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Journey to Cambodia 2017: The Landfill

Last year I posted a photo on our blog of a little boy I’d met living inside a Cambodian garbage dump.

In the blog, I shared how difficult it was to learn how many children around the world work as trash scavengers each day (estimated to be in the millions).

I was a bit stunned at some of the comments I received back after sharing this boy’s picture. People told me that the photo looked staged or that the child didn’t look very needy since he had on a silver necklace and obviously had food (which I had just handed him five minutes before). I remember sitting at my computer wanting to literally weep that anyone could so quickly dismiss the lives of children who live — and work — in the dump.

On the day I was there, the flies swarmed so thickly that the landfill constantly hummed, literally shifting in sheets of black as I walked through to meet the children. It broke my heart to see little kids digging through the mounds of garbage with their bare hands hoping to find anything metal or plastic to recycle. I had just waded through a contaminated path of dirty diapers, bloody medical waste, and a sea of white worms moving every which way that I tried to pretend weren’t there.

We came to the landfill to see if any of the parents who lived there would allow the children to go to school if LWB sponsored their tuition. That day, however, I quickly learned that when you’re completely crippled by poverty, you can’t even imagine a way out. The $1 a day your child makes the family by finding hypodermic needle caps or plastic bottles in the sea of trash seems like the difference between starving or feeding your kids. We left that day convincing only two of the parents to allow their children to go to school with us. All during the last year, I’ve been grateful that both Cody and Jamie have finally been getting an education.

But none of us forgot all the other children we met there. Leng, LWB’s Cambodia Director, continued to go back to the dump every single month to build trust with their parents.

This year when I returned to Cambodia, I knew a lot more than I had before about the risk that children take by working inside a landfill. I’d read articles about children being buried alive by trucks unloading their waste. I found countless case studies about the medical issues faced by kids in dumps, such as infected cuts from shards of glass or metal to severe headaches and chronic respiratory issues from breathing in the gases released from burning garbage.

I’d also learned from Leng, however, that the parents feel working in the dump is far more honorable than begging on the streets. Thankfully he also told us that the majority of parents quietly wish for their children to have a better life than theirs someday.

And so we returned this year to once again discuss education for the children. It was even hotter than last summer, and the flies were once again out in full force.

It had rained heavily just before we arrived. Walking through the dump site was now even more challenging as the rotting garbage mixed with the mud, sucking off our sandals almost instantly.  As we got closer to the area where the children were, I realized that it was going to be next to impossible to cross one area as it had essentially turned into a wet, contaminated bog.

But then the fathers saw us coming, and they began grabbing bags of garbage to lay out like a carpet for us walk on.  One bag after another after another thrown down across the mire to ensure us safe passage, which was both surreal and humbling at the same time.

The first boy I saw up ahead was the same little boy I had photographed last year, definitely bigger but still so quiet and solemn, even after I tried to win him over with some little toys.

I also got to see 9-year-old Isabelle again, who had captured my heart the year before with her gentle personality.

She definitely looked one year older but was still as beautiful as ever. Her face was the one that I thought of each time we pledged to one another that we weren’t going to give up on getting all the children at the landfill enrolled in school someday.  I was overjoyed this year when her mom was one of the very first parents to say YES.

We left the dump this time with eight more children signed up to attend our newest Believe in Me school.  Each day, we’ll be sending a large cart (a tuk tuk) to the dump to pick up the children in the morning and then bring them safely home at night.

The kids will get a hot lunch each day, and eight hours where they’ll be learning to read, do math, skip rope, and play soccer. Eight hours each day that they won’t be breathing toxic fumes.  I know it might seem like a small thing when you think about the millions of children around the world who dig through dumpsites each day, but LWB’s motto from the very beginning has been Every Child Counts.

Honestly to me, my whole trip was worth it just to know these eight will now go to school.

I hope you’ll celebrate with me that each of these precious kids now has a new chance at a brighter future. Now our work to get them all sponsored begins. For less than $1 a day, you can sponsor one of these children’s tuition and give them eight hours a day away from the toxic landfill. Eight hours a day to be a kid.

Tomorrow, I want to tell you about our visit to the slums and a very special baby girl we met who needs all of us to rally around her.

~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

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  • LWB says:

    Hi Mary Jo, and thank you for your concern. We feel that the best way to help the parents is to help the children get an education. The parents are very excited and hopeful that through education, their family can have a fresh start.

  • Mary Jo Stanley says:

    How may I help the parents? What can we do to bring them out of that quagmire and find a safer way to make money?

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