Unemployed youth making a living from garbageBy CHRISTINE LAGAT | Monday, September 3 2012 at 11:55
It is Saturday morning at Nairobi's main dumpsite in the low-income Dandora district and a convoy of trucks loaded with garbage snakes its way through a narrow, muddy road to dump the heaps of trash as a group of five men, seemingly unperturbed by the repulsive stench, sit atop a mountain of garbage waiting to offload and sort out out the new stock of refuse.
Saturday is the busiest day in the expansive dumpsite located on the eastern fringes of Nairobi. Hundreds of men and women wake up at dawn to grab a piece of the action and hopefully, the obvious financial windfall. Muchiri, a father of four, is among five men chatting atop a large heap of garbage.
"This has been my home for the last ten years and I have not been engaged in any other job besides collecting garbage since my adulthood. To tell you the truth, this job has its thrills and challenges, depending on an individual," Muchiri says while sitting at the Dandora dumpsite. He cuts a gentle and composed mien despite the commotion triggered by his peers as they dash to negotiate with oncoming trucks to offload garbage for a fee.
Not for the faint-hearted
Muchiri admitted that working at the dumpsite has not been a rosy affair. Numerous hazards hover around dedicated people who sort out garbage for sale at recycling companies in Nairobi's industrial area.
"This is a job like any other but the threat of broken bottles and needles is a daily nightmare. Few of us wear protective gadgets like gloves, aprons or gumboots," said Muchiri. Like a career soldier, Muchiri has mastered the rough terrain in the Dandora dumpsite and not even the foul stench, hostile competitors and exploitative buyers of trash have broken his determination.
The dumpsite remains an eyesore that has attracted the attention of environmentalists, public health workers and the general public. Nevertheless, men, women and even some children who eke a living from trash are adamant that this dumpsite is a goldmine that should be left intact. Simon Macharia, a 30 year old father of two, has worked at Dandora dumpsite for 10 years and is not apologetic of taking up an otherwise ridiculed occupation.
"We collect papers, bottles and plastics for sale to recycling companies. The white papers are more lucrative than cartons and bottles," he said.
Macharia revealed that team work, determination and fortitude are critical to succeed in this trade. He disclosed that on a good week, his groups of 25 members manage to collect 800 kilograms of white paper that retails at $80.
"Our greatest challenge is means of transportation since we hire private trucks that charge us $30. After deducting other overheads, each of us takes home $6 per day," he revealed to Xinhua.
Macharia's peers say that competition from other garbage collectors, reluctant buyers and poor weather makes their work hectic. "We report here seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to sort out papers, bottles and other recyclable material. If conditions are right, it is possible to succeed in this field," said Macharia.
He clarified that majority of workers at the dumpsite have developed a thick skin to cushion them from infectious diseases. "Let me be honest to you, I have not suffered from any disease since I came here. Despite the perception by members of the public, diseases are very rare here," Macharia said.
''We are not miscreants''
Mothers and young children are a prominent feature at the Dandora dumpsite and are determined to carry on with their occupation despite its myriad risks. Nduta, a mother of four, has worked at the dumpsite for the last 15 years and revealed that on a good day, she rakes in 3 dollars to feed her young family. Women usually collect food waste that is later sold to pig farmers from Nairobi's neighbouring districts.
Nduta stressed that garbage collectors at Dandora dumpsite are not miscreants contrary to perception of many members of society. "Some people here are very learned and are in the business of making money. Unfortunately, the public thinks were are criminals, " said Nduta.
The Nairobi City Council's (NCC) Department of Environment manages the massive dumpsite. Nairobi produces an estimated 2,400 tonnes of garbage per day, and this amount is expected to increase tremendously in the next five years because of rising population, according to statistics from the City Council.
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