorting, Dakshindari slum
I accompanied some children on a tour of their 'slum' in Kolkata called Dakshindari. Throughout the lanes people could be seen methodically separating the waste into metal, plastic, glass, etc., both in the street and in their yards. Old and young were at work. Some women looked to be in their 80s as they sat bent over with gnarled hands working quickly as they looked nimbly for 'treasures.'

The Global Post recently ran a photo essay titled, "Disposable Communities: living and working in the world's largest trash dumps (see below). These workers help countries recycle their garbage cheaply. However, the dangers of this activity are horrific: the health hazards associated with picking through medical waste, getting crushed by the huge machinery disposing of and moving around the waste, and the menace of disease and ailments from parasites and bacteria found in decaying food sometimes consumed on the spot by hungry workers. It's not a career of choice, but for hundreds of thousands of people around the world it holds both a means of survival and a daily threat of death.

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