Page 1

thi s

is a

fi g h t f o r

cha n ge...

Welcome to our book!

We’re so happy

you’re about to get to know Pick a Pocket and our heart for people living in extreme poverty. As you read, you will meet a group of regular folks who banded together to do something to work for change in this world. Our story begins with Liz and her friend Solomon. In the center of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there is a little shack made of cardboard and tin. Coming across it, I knocked on the door and met Solomon. He invited me in where we sat for an hour mostly in silence after we’d exhausted the communication possibilities available to us. He didn’t speak any English and I wasn’t up on my Amharic, so I called a friend to come translate. Despite the language gap, I felt a deep connection with Solomon right away. Finally, my friend arrived and translated our conversation. Solomon told me he had sunk into


poverty after a war ripped through his country. He had been shot in the hip, and has been mostly

the basic necessities of life. He lives on less than

confined to his five-by-eight-foot shack ever since. He was not able to leave to get food or use a toilet without assistance. Listening to him, I

access to food, water, shelter, basic sanitation,

could feel how much he hated this dependence on others. His legs were nothing more than bone,

approximately 1.4 billion people. The global

which didn’t say much for the rest of his body. He told me about his estranged family and his daily

even more people. This number must change.

struggles. As I left, I gave Solomon a Bible and a Coke, but I felt very unsettled. Over the next

to radically change my life to help Solomon

year, I could not stop thinking about that night, realizing I should have done more to help him,

more people who felt the same

something that would empower him. Solomon needed more than just words and a book too


heavy for his fragile hands to hold. He needed bread, water, a home, and physical care.

to help create

Solomon’s story is a common one. He is a victim of extreme poverty: a person who cannot afford


1.00 USD a day, and does not have reliable or health care. One in every five people on our planet is a victim of extreme povertyrecession that began in late 2008 impoverished Months later, I overcame my fears and decided and other people like him. I began meeting conviction. is




reason I decided Pick a Pocket them.



in e v e r y pe o p l e o n

is a v ic t imo u r e xtre m e pov of

plan e t

a p p r o x im


ately 1 . 4 b i l l io peo l n

p e.


? Who a r e We

Pick a Pocket is a group of friends who

worthwhile causes and super-heroes kicking

decided to use our interest in the arts to help

butt. Run an Internet search and you’ll find

people escape from extreme poverty.


millions of results to explore. Pick the people,

photographers, musicians, and artists, we want to

pick the person, and pick the pocket that

further merge these mediums with the message

you want to fill. Focus on what you want to

of social justice and passion for the world’s poor.

give to the world versus what you take from

We hope to connect the world’s poorest people

it and become a super-hero yourself.

and new generations of activists who want to

have everything we need to get started.


help make the world a better place. Together, as friends and part of a larger movement, we want to see lives redeemed by newfound understandings of generosity and initiative. We don’t exist in a vacuum. However, we don’t want to get focused on what the rest of the world is doing. It’s dangerous to count all the NGOS and non-profits and UN study groups and come to the conclusion that we don’t need to take direct action. There’s still a gap between

ny ou, poverty! How ma What a devil art th ss dne irations after goo desires, how many asp loving ny noble thoughts, and truth, how ma ngs gini ima iful lows, beaut wishes toward our fel t hou wit l, under thy hee thou hast crushed remorse or pause! Walt Whitman

the people needing help and all the existing services. We agree with Mahatma Gandhi who urged people to be the change they wish to see in the world and argued that poverty is the worst form of violence. Please join the movement to end extreme poverty. As you read through this book, pay attention to which sections move you the most. We need partners and new pioneers. Extreme poverty is an overwhelming problem, but we see so many ways in which together we can change the world. There are many

This could be you.

The heart of Pick a Pocket is a movement we’re starting called 30 Days. Doing your 30 Days requires that you abstain from a First World luxury that the extreme poor cannot afford. This will look different for different people. One method that we recommend is to stop buying food for yourself for 30 days and rely on the charity of others to obtain your meals. In our experience, doing 30 Days this way moved our hearts from sympathy for the poor to empathy – we connected their struggles to our own.

