In a back lot in Thailand, only miles from the Burma border, lies a small community of families living amongst the rubbish of a garbage dump. They’ve built their homes out of scraps of garbage, bamboo poles, and plastic rice bags to keep the rain out. Some of the people have been living there for almost ten years. Little children work and play amidst the filth.
This is where they’ve settled because in some ways it is better than living inside the town of Mae Sot, working long hours for practically nothing, in a factory where they would be mistreated and at risk of being arrested for being a migrant. At least on the dump they are in control of their lives to some degree and have a bit of freedom.
In the dump they earn about 30 baht a day (less than $1), but this is at least enough to buy daily rice and simple food to survive on. They buy rice locally, but buy oil, chillies and other things across the border in Burma, where food is cheaper. There is also a stall near the dump where they can buy vegetables.
They make their money by sorting through the trash as it comes in on the garbage trucks. The garbage has already been sorted by vagrants who look for recyclables on the streets, and then again by the men as they load the garbage into the garbage trucks, so all that’s left is pure trash. Yet they manage to find some things either to keep or to sell for recycling. In the U.S. we recycle to “Save the Earth” and not clog landfills. Here they recycle to survive.
We got a call from some folks at the garbage dump after their homes had been bulldozed and what little food or possessions they had, confiscated. Some who could not flee in time were arrested. A few of our staff went to meet with this community and assess the situation. Seeing that this was a group in great need, we were able to provide rice, noodles, sardines, water, and mosquito nets to the families as they struggled to rebuild.
Now that we have been touched by their situation and faced with their needs, we are asking what we can do to help further. These are people who have hopes and dreams and are simply trying to make a life here. We want to get to know them, encourage them, and offer support.
Over the next while, we hope to take some practical steps to make life better for these people. We will check the quality of their drinking water supply, as we suspect it is contaminated by run-off from the dump. We have also asked a dentist to visit the community, as their teeth are in bad shape. And along with new staff and volunteers with medical backgrounds, will be developing a plan to improve community health. We’re also encouraging families of the dump to consider alternative options, and offering support along the way.
Even though these families are living in trash, considered by some as the very refuse of society, they are still treasured and valuable in the eyes of God. We hope they will be able to see this, too, and have some of their dignity restored as their lives are rebuilt.