On E-Waste: A very lazy Post…

Hello,

For today’s post I’ve been very lazy. An increasing phenomenon here in India is the recycling of e-waste. India is one of the largest importers of e-waste, i.e. waste from electric appliances, which is recycled here. Most of this recycling is accomplished in the informal sector. The video below (if it doesn’t work on your browser then just click on the link) is a documentation, which was released by Chintan, SVTC (Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition) and IMAK. It describes the problematic very well.

Have a nice day,

Sven

Citizens at Risk – A film by SVTC, Chintan, and IMAK from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition on Vimeo.

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A first Time in the Field… Stepping into a Different World

On Thursday, as part of my orientation, I was for the first time taken into the field. Here I was meant to get introduced to two of the programmes run by Chintan (see previous post), namely ‘A Voice For Waste’ and ‘No Child in Trash’. In order to get to the right place, we set off with a bus. Now, taking a bus here in Delhi is quite an experience.  Even though the bus did stop at the stop where it was meant to let us in, the driver did not bother changing lanes. So, in order to get into the bus we had to cross one busy lane of an even busier four-lane road. The bus just stood waiting in the middle of the road to let the passengers in. After we managed to get into the bus, I sat down and the bus drove off only to make a somewhat indelicate emergency (I guess) stop. This almost threw one of my co-workers from one end of the bus to the other. Fortunately she managed to find hold on one of the seats and a few hands grabbed her so she did not summersault through the bus. About a quarter of an hour into our journey, the bus stopped, seemingly for no reason and the bus driver decided to go for a leisurely walk. It took me a minute to realise that we were on a “pee-break”… in other words 30 passengers watched and waited as the bus driver satisfied one of his basic needs.

Apart from that the journey went well. We were heading to a site in the West of Delhi. On our way we drove past the (heavily gated) Commonwealth Village were all the athletes of last year’s Commonwealth Games had been accommodated for. The village is located next to a beautiful old temple (and yes I’ve forgotten its name :-s ). What was really striking was that between the Commonwealth Village and the temple people were living in shanties. The government’s solution to this ‘unpleasant sight’ seems to be to just build a wall around this area. Apparently this is now a very common strategy… there is just no space to resettle people anymore here in Delhi.

Eventually we reached our destination (well we first had to cross the road i.e. four lanes of heavy traffic). I was taken into a quarter where there are a lot of scrap dealers. I was told that here was one of two schools that Chintan had opened for waste picker children and that we’d visit on that day. We wandered through a narrow passage between two brick built houses. It took us to some sort of a back yard, which had been transformed into a stable where two beasts were living (i.e. feeding, sleeping… and digesting). They stood in the yard under a tarpaulin that now functions as their shelter. In fact, their old stable has been transformed into two classrooms accommodating a class each. I hope the pictures will give you a rough idea about what the place looks like.

child rag picker arriving at the school

classroom

children in their classroom

the 'schoolyard'

I was introduced to the children and the teachers. School runs twice a day in addition to the public school. The idea is to give waste picker children some extra help. School times are fitted so that children can still work (even though this is not supported by Chintan) and earn some money. All the children have to do to be allowed to attend school, is to wash themselves after work. This in itself has turned out to be a vital routine as, according to Chintan, especially younger children are now much cleaner as they used to be. Chintan’s additional school gives those children a better start in life as it teaches them the basic skill of reading/writing, maths and English. This means that they are empowered and, in this way, they become obviously far less likely to be exploited later in their lives.

All the children were really happy to be at school. They seem to appreciate the opportunity a lot and school brings a routine into their lives. It also gives a time during the day when they can ‘just be children’. Many of them have made a lot of progress since they’ve started and are becoming increasingly eager for more education.

It was now time to move on to the second school in the area that is also funded by Chintan. I was told that this school was ‘inside’. Only after some time did I realise that ‘inside’ actually means “in the middle of the waste pickers’ community”, as would the political correct version. But to be frank, the way to really name it is ‘in the middle of a slum’. I have no other words to describe this. The actual school is also a shanty but functions exactly like the other school (in fact – believe it or not – it is more spacious).

