The variety of different lives humans live becomes glaringly apparent when walking through a garbage dump in a developing country. A life unimaginable by most, is lived daily by thousands of individuals struggling to survive. A world wrought with disease and often run by organized crime, it is a story that more closely resembles science fiction than any reality western eyes have seen.
As peasants and farmers head to urban centers, they are often unprepared for the life they are about to experience. Tales of wealth and plentiful jobs often turn out to be illusions and the skills that have helped them survive in rural environments are generally insufficient to sustain them in the complex and competitive cities. To make matters worse, most do not have the financial means to return home once they realize they are in over their heads.
Hunger, need for small amounts of money or shelter are a few of the reasons why people end up working and living in dumpsite communities. What is normally thought of as a quick fix to an immediate problem can become an entire way of life, often for generations. As awareness of this issue spreads, new schools are popping up in these communities as well as laws which aim to prevent children from working in the dumps.
Within the sites, work is highly organized and each person has his or her own job. After usable items have been collected, they are taken to small shacks that line the perimeters of the dumps. The items are weighed and separated into groups, copper is pulled out of wires, glass removed from light bulbs and all recyclable material is gathered and separated. The scavengers are usually paid by the weight of what they bring in.
The organized crime aspect of the business dictates who can take garbage from where, how much they are paid and enforces brutal and often lethal consequences for those who break the rules. Assassinations and turf disputes occur on a regular basis and most governments steer clear of involvement. Add disease, injury and exposure to toxic chemicals to the list of dangers that face the dumpsite workers.
Despite this, the spirit of the workers shine through. Their kindness and warmth in letting me in to document their lives was astounding. Children are children and it was not uncommon to see them take a break from their grueling work to hike up a mountain of trash at sunset or have a garbage throwing fight…it was also not uncommon to see their pain and the weight of their existence bearing down on their shoulders.
Images shot in Cambodia, The Philippines and Mexico
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