landfill in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Steung Meanchey landfill

As we navigated on foot to reach the summit of the landfill, one’s
clothing and shoes were covered in the dioxin laden mud. (at least I
had shoes on) As the fresh loads of trash arrived, the ‘earth’ we stood
upon quaked as the trucks drove by through the 15″ of ‘mud’ – a few
poorly placed steps, and I found myself pleading for my friend, Ed, to
help me out as I couldn’t afford to have my shoe suctioned off by the
ten inch hole I’d just created. I then began to envy the children
riding in the compactor section of the garbage truck – no wonder they
were smiling! I would have paid money to ride along with them! Finally,
reaching the ‘summit’, the motorcycle drivers we had hired were already
dispensing the rice into little blue bags we had purchased in the
market. Crowd control was no problem. These women and children acted
with amazing dignity – there was no shoving, grabbing, shouting, or
scowling – amazing considering their situation (well maybe a little). I
think it will serve no purpose to attempt to describe the smell and
sense of just being there. There were no fires that day… I’m not sure
why, perhaps it was too damp, however, I understand they set the trash
on fire to alleviate the stench sometimes. Which in turn causes them to
have chronic coughs and headaches with all of that horrific smoke –
imagine plastic and uncontrolled waste of all classifications being

Most cities have landfills (aka – the place where everything you don’t
want ends up). Most cities don’t allow men, women, and children to live
and work in them, however, some do. I’ve chosen not to ignore the
things I see when I am out in the field. A handfull of people chipped
in to buy a few items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, band aids,
ointment, and rice. It’s not a solution, however, it certainly makes a
difference in these peoples lives. Keep in mind, these people are not
beggars, they are actively working in this landfill – recycling. See
the video clip (6mb) (pardon the shaky camera work ~ ‘it wasn’t me…’)

This transcends child labor issues… it’s far worse than simple lack
of food or starvation. The changes that are needed go beyond aid
funds… the children themselves often are unaware of the surrounding
world. Many of these children are between 12-17, the primary earner’s
for their families… most are not educated as they’ve not had the time
to go to school… the endless cycle repeats itself. Even if they are
given aid, this alleviates the primary problems of food and clothing,
but doesn’t remove them from the very toxic open landfill…
nonetheless, it’s a start. Where will they go if they leave the
landfill? The street… and that life is often not much better or
safer. Even worse, some become victims of the flesh trade.

Perhaps you wish to do something? I will take donations via this site
and will purchase supplies when I return (tentatively in 2009). I think
the number one necessity after rice would be boots/sandals as I noticed
many people including the young boy were without shoes of any sort. 

Contributors to the children of the landfill outside of Phnom Penh:
W. Pookpueng – medical supplies – Bangkok, Thailand
C. Lehmann – cash donation – USA
J. Callender – medical/hygine supplies – tooo generous! USA
S. Patel – cash donation! – USA
R. Lehmann – cash donation – USA
E. Kobak – accompanied me to the landfill and we both distributed the items – thanks!
Chariya S. – talented & lovely Khmer woman who helped us out a lot.



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