Here are again some pictures, which illustrate all I have witnessed much better than I can describe.

housing

waste picker community

waste picker community - smoky landfill in the background

inside the school

Overall, the area is once more an area of a lot of contrast. On the one side there is the rag pickers’ community. Behind that is a huge landfill i.e. a mountain (in the true meaning of the word) of waste. As you can see in the pictures, all sorts of birds circle over it, probably looking for some food. This mountain, like an active volcano, releases fumes, which are probably toxic. It is here where the waste pickers are day-by-day looking to find recyclable wastes that they can sell on. Apparently, last year, they uncovered a dead body. What more can I say?

On the other side of the shanties is a governmentally planned colony. Houses are in a tiptop condition and one even gets the impression that some of the people who live here are relatively wealthy. So, by walking a few hundred yards, you step from one world into another. My journey took me past the badly built brick houses of the scrap dealers, many of whom were dealing with e-waste (the area’s main ‘produce’), through the slum where the waste pickers live into a wealthier area with a nice public school.

It’s been an experience that I could not quite believe, even though I have seen everything I’ve described to you with my own eyes. When I walked trough the slum, I felt like being in a bad dream… Fortunately, for me I could ‘wake up’ and go back home, have a warm meal and a hot shower. For those people who live there, this is quite different however. It is their reality. It’s in a place like this where many of them were born and most of them will die.

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Getting Introduced to Chintan

Hello everybody,

First of all, I need to thank you for all the feedback I’ve had so far. It’s really nice to know that people are interested in what I’m writing. It really does encourage me to keep this blog going. After a day’s work or running through the city, knackered by all the new impressions, it can be a very tiresome task to actually sit down and do more ‘work’ on the blog – even though I thoroughly enjoy it. However, most evenings I just want to casually walk down the road to get dinner and then go to bed and fall asleep. Not having an internet connection where I live does of course not help as I need to do all the posting and the uploading of the pictures at the office. So please apologise if I’m not always entirely up to date with my posts.

Anyway, in this post I want to introduce Chintan as an organization in a bit more depth and tell you about my ‘orientation programme’, which Chintan has set up in order for me to get to know the organisation. Chintan is basically a partnership set up by different actors promoting environmental justice. Their main focus is on equitable and sustainable production, consumption, and waste disposal in the urban sector. They want to reduce people’s ecological footprints and increase environmental justice through systemic change. This, they believe can be achieved by building partnerships (for example with large corporations that produce a lot of waste, or the municipalities) and through the implementation of sustainable and capacity building programmes at the grassroots’ level (for example opening schools for rag picker children and helping rag pickers to become thoroughly self-employed and independent and thus less vulnerable for exploitation). A big part of their work also is advocacy and research.

In other words, Chintan works to mobilise a wider public support for environmental sustainability and ‘green’ jobs for the urban poor through research, campaigns, and capacity building models on the ground. Their vision is ‘inclusive, sustainable and equitable growth for all’.

At the moment Chintan is running 5 different programmes (concrete plans for additional programmes exist) to which I’m gradually being introduced at the moment in my orientation period.

  1. A Voice for Waste
  2. Scavengers to Managers
  3. No Child in Trash
  4. Knowledge Power
  5. Low Carbon Futures

The ‘Voice for Waste’ initiative builds the capacities of waste recyclers to understand the value of their work to the environment, and advocates for improved work conditions for adults on a local and national level.  Chintan helps waste pickers and recyclers through training, organisation, the creation and mediation of knowledge, and the development of grassroots leadership. This work has resulted in a registered organisation of recyclers called Safai Sena (Army of Cleaners), set up by Chintan but largely run by leaders at the grassroots. According to Chintan, this programme has made a direct or indirect impact on approximately 17,000 people.

Scavengers to Managers’ helps rag pickers to become officially recognised (hence they become ‘more formal’) and show them and the public that they can in fact be highly organised, reliable and skilled entrepreneurs. I will post more on this programme shortly.

The ‘No Child in Trash’ is a programme offering education for children in the waste picking communities. Again, I will publish a separate post on this shortly.

Knowledge Power’ can be described as the research ‘department’ of Chintan.

Low Carbon Futures’ is an initiative that enables malls, hotels and offices to reduce their consumption and wastage through the creation of awareness and the inclusion of rag pickers in those institutions waste disposal programmes.

Apart form being introduced to these programmes I’m also gradually being initiated to the functioning of the NGO… but there is still a lot which I need to learn.

Ok, again this post has become rather long… but there is just so much to tell. For more information on Chintan have a look at www.chintan-india.org

Best wishes,

Sven

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New Delhi (Tourist Pics)

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My Room

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