Monday, August 22, 2011

Making a living from trash

A recent visit to the Olusosun Land Fill site where waste from thousands of homes and offices in Lagos is emptied gave me a sick feeling that hasn’t left me for several days. The sight of hundreds of people, wading deep into people’s trash, in search of items that could earn them an income is not what I expected to see.
The state of deprivation and unemployment in the economy can be brought alive in fewer pictures than that of people rummaging through waste at such sites daily. Was such a sad sight, seeing hundreds of people thronging a dump site for their daily bread….
Below is the article I wrote.

After hours of searching, dusting, bagging, and more searching, Moses Daramola was done for the day. He stretched his stiff back, made his way out of the dump, retrieved a sachet of water from his bag and washed his face. Then he settled down at a corner to go through his findings; a broken car radio, a pressing iron with a missing plug, a portable DVD player with a missing screen, several plugs, sockets, electrical parts and wires all at various levels of degradation. Satisfied with his findings, he stuffed them back into his backpack which had more than a few holes and stitches.
“Today is good.” Mr Daramola smiled to himself.
“Don’t look at these wires and sockets anyhow,” he told this reporter. “By the time I take it to all those people that sell electrical parts, I will be able to make some money.”
Mr Daramola is just one of the hundreds of people who, on a daily basis, throng the Olusosun dumpsite, the second largest landfill site in the state, for their source of livelihood. Among the tonnes of waste that is brought in by the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) trucks and other private waste managers, these people find items that could earn them an income.
A life of scavenging
As people in homes, offices, factories, hotels and other places empty what they call ‘waste’ into their dustbins; it hardly crosses their minds that someone else would rummage through their garbage, except for recycling purposes.
“I’ve tried to find job before, but I did not go to school,” Mr Daramola said. “Sometimes, when I finish here, I will still go and learn vulcaniser work, but this is where I make money. I will search inside the rubbish for electric parts and go and sell them.”
However, he explained that he doesn’t get so lucky everyday with finds that would fetch him money.
“Sometimes, I will come here and I will not find anything that I can sell,” he said. “Only, maybe, plastic and other things that I can use or dash people. But sometimes, I will find good electronics like iron, TV, car radio and things like that. Then I will dismantle it and take it to electrician’s workshop and sell the parts.”
Another scavenger, who simply identified himself as Tunde, gave an insight into the best time to find useful things that can be resold. “The best time to come is in the mornings and afternoons when the trucks are just bringing in the rubbish,” Mr Tunde said. “By evening, they will have stopped coming. If you come late, you might not get anything because people will have packed all the things that are useful.”
He added that it was often difficult to know the worth of an item upon finding it, but it could later be sold at a good price. “Sometimes, some things you might not think is worth anything, by the time you want to sell it, someone will pay good money for it,” he said. “Like one time, I found a whole roll of wire. The wire was very thick but I’ve not seen it before so I didn’t know what it was. By the time I took it to my friend who is working as a security guard in one company, someone in that office bought it for 2,500.” Carrying an obviously heavy sack out of a pile of waste was Hassan Hussein who said he specialises in finding steel, iron and metal which he sells to companies that melt them and use them in manufacturing.
“This one like this, I can sell it for 500,” said Mr Hussein, 19, pointing to the bulging sack.
However, not all scavengers come to the dump site in search of items they wish to sell. Some come in search of items they cannot afford to buy. One of such, Adejoke Ismail displayed her findings for the day; a broken cup, two leaking pots, a torn bed sheet, and children’s toys, a smile spreading across her face as she held them.
“My son will like this one,” she said, examining a small keyboard that had some keys missing. “I will give the baby chair to Iya Gbenga. This one is too small for my son.”
An unhealthy existence
The activities of these scavengers, though quite risky and unhygienic is not restricted by any party. Some of them were seen wandering far into the piles of waste which are not only filled with harmful materials, but are at different ground levels, often resulting in steep climbing. An official from LAWMA who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it was almost impossible to send them away, adding that they were not disturbing their work and so did not require any restrictions.
“We cannot tell them to stop coming. They just want to take some things that they find useful from the waste and then they will go. They are not disturbing our work here,” he said.
Earlier this year in an interview, Ola Oresanya, LAWMA’s managing director, maintained that the state government has a duty of providing the scavengers with better jobs.
“We have almost a scavenger colony at our major dumpsites in the city, and most of the people who were scavenging there are now being encouraged to go into formal way of managing resources picked in dumps,” said Mr Oresanya. “The ones we have been able to rehabilitate, we call them the resource captains. Some of them are now working on our recycling plants. We have the resource captains working in our compost plants in Ikorodu and we have some of them working in our plastic recycling plant at Olusosun,” he added.
Dayo Moses, a health worker at the Ikeja Local Government Clinic explains that constant exposure to such a dirty environment like a dump site affects one’s immunity to diseases.
“The sad thing is that both adults and children work there,” he said. “That kind of exposure will adversely affect their immune system and make them susceptible to diseases.”
Most of the scavengers who spoke to NEXT were indifferent about the health risks, adding that they were not disturbed by the unpleasant smell.
“Smell, which smell? I’m already used to it. This is where I work so I don’t smell anything,” Mr Daramola said.
This article was first published in NEXT Newspaper…