One month of living out their most

daunting challenge definitely taught us a lot about recognizing our responsibility to



fortunate than ourselves.

Most people will realize how difficult 30 Days is

after the first week. That’s the point: a lifestyle of complete dependence on others is hard. We do not want you to just pull out a dollar and give. We want you to realize that fighting against poverty means fighting for people. So, besides changing a perspective, what does 30 Days accomplish? It funds rescue missions. We tracked the money we saved and set it aside to send to people in need. As you read this book, you will get to know the people and causes we are supporting. All the money collected from 30 Days goes to direct assistance for these people. Giving something up for 30 Days tends to attract attention. Please share with your family and friends (and strangers if you have the chance) about Pick a Pocket and the expanding movement against extreme poverty. Okay, stay with us here; remember Back to the Future II when Doc Emmett Brown and Marty McFly go to 2015? 2015 just


happens to be the deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals. Coincidence? We think not! Like Doc exhorting Marty to “Pull out your pants pockets” we want you to tell people about 30 Days by pulling out your pocket and stamping or writing the text “30 Days” on it. Having a pocket hanging out is eye-catching. Also, empty pockets are a universally understood representation of poverty. Hopefully, people will ask about it, and you will have the opportunity to explain. We hope that one day “pockets out” will no longer be just a way to look hip in 2015, but instead the well known symbol of the 30 Day challenge. Also, feel free to grab people or shout our message from the rooftops if you want! For the team that created this book, 30 Days was not enough. Like us, you probably have to make a daily decision between sitting back and enjoying your sphere of influence or stepping into the real world and branding it on the ass with a red-hot iron that says, “I MADE A DIFFERENCE. We wanted to see, touch, and talk with the people we’re fighting for. With cameras, guitars, and sketchbooks in hand, we found ourselves dreaming with prostitutes, playing with cursed children, and trudging through trash, all in the pursuit of solutions. We spent our time taking photographs, joining forces with local super-heroes, writing, and most importantly, hearing peoples’ stories.

Through this book, you will journey with us through the countries, towns, streets, and shacks in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Nepal. Our hope is that you hear the voices of the people we met – the voices of our friends. Liz, Uli, Rebecca, and Ruth all met up in






itineraries before buying plane tickets and splitting up as teams to step into the world. Liz made plans to meet up with a large group heading for Ethiopia.

We were all

eager to learn about Solomon’s condition and whatever else we would find there.

“ p u l l o u t you r p a n t s p o ck e t s !”



a f r ic a

k ar a t r i b e

Unless you’ve sat on the hump in the back seat of a Land Cruiser for ten

hours passing women with mangoes and cows in the road as thirsty children scream “Highland!” (a bottled water brand) and shake their legs at you, you might feel a bit lost. The panorama is immense; it ain’t called the Great Rift Valley for nuthin’. Driving through villages, slowing down to respectfully navigate a one-way road on which a religious parade is heading your way. Down the slope, a stream meanders through the trees, older siblings brusquely bathe naked children and others fill yellow jerry cans. Men in dusty suit jackets sit for their coffee in front of ramshackle stores. Dirt roads, mud roads, brilliant blue sky with improbably beautiful clouds reflect in pools. Trampled by hooves lurching forward, away from the stinging lashes of improvised bullwhips. We play U2 and look for Bono around the corner. We lock eyes with the poor people we pass on our way to other poor people, our own poverty


not recognizable in the exchange.


compassion washes over us. There are so many people worth stopping for; yet, we had a destination already set. Children on stilts wait in position ready to perform if we stop. Men trekking to unknowable destinations, using the unfinished roadbeds, weaving though the lines of rocks laid out as speed bumps for the unwitting drivers who find themselves on the road of the future unrealized. Time to think, to reflect, time to stop when we blow a tire or get stuck searching for the right gear before taking a run at a washed-out section of road. We arrived in Jinka and checked into the Goh hotel. Behind the gated wall, mango trees line the small courtyard. As we were getting checked in, we learned we could take the mangos. Win! Only two of our three vehicles could navigate the terrain ahead; so, in the morning, our first group departed. The others had to wait for their turn to be ferried down. For some of us it was first time on Kara land. The difference between our American, Canadian, Mexican, and German experience and this place was disorienting. The elders and curious men, women and children gathered as we unfolded ourselves from the crammed Land Cruisers.

