Saturday, June 09, 2012

Survey of Slum at Steang Meanchay garbage dump

One of our teams carried out a survey for the Happy Tree organization at one of the slums at Phnom Penh’s garbage dump at Steang Meanchay.  Happy Tree asked us to help them find out who live there, how many people are in each of the houses, how they are related, whether the children are going to school, what health issues they have, and other relevant information, so they can serve the people better. 

The people who live there make their living by picking recyclable trash from the dump.  They have to collect the trash, sort them, wash them, dry them, and then pack them in bags to take to the collection centers.

They live in filthy conditions surrounded by trash.  The children often have little or now clothing, and walk on the trash (containing metal, needles and other sharp objects) without shoes or even slippers.  They eat with their bare hands while standing in garbage, right next to drying rice covered with flies - meant for chicken or pigs.  They are often covered with sores.  One boy had a sore on his bare buttock which attracted numerous flies - many of us cringed and cried inside when we saw that. 

Our original plan was to use GPS (Global Positioning System) to map out the location of the 100+ houses in the slum, and then use an application (program) designed to collect data for such surveys on iPADs and iPhones to collect the data.  I soon realized that the GPS data was too error-prone to be the single source of location data. Hence I walked through the whole slum to draw a map manually, to supplement the GPS data.  Our students also found out that using the application to enter data directly was too slow, and decided to jot down the data by hand, to be entered later into the computer in the evening.  So we adapted - successfully. 

The slum is evolving, along with the city itself.  The city decided to stop dumping the trash at Steang Meanchay 3 years ago, and started a new one further south of Phnom Penh at Cheung Ek, near the killing fields.  Some owners of the land, on which the slum sits, had torn down some of the sheds to build new houses.  Some slum dwellers tried to move to the new dump, but were driven back by the government.  It could be a cat and mouse game if the consequences are not so dire. 

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