Shocking truth about bullying of refuse workers

November 22nd, 2013

They live in shame and fear. They’re treated as social outcasts and have to bear verbal and sometimes physical abuse from residents. These refuse workers are even refused access onto buses.

I’m talking about refuse workers in Kathmandu, Nepal…more specifically, waste pickers. Picking through stinking garbage dumps, they recover recyclable materials from waste thrown out by offices and homes.

Only around 17% of urban households  have their trash collected by waste collectors. After collection, trash accumulates in piles on vacant land or is dumped in the nearest river. It is creating a serious health and environmental hazard for all Nepalese.

Despite their contribution to society and the planet by removing and recycling nearly 1,500 tons of waste every week, waste pickers in Nepal are seen as the lowest of the low, treated like rubbish because they work with rubbish.

Today, at the end of anti-bullying week, they are fighting to be recognised as recycling entrepreneurs fighting against climate change by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

12-year-old Chadari Pudah has been attacked by other children because she is a waste picker.

“When I get back home from waste picking, I clean myself – people make fun of you if you are dirty or smelly. Other kids shout ‘khaate’ (garbage child or worse). I say ‘please don’t call us khaate, we are like you’ but they don’t listen and when we ask them to stop they would hit us.”


Amrit Malakar has received abuse for the 20 years he has been working as a waste picker in Kathmandu.

“People in our surrounding area shout abuse at us when we go waste picking. They stop us and accuse us of stealing.”

waste picker man in Nepal

After a 10-hour day at the rubbish dump, 15-year old Sunil Kumar and his 13-year-old brother Syeed walk 20 kilometres to the scrap dealer to sell the items they collect. Then they have to walk 20 kilometres back home because they couldn’t get on a bus.

“The bus drivers won’t allow us on because they think we’re dirty. When it rains the walk home is horrible. We get soaked and cold and our shoes would be soaked through. People ignore us or are rude to us and they would say ‘get away from me’.”

waste picker boys in Nepal

It’s not all bad news though. Practical Action is supporting waste pickers in Kathmandu with training to improve literacy, improve their skills and prevent them being ripped off, financial help to enable them to send their children to school, helping them get health insurance and forming co-operatives to ensure they get good a good price for their goods.

We’ve launched media campaigns to raise awareness of the role of waste workers, change people’s attitudes and gain their respect and recognition for the work they do.

Public service announcements are being broadcast on TV channels and public transport systems, hoarding boards are being placed around Kathmandu and there are newspaper articles, flyers, posters and street dramas publicising the message.

Informal waste workers are also being issued with identity cards as recognised workers in solid waste management.

Waste picker Lalu Podar, who has been supported through Practical Action’s work, said:

“Now, I proudly say “I am a waste picker”. I am recognised in my role and the contribution I make in the solid waste management sector. People’s perception towards us in our community has slightly changed after the different behaviour change campaigns Practical Action conducted. Nowadays the public call us “Dai” and “Bhai” (brother). I will proudly continue working as a waste picker.” 

Please take action and help give people like Chadari, Amrit, Sunil and Syeeda a voice and a better quality of life through a new appeal Practical Action have launched called ‘Safer Cities’. It is being backed by the UK government who will match fund donations pound for pound, helping us to do more vital work to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people living in slum communities.  This means that if you can give us £20 the Government will also give us £20, making your donation go even further!

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