Steng Mean Chey dump site in Phnom Pehn is probably like any other large city dump; smelly, busy and built on huge piles of garbage. The stench in the Cambodian heat is hard to imagine. Flys are everywhere, not to mention the mosquitoes and the muddy entrance makes bogged garbage trucks common place.
What makes Steng Mean Chey different? Each day around one hundred families etch out a living on these scrap heaps. Bits of wire, plastic bottles, glass and other random bits of garbage are trophies for the discerning worker foraging at the dump. Young children work alongside of their parents often climbing into the backs of trucks to scavenge for precious items before the trucks unload.
Sokom is 22 years old. She and her two brothers and two sisters have been working at the dump site since 2002.
They are part of a small community of 28 families who live alongside the dump, collecting scrap and earning around $2.50US a day. Sokom and her siblings came to live at the site after their father sold the family property to pay for medical expenses for their sick mother – their mother died in 2001. Sokom said ‘After my mother died and we moved to Steng Mean Chey, my family found it very hard to live’. Just two years after moving to the dump site Sokom’s father became ill and died also.
In 2007 Sokom married her husband Teou. Teou works with his wife at the dump where they now live with their one year old baby daughter. Each day they face the dangers of working amongst syringes, excavators and disease while challenged with the rising cost of electricity, rent, water and food. Moreover, the city authorities have recently announced the dump’s closure leaving Sokom, Teou, their baby daughter and hundreds of others without employment.
The 2h Project is currently working to help Sokom and her community with small business loans, business plans and a ‘fresh’ future.