>Travel Pictures


Life at a Mumbai garbage dump

One of the foundations of our school's mission is to "enhance the lives of others," and thus the idea of community service is an integral part of what we do. Our grade level team has been involved with working to clean up Mumbai mangroves - check out our student-developed webpage!

As part of the campaign, we followed the garbage that we collected to see what happened to it after we were finished, and the students got one of those rare but oh-so-important life lessons. What follows is not intended to be a comprehensive look at this life, but simply what I could document in a 20 minute visit.  As far as the pictures are concerned, I've included links to larger, non-web-friendly versions if you want to get an even closer look at what we saw. There is no way, however, to transmit the smell...

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We walked out towards where they were, and they watched (in as much curiosity as we, I'm sure) as we got closer. We were told not to take pictures, but a reporter who was with us just laughed, rattled off a response to the guard, and told us to go ahead.

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Our students asked, with their hands over their faces from the stench, "Do these people really live here?" We told them to ask! We had a few Marathi speakers in the group, and the shock on their faces was evident when the ragpickers said they did live on the garbage dump and pointed at their tents over on the far side.

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The reporter was shaking his head and explaining about the scam that was being run here. He said that this was actually an illegal dump - thus the request for no pictures - but because the city officials were being paid off everyone looked the other way.

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I suppose that they saw the dump as the only life they'd known, and tough to move on from...

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In this part of Mumbai, trash is taken from all over and literally dumped into the middle of a mangrove. We felt sick to our stomachs at seeing how all our hard work was basically for nothing (as the garbage ended up being dumped in a different wetland), and then we saw the people who live and work there. 

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There is an actual term in use here - ragpicker - to formally give a name to people who comb through trash. They look for items to recycle and resell, and of course most of their possessions are from the garbage pile. They couldn't speak English - as most of them had never attended any sort of school - but were as friendly as welcoming as could be expected.

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The money changing hands is supposed to be substantial, to the point of shaking down municipal garbage trucks for donations. Since this is closer than the real sites, however, the owners of the fleets save so much on fuel costs that it is worth the gate fee.

Apparently, even the ragpickers had to pay for the 'privilege' of working here. A certain percentage of each week's take had to be kicked back to the dump bosses to ensure that they could remain on site.

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And, as we saw the younger generation get trained into this way of life, it was incredibly sobering for our students to picture themselves as being nothing less than incredibly blessed to have much more than this in their future...

And as we left, we saw the trucks continue to come in, and the crowd of people make a mad dash to get first dibs on the treasures that came out. A tough lesson on life in India...

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