Jan made the introductions and we

picked a spot to set up camp. But, the fun was just starting. We put up our tents and called it an early night as the sun set; the nocturnal spiders and scorpions were a part of the Welcome Committee we wanted to avoid. We had a goal to accomplish; but we needed to wait for a friend to arrive before we could start. While we waited for him, we settled into life in the village and began observing its rhythms.

e. .. e d u c a ti o n i n t h e v i l l a g

David is another member of our group. He

taught middle school English in California for five years before joining us. He believes education is one of the most important tools we can use to empower people to escape from poverty. In this next section, he shares his observations about education in the village. Jamo wrote my name on the ground with a branch he had whittled into a spear. It reminded me of my former principal’s admonition that what all us complaining teachers really needed was “just dirt and a stick.” We needed to use our imagination to overcome budget shortfalls and denied requests for classroom supplies. Imagination and a can-do attitude would triumph over all else because when it really mattered, committed teachers and curious students can achieve miraculous results! Uh, okay. This advice was given to me in Rialto, California, an economically depressed area where


most important t o o l s we can use

is one of the

to to

e m p o we r people es c ape from

p o v e r t y .”

poverty is definitely felt by the many thousands of schoolchildren within its borders. Educators working there have to climb mountains not obstructing more fortunate students living in other parts of Southern California and the United States as a whole. At the moment, I stood in a tribal village in southern Ethiopia, a place where fathers and mothers would give their right arms for the resources of even the poorest school district in the States. They have been stuck with just dirt and


sticks for far too long. Don’t get me wrong...that

that is rapidly changing. When, or if, a teacher

principal’s advice is useful when you’re trying to

accepts the post for a significant time, instruction

convince someone that what we have is going to

will be delivered in English or Amharic, but not his

have to be good enough; but we as a generation

tribal language, which has no written form.

must insist on a different paradigm. The system we have is not good enough. Children in developing nations deserve better. My dream is that the children of California and Korcho will have equal access to quality textbooks, safe facilities, and all the pencils and paper they could ever need.

Amazing teachers will work

in Beverly Hills and in Dimeka. Students will access the World Wide Web (not quite an accurate description at this point) and use technology to create products that demonstrate the skills they, like their counterparts all over the world, are capable of learning. Your birthplace will not determine your educational opportunity. Jamo is waiting for a school to be built. The old one that served his village is being torn down and replaced.

Save the Children Norway and

the Ethiopian government are partnering on this project. The blueprints are an improvement over the old two-room structure built with branches and corrugated tin. However, it is only one school when untold numbers are needed.

To advance past primary instruction, he will have to move to a new area several hours away, separating him from his immediate family. The chances of going to college are almost zero unless he is matched to a sponsor. If you stay longer than a day in the village, you will be asked to leave an email address in the hope that the parents can seek financial assistance. However, the nearest computer is probably at a hunting lodge dozens of miles away, set up for safari enthusiasts and ecotourists. Most students who do finish high school move on to new towns to chase their future. The village elders respect the educated among them, and work with the government for the help they can get...but they know the outside world is far out of their reach. For now, Jamo waits...he is waiting for you, for you to step into his world, to recognize the power you have, to lift your voice and demand change, to speak against corruption that blocks or diverts education funding, to rally the students at your school, to contact your alumni association, to

For now, he plays with his friends and greets the

volunteer to teach abroad, to donate to Pick a

tourists who come for snapshots of his people and

Pocket so we can continue visiting this school and

the breathtaking views of the Omo River and the

ensure it is serving the Kara.

