Scavengers of the World’s Waste

Articles from Philippines Tacloban City, Philippines | Sep 13, 2011

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  Have you ever thought that your rubbish could end up as someone else’s home? Follow the trail of your trash to poverty stricken families around the world.  

A rubbish truck approaches, full to the brim of unwanted, unused, foul and stinking trash. It begins to arch its load, preparing for tonnes of garbage to come crashing down on the heap left from its last visit. As it rears it back, children come running from all angles; they cling on to the side of the truck, excited at the prospect of new junk – their means of selling to supplement their parent’s meagre earnings for the day. At best, they can hope to make $0.75 a day selling their wares, at worst – another day without a proper meal. Perhaps their parents can only afford to give them one paltry food offering for the day, maybe not even this.

For too many in the Philippines, life scavenging amongst rotting materials and oozing methane gasses is a reality with no education or prospects for the future. Their days are spent competing to separate real waste from sellable waste with the expectation of a good wage from the local junk shops where they trade in their trash for hard earned cash.

I spent one Saturday morning visiting the site in an attempt to get my head around what is being done to remove these children from a paltry future of scavenging. Having worked for Kaya Responsible Travel for the best part of a year, I understand the elements involved with volunteering in a developing country so I got involved with child profiling with our colleagues in the Philippines who are running various educational projects for children and their families from the dump site.

I was blessed with a local guide for the morning – Jason, who at 17 is one of the projects pioneering success stories and he has transitioned from dump site to school to college in the space of a few years. With a diminutive frame Jason looks as though he could only be 13 at most, but he assures me of his age and his confidence has clearly bloomed as a result of being weaned off the dump site, into full time education. Jason tells me about his life before, how he was resistant to the project ideals and aspirations and how so many of these kids now on the dump are afraid that we’re here to take them away. It is true, that the Philippines boasts incredibly warm and open people, but here I was with children afraid to look me in the eye at the risk of being taken away from an honest wage and the prospect of money to be driven to school and an education.

While we couldn’t force these children to be profiled, there were those willing to talk to me, among them a very shy girl called Frances[1] whose eyes were full of optimism and hope, and Christian, another miniscule for his age 10 year old, with a cheeky grin, silver chain and tinged pink teeth.

When I tried to get an idea of the efforts of the local government and how they were getting involved, the locals tried desperately not to give me a straight answer. I’m told the government can’t ‘afford or ‘risk’ funding a project on a grander scale. Why, I don’t know, but it’s clear from the children I have spoken too that the hardest challenge is being able to get the dump site out of their system and to believe that school is the right pathway for them. It is so sad to see children turn away from me when I know that all I’m trying to do is give them hope for a future away from the site, from the foul mounds of waste, mosquitoes and diseases which has affected so many of those I pass. One child not older than 4 stares at me blankly with his one good eye, the other clouded and infected perhaps never to see through again.

Through all of this though is hope and I see this partly through the strength of international volunteers, giving dance classes at the school for some of the rescued children to get involved with. Their initial reaction too was one of shock and they spent time telling me of just some of the horror stories they have heard of accidents on and off the site. Their message was just for me to make sure the work is kept up when they leave, that volunteers keep visiting, that children are still sponsored and that donations are still given so at least on a local scale, they can prosper in their work. I am happy to say, that prosper it has.

Since the project started, 35 kids have been rehabilitated, 2 have fully graduated from school and the parents have seen livelihood projects started to give them an incentive to stray away from the dump site themselves. A success story? So far, but there is still a long way to go before the dump site is free of families clasping their metal pick fighting for their right to an honest wage.

How to Get Involved:

Our colleagues in the Philippines are asking for a number of contributions for their Dump Site Project. They are looking for child sponsors as well as volunteers for their projects, monetary donations as well as supplies art books for the children including:

·     School supplies·     Used clothing·     Used shoes

Those who have been inspired by this story are asked to spread the word so more people are aware of the life of those living and working on dump sites around the world. Contact us at for more information.

[1] At 12, Frances may be too old for the schooling initiative so in this case our colleagues profile her for their child sponsorship programme in the hope they can find a sponsor.

Editor's Note: Nicci Hawkins is a Placement Advisor for Kaya Responsible Travel

Tags: volunteer , abroad , Philippines , Dump Site , children , teaching , education ,

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