The "Hidden dimensions of poverty" report helps us to position ourselves
Letter to Friends around the World # 104

I have been working since the last 20 years with waste pickers on the landfill site, in New Delhi. It is the capital of India, and we are actually sitting on a mountain of garbage. So there are thousands of waste pickers involved, in the landfill site and the city, cleaning up, picking up, without any medical protection in the sense like gloves and masks, or any equipment. They are doing everything with their bare hands. And even at the landfill sites, the familiar sight is women, men, small children, all digging for plastic waste or textile waste or whatever waste they can find and that they can sell and make some kind of revenue. They have never been to school and have lots of health problems, there are stray animals out there, the dogs are wild, there are snakes out there,… So we are living in the city, in the capital, but it is really a nightmare to be living out there day after day. And hearing their voices and reading it in the report "The hidden dimensions of poverty", and I realized what a struggle it is every day to think “next day, where are they going to find the food?” I am not talking about education or health care because we are far away from that. It’s just that: the survival, the battle, and, you know, they take to alcoholism, they take to drugs, there is lots of child abuse. It’s largely because, as people, they are like numb, with pain.

So what we tried to do was finding solutions as a social entrepreneur. We developed certain techniques of cleaning the plastic bags and making them into a nice fabric. And then we trained several groups of these waste pickers into artisan groups. And we taught them how to stitch and make nice products, which we were able to then export to Europe and America. Luckily, we had a ready-market because of the factory buyers and lots of support from community that we get. And we were able to create a livelihood program for more 1200 waste pickers. People often ask me in this last twenty years: “When have you felt the moment of nearly being alive, being happy, satisfied with the work?” Whatever we do, we will never be able to do enough. But, you know, every human being needs that one kind of satisfaction when you sleep at night. And that is: “most of these women have never sat on chairs”. Socially and morally and economically, the concept of chair has been denied from them since birth. Even if you call them in our offices, they would sit on the floor, they will never sit on the chair. This is how dis-empowered they are. But once they start working and start coming to the units regularly, then obviously they have to sit on chairs. And over time they get into such a habit of sitting on a chair, that today, it is quite normal for them to walk into any government office or so and sit on the chair. Because they have got now used to it, that it’s ok to sit on a chair. But it has taken us many many years for that. But you know it’s the kind of thing I get a lot of satisfaction, because for me I know that it’s not the chair. For ordinary people, it’s just a chair.

But you know, it’s a whole journey, of them and us. Where we are hand in hand, traveling together, and we reached the position where we all can sit on a chair. Maybe, as they say, we all are from different boats and different storms, but at least we are sitting like human beings and talking, equally.

I would like to talk about this report of ""The hidden dimensions of poverty". The voices that we heard on the video are very similar to the voices of the poor all around the world. And we need to make the voices of this report louder. Most of the reports, even if they are very well written, they just lie on the computers or on the bureaucrats tables but I feel that if we all can join hands, and if we can campaign harder, if we can make more noise, we can ensure that the poor are now included in our city maps and plans. Because reports like this help us to not only attract the first noises and people, but it helps us to position ourselves. So I would really request the organizations to campaign harder with this report. It’s a valuable report. Let’s not make it just another report that is lying around. Let’s make it our book of wisdom...It is really a remarkable document and we need to carry it forward.

Anita, A. Founder of Conserve India, India