The National Institute of Population Research and Training expects the Bangladeshi urban population to reach 89.5 million by 2030, up from 39.5 million in 2005. Many migrants to the cities are climate change refugees who have been affected by natural disasters. Others are from rural areas and have suffered from the changes in the agricultural economy. In 2009 the Bangladesh government reported that in Dhaka alone, approximately 120,000 people were involved in the recycling trade. In 2014 our own studies revealed that most people working on the city’s rubbish dumps were migrants from the rural areas.
Waste picking in Bangladesh is the occupation of the poorest of the poor. In the Matuail Dumping Site in Dhaka City there are over 2,000 waste-pickers, mainly women and children, picking through the 3,000 metric tons of waste deposited each day. They are exposed to unhygienic conditions, toxic fumes and injury from sharp objects and machinery.
Many of the women are divorced, separated, or the wives of drug addicts or disabled men. Their lack of skills, caste discrimination and dire poverty means waste picking is their only means of survival. Most of them live in slums, on footpaths, in public spaces such as bus or train stations or abandoned buildings.
The dump’s nearest primary school is 4km away and mothers do not want to let their children walk there alone because of the busy roads and the threat of trafficking. Yet they are unable to take them because they have to work. Adolescents are unable to develop vocational skills due to the cost and inaccessibility of training courses.
Although the Bangladesh constitution states that the government has a duty to protect the rights of waster pickers as they do all citizens, the women are unaware of their rights or how to change their situation. For children, rather than receiving protection by those in authority, they have been led into a life of petty theft, sexual exploitation, drug taking and are frequently subject to beatings, arrest and imprisonment by the police.
Our project at the Matuail Dumping Site is ensuring child, adolescent and women waste pickers have the knowledge, skills, rights awareness and aspirations needed to access life changing opportunities and improve their health. We are:
Our lead partner is Grambangla Unnayan Committee which has 25 years’ experience working with the poorest communities in Bangladesh and runs a school near the waste site that is easier to reach than the public school. They have been a partner of ChildHope since 2009. Additionally, we are working with Nari Maitree which has over 20 years’ experience working on income generating activities with women and adolescents
Our main donor for this project is the Big Lottery Fund. They have contributed £474,617 for the current project, which began in 2015 and ends in late 2018. If you are interested in finding out how you can contribute to the ongoing support of this work in Bangladesh, please get in touch.
We are providing primary education at the Grambangla School to child waste pickers. As well as being provided with a chance for ‘catch-up education’ these students also have a midday meal, improving their nutrition, enabling them to better concentrate on their studies and giving an incentive for attendance. This helps prepare them for integration into mainstream schools.
Women and adolescents are being provided with opportunities to train in skills that will help them find ways to earn a living away from the dump site. As well as providing the skills training, we support the trainees to find a job or to set up their own small business once they have graduated from their course.
We are training mothers to be more aware of safety and hygiene, reproductive health, child health and nutrition. They are also encouraged to join together in group saving schemes so they are able to create welfare funds for times of need and save for their and their children’s future.
Finally, we are working to raise the awareness of the needs and rights of waste picking communities. We are ensuring the community itself knows what rights it has and how to access them and we are ensuring the government and authorities understand their duty of care and are pressurised to deliver it.
Sixteen-year-old Sokhina lives in a slum near the Matuail Dumping Site with her parents and siblings. She is the eldest of four children. Sokhina and her family have been living in this area for six years.Before that they lived in a rural area and her father worked as a farmer, but in 2011 they lost all their belongings due to river erosion.
After migrating to Dhaka, Sokhina and her parents started working as waste pickers in Matuail Dumping Site. Sokhina was only 10 years old and it was very difficult for her to cope with the situation. “In the village I used to live a free life. I used to spend all my time by playing or roaming around the village with my friends. And in Dhaka, I started spending my whole day in waste picking in the middle of the pile of garbage.” She had to work for 10 to 12 hours a day for six days a week and earned Tk. 3500 (£32) per month.
In 2016, a Vocational Training and Placement Officer from Grambangla Unnayan Committee visited Sokhina’s home. She learnt that she could enrol for free at the Grambangla Technical Training Centre. She decided to train in bag making and from January 2017 to June 2017 she learnt to make different types of bags, from simple paper bags for groceries to stylish occasion bags. Alongside the vocational skills training, she was taught about occupational safety, the importance of birth registration, effects of drug addiction and health and hygiene practices.
Sokhina’s new skills enabled her to leave the rubbish dump and she now works at a local packaging factory. She works an eight hour a day and earns Tk. 8,500 (£78) per month. She is saving her money so she can open her own packaging shop where she and her siblings will work together.Read more
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