One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Survival

by Sasha Spichke, PAW Writer


That stinks.

We wrinkle our noses, quickly cover them and run by. This is our Western reaction to trash.

Almost 9,000 miles away in Cambodia, no one covers their noses, no one runs away. Garbage means survival to some, and a tourist attraction to others.  Imagine staring at poor children wading through filth as entertainment.  No need to imagine; it’s happening every day. The Washington Post documented it with pictures.







(See the Washington Post Photo essay here)

Each step deeper in the pile of trash could mean a smile from a parent or an extra bite of food. This was their job. Each child trash-picker hopes to find a treasure… Among the trash. The prize? About a dollar a day.

Hundreds of children and adults work in the Anlong Pi landfill in Cambodia. They carry a stick to dig through the trash, and a bag to hold anything they find that may be of worth. The sun beats down on them, the trash stinks below them, but they don’t seem to notice anymore. Some work more than 10 hours a day.

Soon a dump truck comes with a new load of waste, and the adults and children rush over to dig through it. As the trash tumbles down from the truck, they waste no time. Digging and scrounging around with no masks and no gloves.

They look up. The tourists are coming again. But why? They don’t understand why foreigners come every day to the Anlong Pi landfill. The tourists have recently visited Siem Reap, the main tourist city of Cambodia. Next on their itinerary is Anlong Pi, about 20 miles way.

The tourists carry cameras and have masks covering their faces as they unload off the bus. As they walk up to the landfill, some of them press their mask closer to their nose­– the smell is overwhelming. They gaze out over the heaps of trash, nothing looks recognizable. Just looks like trash. They look out again. People. They see children and adults. Snap. They take a picture.

The tour guides continue to lead them through. A little boy holds up a broken piece of a Mickey Mouse hat he found. He has a big smile on his face. He is proud to show the tourists what he found. His treasure. The tourists continue to walk through. They observe the hundreds of children and adults rummaging through the trash and occasionally placing something in their bag.  They walk by a girl just 12 years old. She holds a stick in one hand and a brown- white bag in the other. Her shirt reads “smile” and her pants, once white, are now brown. She works with her parents in the dump. When she grows up, she wants to be a doctor.

Next they see a boy of 15 standing on a mound of garbage. He has worked at the Anlong Pi dump for 3 years with his parents. He has 5 younger brothers. He wants to be a construction worker when he grows up. If he grows up.

The tourists are nearing the end of their excursion. They board their bus, take off their masks and look out the window as they drive past the dump.

They go home to their families and jobs, cars and large homes.

The trash-pickers stay.

It’s only been 5 hours.

Their day isn’t half over yet