Great Rift Valley. He looks out each day at a world

sa s still ahead. It wa in the village wa rk wo nt ca nifi of preparation Our most sig omacy. Months pl di d an ity itiv ns e se ar. matter of extrem for action was ne days. The time e es th to wn do had boiled


cur s e d t r i b


Underneath the tourist-friendly facade, the Kara maintain an insidious tradition responsible for the decimation of the tribe. They believe in an evil spirit known as mingi. The Kara use the word mingi to describe subjects they consider untouchable or imperfect.

The Kara

believe that the presence of mingi children on their land curses the tribe. Their solution to this perceived threat is to kill the child. Children are considered to be mingi when they are 1) born out of wedlock, 2) conceived before the couple has announced their intention to become pregnant, or 3) when baby teeth grow in from the top first. Mingi children are considered a threat to the entire tribe, so it is the elders’ responsibility to protect the tribe by eliminating the threat. They tie the child’s hands and feet and either leave it out in the bush to starve or be eaten, or throw it in the river to drown or be eaten by a crocodile. The mingi tradition is responsible for the rapid decline of the Kara tribe by the tens of thousands over the past few decades, and for the deaths of an estimated 77 children just last year. Mingimust stop because it is an abhorrent



The mingi tradition is responsible for the rapid decline of the karo tribe by the tens of

thousands over the past few decades, and for the

deaths of 77 children last year.

A Kara man named Mr. L was eager to find people wanting to help his tribe. South Omo Arise Ministries took the first step and began to partner with him while they were in Ethiopia. Their work with him led to Mr. L coming to Germany and meeting our group as well. Mr. L shared more about the mingi belief with Pick a Pocket when he spent time in Germany. He shared his plan to persuade the tribal elders to surrender these children to him while he labored in the diplomatic process of convincing his tribe that their belief is wrong. The need is urgent. Mr. L believes that approximately 75 children are in danger every year. Our friends in South Omo Arise Ministries had already decided they were going to move to Ethiopia to serve this tribe. The information they shared with us reinforced our desire to get involved. Our group leaders brought the mingi issue to us as a chance to serve as well. It was our hope and Mr. L’s that his plan would help the tribe see that these children are a blessing and not a curse. Our ultimate goal was to help him jumpstart the project and show the tribe that he had support for such a large undertaking.


took custody of the first child and then returned to Jinka to establish the orphanage. However, the team members had to be ferried down 11 people at a time due to only having two Land Cruisers to navigate the dirt roads. Mr. L was unable to meet with us when we expected due to travel delays. While most of the team was in Korcho, we felt time was running out. With or without Mr. L, we needed to take action. A group of six team members got to Dus, another of the three Kara villages, after a three-hour walk in 120-degree heat. Mr. L's good friend, Ari, took us to a man who had a daughter named Bale who he had been hiding for five months. Time had run out. She would be dead in two days. We had to find out a timeline for action. We refused to be late a second time. Despite the hope they offered these parents, the desperation in the father's eyes was painfully obvious. He recounted how a foreigner had promised to take Bale before, but never showed up. In despair, he said that he would not believe his little girl was safe until he saw us take her away. The six

We handed over Bale to Mr. L in the courtyard of the Goh Hotel in Jinka. When he took her into his arms, he said, "Now you really know how I feel, don't you?" He knew our newborn desire to

reported this back to the rest of the team and we all desperately hoped that Mr. L would show up the next day with the Land Cruiser and a decision about what to do. Receiving final confirmation that Mr. L was still another day away, we realized the time for waiting was over. We made a unanimous decision to go and rescue the child, with Ari standing in for Mr. L. There was no way any of us were going to let this little girl be killed if we could help it. The next morning, six of us took the Land Cruiser to go pick her up. We stood on the bank of the Omo River waiting for the canoe that would bring the parents and the child out from their hiding place. For the first time, we saw the little girl we were going to save. Her name is Bale and she is a beautiful girl with bright eyes and big cheeks. When they arrived, the leader of the family, the father's uncle, joined us. The father played with Bale while we talked. The mother looked drained, as though she lacked all emotional capacity to handle the situation. Kristen said, I couldn't stop watching her; I sat there trying to imagine what she might be feeling. Towards the end of the conversation, she asked Ari if the mother had anything she wanted to say. Up to this point, only the father and uncle had been talking. Everyone around us laughed a little at this and you could tell that women do not have much of a voice in this tribe. Her answer, If my husband and uncle say itvs good for me, it's no problem. The uncle handed Kristen the little girl and told us it was time to leave. There were no tears, no hysterics; but the relief of Bale's family was palpable, tinged with an aching sadness. Shouts and tears of joy greeted the Land Cruiser as it rumbled into Korcho, with Kristen holding a sleeping Bale in the front seat. After taking photos of Bale with her dusty face, tiny tribal skirt, and a little bit of snot caked onto her upper lip, the car left again, now heading towards Jinka and Mr. L.


