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Photographer's Note

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I took this at the infamous “Stung Meanchey garbage mountain" during my 18-hour brief stay at Phnom Penh last year. I regret that I cannot afford a longer stay due to my running-out of budget and energy that cut short my trip.

May the following article give you a better story…




“Trucks have run over some children”

**part two

(Continued from yesterday)

Seng Sagn, 53, the commune chief at Stung Meanchey, said: "I'm worried about the health of the kids and accidents can happen to them any time when they are picking up trash. Trucks have run over some children and bulldozers have buried some kids under the trash."

People here — and in other countries — say solutions are hard to find. Locking people out of the dump means denying them work and wages; allowing them to work could mean endangering their lives.

"Governments have tried to suppress these activities, but it doesn't work," said Martin Medina, a professor who is writing a book on garbage scavengers. "If you put up a fence, they cut a hole in it; or they pay bribes. You can't stop them. You have to find a way to support them."

Many children at Stung Meanchey start as early as 3 a.m., when some of the first garbage trucks arrive. They often leave well after 7 in the evening, when it becomes too dark to forage.

Even on the hottest days of the year, when temperatures climb above 100 degrees and the air becomes nearly unbreathable, children as young as 5 can be seen sifting through the smoldering trash heaps and racing after the garbage trucks that arrive with fresh loads of refuse.

There are children who jump into the jaws of garbage trucks to fish things out before they even reach the dump site. The drivers do not seem to mind.

When a vehicle — any vehicle — crosses into the dump site, the children fling their bags of tin cans in front of the wheels, hoping to crush their cans to increase the bag space.

Many of the children here were born into impoverished families that moved to the area from the countryside after the end of Pol Pot's murderous rule.

Instead of finding urban fortunes, many of them settled in a slum that was erected along the rim of Stung Meanchey, a dump infested with flies that gravitate to the leeching refuse, the dregs of a nation.

About 10,000 people live in the slum that borders Stung Meanchey.

(by David Barboza)

(To be cont'd)

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