Caroline is a teacher trainer for CfBT Education Trust, working with English teachers in Alexandria, Egypt.
For some strange unknown reason I have always been interested in the people who search the garbage for recyclable products to earn a living. I was doing some volunteer teacher training work at one of the refugee camps and staying in Mae Sot in 2011 when I saw this happening there. I just happened to mention my interest to someone and they put me in touch with Fred – he was the man to see regarding garbage in Mae Sot.
Fred was more than happy to talk about his work and take me to the dump just outside Mae Sot so I could see for myself what was happening. This was a whole different set up compared to what I’d seen on the streets. It amazed me that there was anything left to find once the garbage reached the dump. It was great to see the young kids happily playing with whatever they could lay their hands on to entertain themselves and yet, at the same time, harrowing to see the conditions in which the families had to live.
I was very fortunate to spend more time talking with Fred about the situation and see first-hand the wonderful work he is doing to improve the quality of life for the community there. It was obvious that the people, especially the children, trusted and liked Fred a lot and as a result warmly accepted my presence. Seeing what a real difference he is making meant that I was more than happy to contribute a fraction of my time while I was there helping with administrative tasks for Eyes to Burma (not Fred’s strong point). I also didn’t hesitate in making a few small financial contributions myself and encouraging others to do the same.
In September 2013 I returned for a further three month visit and saw what progress had been made. The situation is constantly changing and Fred is well placed on the ground to respond to the new challenges that arise. I’m back working in Egypt now (sadly my poor Arabic language skills mean that I can’t talk to the people I see on a daily basis here collecting garbage, but I have been known to run after them holding out my empty water bottle and shouting ‘plastic!’) and am very much looking forward to returning to Mae Sot for a few days in February 2015. Going to visit a garbage dump may not feature in most people’s holidays plans, but for me catching up with Fred and seeing how things are developing will be a great way to end my trip to SE Asia and hopefully there’ll be less tourists than at Angkor Wat (although the dump does get its fair share and not always for the right reasons).