Knee Deep in Stung Meanchey, Cambodia

The Fire Burns on; Stung Meanchey, Cambodia

Knee deep in garbage,Kong Siehar, 14, combs through giant mounds of rubbish for tin cans, plastic bags and other recyclable goods. It is one of the saddest sights in Phnom Penh, a sprawling 100-acre garbage dump where trash fires burn and plumes of black smoke choke the air with toxic gases.

'I'm looking for something good, something I can sell,'' the boy said one day as he poked his stick in a small mound, strewn with crushed milk cartons, detergent and condoms. ''I know it's difficult work, but I want to help my family. I need to help my family.''

Ragpicker Boy, Cambodia

Children toil for about 50 cents a day here at the Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump. It is perilous work. The waste is soggy, and huge bulldozers rumble through here, dumping pile upon pile. The children show up at local health clinics with rashes, infections, cuts and bruises.

Tower of Garbage, Cambodia

Stung Meanchey, Cambodia

Stung Meanchey, Cambodia

Vietnamese Chair Makers, Cambodia

Trudging through Stung Meanchey I come to realize, ''This is the closest thing to hell on earth I've ever seen."

When a vehicle -- any vehicle -- crosses into the dump site, the children fling their bags of tin cans in front of the wheels, hoping to crush their cans to increase the bag space.

Many of the children here were born into impoverished families that moved to the area from the countryside after the end of Pol Pot's murderous rule. Instead of finding urban fortunes, many of them settled in a slum that was erected along the rim of Stung Meanchey, a dump infested with flies that gravitate to the leeching refuse, the dregs of a nation.

About 10,000 people live in the slum that borders Stung Meanchey. Their village, Preak Torl, a cluster of plywood shacks, clings to the dump's edge. Fumes from sewage and burning garbage fill the air. Pigs forage in the village's dirt lanes.

Stung Meanchey, Cambodia

Waiting, Cambodia

Rith Preun, a girl of 12 who still works at the dump, is trying to earn money to pay off her parents' debt.

She wears a stained white blouse and a pair of soiled long pants. Her sandals are too big, and her hair, which bobs down to her shoulders, is tucked under a dusty, purple knit hat that protects her eyes from the scorching sun.

She carries a metal pick to help her poke through the garbage, and a white burlap sack that she uses to collect her recyclable goods. ''I've been working here for three years,'' she said. Stitched to her pants waszap a Winnie-the-Pooh patch.

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Anonymous said...

The combination of your words and your pictures was ruthlessly effective. I look around my bedroom, see my empty plastic water bottle lying on my night stand.

How could this be someone's wage?

Bit Hawk said...

Awesome post. Great pics!

Vineeta said...

Akshay, this is heart wrenching. the pictures are powerful. I don't even know what to say.

Gentle Whispers said...

beuatiful pics.. it's time we all woke up to realities like these.. and stop taking things for granted so much.

Quaint Murmur said...

Ever thought of applying to the National Geographic for a job, Akshay?

Funny, excellent pictures, but the sorrow that you feel when you see them makes you hope you'll never see a sight like that. We do, of course, every day. Which just goes to prove that apathy abounds anyway...

Sorry, rambling...Lovely stuff

Unknown said...

That really is a very moving post. Brilliant photos as usual, of course. I particularly love this one
Could you please explain how you shot this?


India Unlimited said...

I think that color pictures work better for garbage dumps.I prefer taking color pictures of garbage open air dumps, because, you see, garbage can be quite colorful and the pictures capture that quite well.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work..good read.