tps360 said...

Interesting article. I watched a documentary titled "Welcome to Lagos" on youtube a few months back and I must confess to you that I nearly broke down in tears.Poignant stories of people who make a earning scavenging.At first I found that way of life quite eccentric but i came to the realization that in nigeria "eccentric" has come conventional.

Myne Whitman said...

I really admire people who can be committed to bettering their life through hardship without resorting to crime or other illegality.

Okoawo BlueGate said...

Adversity is the mother of invention. This is touching

Okoawo BlueGate said...

Adversity is the mother of invention. This is touching

enybees-hub said...

Kai what a life,I also saw "welcome to Lagos". They actually prefer scavenging for a living and from your article,they are used to it. Hmm this isn't pleasant!

Well written and btw, ‎​​We should have loads of recycling plants,by that ‎​​We would have less refuse around

stelzz said...

wow. you write really well.

I'm glad these people have found a way of making a life for themselves instead of resorting to crime. It's a pity though that they have to be exposed to this kind of environment which may cause damage to their health.

The government needs to encourage recycling and educate people on how to seperate the recyclable items. In building more recycling plants, they will help to create better jobs for these people who are willing to work. I dont think it's rocket science as they can learn from other countries and see how its done

deolascope said...

@stelzz and Myne Whitman Thanks so much for the compliment. You're so right, even though they work in such an environment, its still better than resorting to crime

@enybees-hub Its really unpleasant. And i hope your dream for more recycling plants comes true

@Okoawo BlueGate and tps360 'invention' and 'conventional' such interesting words, but i don't think it goes well with the unpleasant task of scavenging...

That 20 Something Virgin. said...

I read your article,well written.
As someone who lives in a completely different part of the world (a nice city in the United States) I can't even imagine having to earn a living doing that.


WOW! The picture depicts an unhealthy plight; a demising state of our nation. I know people do this in the developed world but not in an unhealthy manner such as this...
Just as Stelzz suggested, what can't we build recycling plants? I mean, is our government blind to dumps such as this? A government that cares for the welfare of its population would sure do something about it. #Saddening!


'Lara said...

The sight is really irritating. then again I admire the courage of this people and their will to survive.

Rhapsody B. said...

It all can be summed up in one quote though it is not as simple. "One man's garbage is another man's treasure."

Anonymous said... angry at the people who are at the head of resilient of nigerians to suffer against all odds...GOD is the poor man's prayer..sighs....:(

Anonymous said...

tps360 Welcome to Lagos weakened me. I just wish I could help EVERYONE in this situation but ce n'est pas possible :( Every little helps though like those people say. It is well...

Destiny said...

There was a documentary in Africa about this, very sad to know that people live off trash, may God see them through.

Toinlicious said...

@tps360, i saw the "welcome to Lagos" documentary too and it was heartbreaking because its a vicious cycle and somehow these pple are happy even in the face of unending hardship.

p.s, i lurv the way you write