Life on the Steung Mean Chey Dumpsite
Nearly all the children we support previously worked as garbage pickers on Phnom Penh's Municipal Waste Dump (located in Steung Mean Chey region) and lived in neighbouring slums and makeshift huts.
In 2009 the dump was closed down as it was becoming too large for its location, only a few kilometres from the main city. The dump was nicknamed Smoky Mountain because of the visibly burning rubbish and emitted carcinogenic fumes, as well as methane gases created by the massive amounts of buried rubbish. The stench of the rotting garbage could be smelt from far away. The old landfill site will now be turned into a local park.
1000 tonnes of Phnom Penh’s rubbish was dumped at Steung Mean Chey everyday and over 3000 families worked and lived here, scavenging for recyclables. Men, women and children would risk their lives dodging trucks and bulldozers to find tin cans, plastic, glass bottles and any other scrap that could be sold or recycled.
The health of the workers on the dump was severely affected as they would breathe in the dangerous toxic fumes and often cut their bare feet on glass or dirty needles and medical waste hidden amongst the rubbish.
Usually, families would work in shifts over 24 hours in order to earn as much money as possible
(approximately $2 a day for a working family of six) meaning children were forced to work from very young ages – suffering from exhaustion, malnutrition and hunger, with little access to clean water.
At night the dump was a very dangerous place where gangs, violence, rape and even traffickers were present. The situation for some families became so poor that parents sold their children into the sex industry.
As a source of livelihood, the Steung Mean Chey dumpsite no longer exists, although many of the slums and shacks remain. The harsh reality of life for the people that stayed here continues and they go on to work as garbage pickers on the streets or in other dangerous and demeaning jobs with little hope of a healthy future.
Most children here have not completed primary school and most adults have had little or no access to education or vocational training, so their skillset is poor and they are unable to find better work.
As the reasons for poverty in Cambodia have not been alleviated, the net effect of the dump closing is not necessarily positive. The torn social fabric that exists in Cambodia can be seen as a product of the Khmer Rouge genocide and subsequent civil war which lasted right up to 1998.