Garbage CommunitiesGarbage: the word brings to mind unpleasant smells, flies and filth. But to some, it is home. Garbage communities consist of individuals making a living from and living within the confines of literal garbage dumps. For some people living in extreme poverty, the scrap cash that recycling garbage brings and the free space for building simple homes is the only option. And it isn’t an isolated, rare way of life. Nearly 15 million people across the globe live and “work” in garbage communities.

Making a Living

Members of garbage communities spend each day rummaging through the trash, hoping to find something decent enough to recycle. Once they find something — say a can or bottle — they collect these pieces and bring them to a middleman called an “agent”. The agent, (oftentimes a gang leader or crime lord) then sells the goods for much more, sucking up a large portion of the collector’s wage. This method brings in somewhere around $2.50 a day, not nearly enough for a decent living in most countries. Getting rid of the middleman is not an option, as violence and coercion are commonly used methods of silencing the garbage workers if they attempt to sell the items directly to the recycler.

Breeding Grounds of Disease

Living in waste — whether human, animal or artificial — brings with it a host of health problems. Contact with feces can cause intestinal worms, which can lead to stunted cognitive and physical growth in children. Pneumonia, spread by poor hygiene, is rampant in these communities, as are many other infectious diseases. This is likely because each gram of feces in which people in these conditions come into contact holds 10 million viruses. As a result, the average lifespan of people raised in these communities is about 35 years old.

But along with the physical burden is a huge mental and emotional weight. Garbage pickers are often stigmatized in their communities and referred to as “local rats”. Even if they are able to attend school or enter society looking for a job, they are seen as less than because of their occupation. Infections, illness, injuries from sharp objects, trauma and mental illness, spontaneous combustion from a buildup of methane gas, the list of dangers is endless. And yet, for the world’s most vulnerable, this is what it costs to live.

Promise for a Better Future

Several organizations are committed to bringing change to garbage communities and offering them a shot at a better life. ActionAid is an organization that specifically works with women and children in impoverished regions to help them stand up to sexual abuse and violence. ActionAid also helps children living in landfills get into school by pairing them with sponsors throughout the world. International Samaritan does similar work, providing promising young people in the dumps with scholarships so that they can escape the dump. This organization also funds entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses outside of the landfills.

By reaching the next generation, these programs bring promising hope for the future. Yet, many people still live under the burden of collecting and sorting the world’s waste. Although insufficient, an improvement would be providing a living wage, clean environment and benefits for garbage communities. Even by following correct rather than cheap landfill protocol, governments could greatly improve the quality of life for these communities by reducing the number of toxic waste individuals come into contact with.

Hannah Stewart
Photo: Flickr

Menstruation in low-income countries isn’t an issue often talked about, but one group is doing what it can to help teach girls about their changing bodies.

Grow and Know is an organization working toward educating girls who don’t have access to learning materials about menstruation. The company launched after successfully distributing a book on girl’s puberty in Tanzania.

The book, which was approved for use in primary schools by the Tanzania Ministry of Education, garnered positive responses from girls, mothers, fathers and teachers. There have been over 470,000 copies distributed throughout the country to date.

According to Grow and Know’s website, the organization “aims to develop books that are grounded into the local social, cultural, and economic context, and that capture the real perspectives of young people growing up today.”

It’s important to talk about menstruation in low-income countries, as many girls living in Africa, Asia and Latin America don’t have access to sufficient information, guidance and support about their changing bodies.

As a result, many don’t ask for assistance when first experiencing menstrual periods, as they feel too afraid, embarrassed or ashamed.

Without proper hygiene management, such as adequate information, safe and private places to change a menstrual cloth or pad, and water at school, girls may end up missing class, or stop going to school completely.

Educating girls, however, is shown to improve the overall health of not only their peers, but their communities as well.

When girls are more educated, they can live a healthier lifestyle, participate more in the labor market, make more money, have fewer children, and give their children access to better health care and education. Doing so improves the wellbeing of individuals in households and can spread throughout generations and communities.

