“It’s a matter of chance where one is born.”

An experience with informal workers earning livelihoods at dumpsites

by Vivek Singh, Programme Lead Livelihoods

In October 2022, I visited Dandora dumpsite, one of the largest landfills of Nairobi, Kenya. I think most of us have either seen a dumpsite or passed by one. But I don’t know how many of us have actually walked on a dumpsite. The Dandora dumpsite is a huge landfill, over 30 acres, where over 10,000 women and men work as waste workers.

Soul-stirring experience

I spent couple of hours walking on that dumpsite. It was not any visit for me. I had a purpose to experience, first hand, the daily lives of people working on a dumpsite for a livelihood.

The experience was a soul-stirring one for me. I say so, because it got under my skin. It wasn’t just the toxic fumes, that I inhaled without a choice, that stayed with me for days and weeks. It was seeing how people were constrained by circumstances to spends their lives, collecting and sorting waste, and in some cases, making the dumpsite, their home. 

It reminded me again that it’s a matter of chance where one is born and the journey that one traverses, at times with limited opportunities. I could have been one of them working on that site to earn my living, and one of the workers might have been living my life.

Making a difference

The whole experience was part of an exploration phase, part of my work at the IKEA Foundation. I got to experience a real life problem that gave me practical insights on how certain constraints can be turned into opportunities and that everyone has a right to a dignified life, everywhere.

This visit grounded us to take a deeper look at the problem of waste and more importantly the lives of people involved in collecting and sorting waste for a livelihood. We have fed this experience into the work that we do at the IKEA Foundation. We recognise that it is a complex and multi-faceted problem as well as an opportunity to find solutions to make a difference in the lives of the many people and the health of our planet.

I am hopeful that in the time to come, we’ll see changes in the lives and living conditions of waste workers, based on the efforts being made by our partner organisations.

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