In November 2011 The Small Steps Project volunteers visited the Siem Reap rubbish dump and were horrified at what they found so they delivered an aid distribution project.
Back in the UK we researched what was happening on the dump and who was helping and we found out about a man called Sophal Chor who was also delivering emergency aid as well as a project called the Anlong Pi/Kaliyan Mith project which is part of NGO, Friends International. We contacted both and met with them when we arrived in Cambodia.
On entering the dumpsite, like our volunteers, we were appalled at what we saw. Sophal had also been so moved by the poverty that, like us, his instant reaction was to deliver a distribution project.
However, on further investigation and on meeting with Friends International we discovered a rather nice surprise (something that doesn’t happen often on a rubbish dump) just 200 meters behind the dump location was the most fantastic centre we have come across. After the disappointment with in Sihanoukville, the centre in Siem Reap was staggering.
The Anlong Pi project has a classroom for young children, a crèche where parents can leave their babies while they scavenge, a medical centre, access to clean water, showers and toilets, a kitchen and a counseling area. They had a great strategy in place with a census of all the people on the dump and even a wellington boot swap: so that scavengers come and give in their old broken boots and have them replaced with new ones.
The only thing missing from the dump was a sign on the dump side entrance of the facility to let people know that they are there and a lack of presence online to tell people about the great work they are doing- so we are trying to change that right now by writing about them here!
It was understandable that for anyone arriving at the dump, it appears, at first that there is no help for the community. In fact there is, though often the inhabitants will not tell visitors about it.
There are several reasons for this; firstly, dump tourism is a growing trend, sad but true. People like not only to go and visit children in orphanages and take photos but they also like to visit dumpsites to see the poor conditions in which people are living.
Friends International is the NGO behind the ‘Children are not tourist attractions’ appeal and Small Steps Project totally supports them in this. We only take photos and make our documentaries so that we can illustrate the situation, raise the profile and raise the money to give back to those people.
You can imagine that sight seeing trips, sometimes even coach loads of tourists turning up, giving out a few sweets and taking pictures is quite upsetting for the community; it is not a zoo, they are human beings and we would never dream of walking round the park taking pictures of children here in the UK, we’d probably get arrested if we did! So why is it ok to do it there? The answer is – it’s not.
So Friends International explained that one of the reasons they don’t promote the project is because it is not a tourist attraction either; it is a safe place for the community and the children to go and the last thing they want are tourists coming to have a look around.
So I write this now to assure you of the great work happening on Siem Reap rubbish dump and provide you with info and photos so that the public knows what is being done to help but respects the privacy of the community.
As the project (which is still only 2 years old) already had a wellie swap and other aid is readily available for the community, we decided that, instead of duplicating their work we would work together and collaborate with them so that we can help in a productive way by identifying the gaps and helping them to fill them.
We learnt that there were a lot of older children who the project couldn’t cater for. However, 20 km away we were in for another good find; the Friends International Vocational Training Centre which provides teenagers with vocational training such as cookery, sewing, mechanics and hairdressing.
This centre was much bigger and really vocational focused. As well as having a school and catch up classes for younger children, it offered practical solutions for scavengers, by training them and giving them the skills to find better employment and so break the cycle of poverty that face them on the dumps.
The only problem was the distance between the dump and the large training centre. It was too far to walk, but what a shame, here was such a great solution and the only obstacle between getting children off dumps and into a new life was a logistical one.
So our solution was, instead of providing shoes, we would help by funding a school bus to take the older children to school and the teenagers to training college and literally take them off the dump and into education.
We are planning to collaborate further with Friends International and instead of distributing aid on our own we will work with them to get children off dumps and into school and employment.
We were so impressed with the centre that it is something we would like to recreate for the Sihanoukville dump community too.