After seeing success in Tanzania, Grow and Know worked to adapt the girl’s puberty book to Ghana, Ethiopia and Cambodia. All three countries’ Ministries of Education approved the book, and almost 300,000 copies have been distributed to date.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Grow and Know, Medical Xpress, The World Bank
Photo: Grow and Know

How the SHEVA Company is Helping Girls Stay in School
In developing countries, girls often miss school or drop out entirely when they begin menstruating. Many are reluctant to tackle this issue because of the taboo that still surrounds menstruation, but it is a widespread problem that affects the education of millions of girls worldwide. In India, girls’ schools often lack functioning toilets, and in Burkina Faso and Niger, there are usually no places at schools for girls to change sanitary pads or dispose of waste. In Ghana, inadequate sanitation facilities, lack of access to sanitary products and physical discomforts related to menstruation, such as cramps, cause girls to miss an average of five days of school over the course of any given month.

Girls who drop out of school continue to struggle throughout their lives. They are more likely to marry and engage in sexual activity earlier. Because they are also less likely to use contraception, they typically have more children than girls who complete their schooling. This can trap them in the cycle of poverty. When girls miss school because of menstruation, they are held back from many opportunities by a completely natural physical process that should never have to interfere with their education.

That’s why SHEVA, a company launched in October 2014 by Marisabel Ruiz, is currently working in Guatemala to provide girls with sanitary hygiene products. Ruiz, who was born in Guatemala, decided to start these efforts in her native country because she already had connections there that could help SHEVA to reach more girls. Women can go to SHEVA’s website to purchase a variety of products, such as pads from familiar brands like Kotex and Playtex, or other items related to sexual health like condoms and pregnancy tests. With every purchase, SHEVA donates a month’s supply of sanitary pads to a girl in need.

SHEVA has also partnered with the organization Abriendo Oportunidades to provide health education to girls. They have created a two-year program that primarily focuses on what menstruation is, personal hygiene and women’s rights.

So far, SHEVA has provided sanitary pads to 300 girls, and 25 girls have enrolled in the educational program. A total of 5 million people have accessed free educational information on their website. Their next goal is to teach girls to make sanitary pads on their own, using biodegradable, locally available materials such as banana fibers.

Currently, only people in the U.S. can order from SHEVA’s website, but they plan to expand both their shipping and on-the-ground services to other countries in order to help as many girls as possible. SHEVA’s support for girls has helped them continue pursuing their education and has taught many that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Girl Effect, Mashable, Menstrual Hygiene Day, SHEVA

Health and Hygiene
A detrimental aspect of living in poverty is the issue of health and hygiene. Without access to clean water and food, people living in poverty run the risk of attaining serious diseases.

“Forty percent of the world’s population—2.5 billion people—practice open defecation or lack adequate sanitation facilities, and the consequences can be devastating for human health as well as the environment,” says The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website. Organizations such as The Gates Foundation are trying their best to resolve this ongoing issue.

As a result of these inadequate living conditions, children suffer from chronic diarrhea causing them to lose vital nutrients. The Gates Foundation is approaching the problem with a focus on traditional plumbing systems implemented in rural areas. It has invested in developing a new-age toilet that requires no water or electricity, offering a way for developing nations to improve hygiene and expand the lifespan of people living in these areas.

Along with creating new ways to improve sanitation, Bill and Melinda Gates have partnered with USAID to develop the WASH for Life initiative. Inventors are invited to apply for the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) and share their technological ideas on how to improve sanitary conditions in developing countries. “USAID launched Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) in October 2010 to find, test, and scale ideas that could radically improve global prosperity,” said USAID.

While USAID and The Gates Foundation are making a difference in health, progress has been made in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “2.3 billion people gained access to improved drinking-water between 1990–2012.” In the same time span, the number of children dying has also been drastically reduced in half.

Two of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, focus on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. These goals go hand in hand since healthier mothers will create healthier children. “The number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013,” according to the U.N.

Although there is still much to be done to improve health and hygiene worldwide, education is an important aspect of sustaining health in these developing countries.

Kimberly Quitzon

Sources: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, U.N. News Center, USAID, WHO
Photo: Flickr