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Hope at the bottom of the rubbish heap

The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund


December 10 2008

Hope at the bottom of the rubbish heap

By Keith Ramsay

Kiwi photographer Susanna Burton tells about heartbreak and hope among a group of rubbish collectors in Bali and how a group of New Zealand business women are giving them the chance of a better future.

I am jolted from sleep at an hour that seems far too early for any sane westerner. Staring double-visioned at the clock, I make out it is 4am, time to get up. I drag myself from bed and fumble about in a half-dazed state to get myself ready. Barely 30 minutes later, I arrive at a small shack with a group of six Kiwi women who have accepted the challenge of raising $10,000 for a TEAR Fund Trust Bank. The Trust Bank is aimed at giving the rubbish collectors business loans and training to create better income-earning opportunities.

A group of about 10 women and a few men from the Denpasar area of Bali are preparing their carts to scour the streets for recyclable rubbish; some bring their children with them. The women from a women’s business group called Women4Women have agreed to go with them to experience daily life from their perspective. But before we head out they give us a gift that we know they simply can’t afford. It is very humbling to receive their generosity. We now sport caps with Trust Bank sponsorship on them. They also give us photos of themselves complete with ornate gold frames. .


We roll through the streets as the dawn begins to bleed daylight. The reason for the early start is to get the advantage over other rubbish collectors. It is a chance to get the choicest items, such as bottles, but first we must dig through mountains of disgusting, often smelly, non-recyclable rubbish that litter the streets. It is hard to find these often rare `precious gems’ as the same places are picked over daily and the useless rubbish is left there to rot.

I am struck by the lack of aspiration among the rubbish collectors. It is almost as if they have accepted that this is their place in the scheme of things. It is a life of mere subsistence, feeding their families on meagre earnings, equivalent to about NZ$4 a day. This allows them to live in a one-room house with mud floors and to eat basic meals. A member of our group, Rachel, a fine food rep from East Auckland, is identifying particularly well with Sukasih who is similar in age but leads such an incredibly different life. It is one of those, ‘Why me God? Why am I so lucky?’ moments for Rachel as she pushes her cart.

Rubbish collectors who are better off have bigger carts and the really well off can buy rubbish from collectors acting as a middleman, who add a small margin before selling it to dealers. The Trust Bank loans along with business training will help break this cycle they are caught in, and find opportunities to improve life for their families, and ultimately their community.

The group of rubbish collectors are supported through a TEAR Fund partner in Bali, Dinari. In addition to loaning the money from the Trust Bank, Dinari offers the group advice in marketing, costing, book keeping and business ethics. The co-operative environment is a very supportive one where the women learn from one another, support each other in hard times and are able to provide a united collective front when it comes to negotiating prices with buyers.

The loans for the rubbish Trust Bank group will enable them to improve their rubbish collecting carts, repair them, and they can use the loan to buy rubbish and on-sell it. They women feel empowered as a group, and hope that with better incomes they can give their children a good education.

One fundraising initiative stems from my work as a photographer. For the past few years I have been photographing a day in the life of a family enjoying their holiday while boating, playing and relaxing. This idea has progressed from photographing weddings in which I shoot as a day in the life of the bride and groom. I love to photograph the personalities and relationships within a family, especially just before the young adults leave home. One I did recently was with four generations and while my camera was pointed on the first grandchild, she took her first steps and everyone’s expressions were a photographer’s dream! The collection of images becomes a wall collage or a storybook album. These start at $2900 and I am donating $500 from each to TEAR Fund for the Trust Bank.

Another fundraising idea is helping a separate group of women who have set up a craft business. We resurrected ‘barefoot jandals’ which were popular in the 1960s. We took raffia from New Zealand and left a sample for them to produce.

Barefoot jandals are basically foot decorations with raffia flowers sown onto a platted strap and tied around the ankle. Teenagers in the 1960s will probably remember wearing them on the beach. To the Balinese this seemingly impractical style of footwear must seem strange but the first batch of 100 sold fast. More are on the way and although they only put NZ $5 on their labour and costs, we are selling them for NZ $15 a pair with all the money going to a Bali Trust Bank.


© Scoop Media

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