protect these children had matured into a deep, guiding love. Over the next weeks, Lale and members of our team cared for Bale. They bathed and fed her, took her to a doctor for a medical checkup, and bought her new clothes. She learned to expect that someone would wipe her nose if necessary. With the dust washed away, her intelligent eyes beamed. The idea that her life was in danger before was unfathomable. She birthed a passion and determination in our team to not let any more children die because of mingi. As a team, we decided to donate a significant sum of money to start this project. We weren't quite sure if we would be able to buy groceries the last weeks of our trip, but the team didn't starve (or complain). Kristen's father came up with a name, and the children's home Drawn From Water officially opened, complete with furniture, a nanny, and enough supplies for the first month. By the next week, five other children were saved, as well. A few days later, we arrived in Addis Ababa to start fund-raising. Before we left Ethiopia, we saved two more children. The first location was a three-room house with a small side building. Four women worked as a nannies and cooks. One woman's husband guarded the orphanage. Modified bunk beds filled the rooms. One child's mother came north with her child for a month to ease the transition. We were rapidly outgrowing the first location. We knew we had to spread the word and get more people to help Mr. L. Through sharing his story, we connected Mr. L to


During this phase of our time in Ethiopia, the town of Jinka was an extremely important hub for our activities. At any given time, there were at least five members of our group living there. Some team members travelled to Karo land, while others stayed overnight or even for several days as they waited for a Land Cruiser with open seats. During the days, Taylor, a twenty-yearold Kansan, and the team explored this town and met the teenagers who live on its unpaved streets. We wanted subjects for portraits, but we also wanted to form relationships.

the next pa g es y o u ll

In s i de

few le a r n

of life on the str e e ts...

Streets overwhelmed by dozens of children, dust-covered, tattered clothes, surrounding tourists and asking for food, money, anything really. First, we were in The streets were filled with dozens of dirt-

s t r eets of jinka

covered children, who were wearing tattered clothes, surrounding tourists and asking for food, money, anything really.

First, we were in shock,

then that wore off, and finally we wanted just a bit of space to ourselves, thank you very much. Then, we began to see deeper into the dynamics. The older kids sometimes look after and watch over the younger kids. Some of the kids have parents. Yet, some of these parents seem to neglect their children when measured against our expectations. The street kids are a community on their own.

Sometimes we saw raw

human desperation and older boys stealing from the younger boys. Mostly, we saw the beauty in children being resourceful, taking baths in waterholes and playing games in the middle of the dusty market. We got to spend time with these kids during our weeks in Jinka. Two of the older street boys, Babe (pronounced “Bobby�) and Hbtamo, both 16, quickly became our close friends. They translated for us, told us the


stories of the children that we

met, and gave us an insider’s guide to the city. Hbtamo’s father died when he was young. He grew up chasing after tourists for money. Babe’s father left, and he was sent away to Jinka for his education. Babe and Hbtamo lived in a rented house and let some of their friends stay with them. Babe has a huge passion for art and some of his paintings decorate the local schoolhouse. Babe and Hbtamo took us through Jinka as we asked if there were any preexisting programs for the street children. We found one orphanage in Jinka, but it can only care for ten children. There were some great community development projects, but nothing with the sole focus of helping the children that are alone on the streets. A “Mr. Homes” kept coming up in our conversations with the kids. They told us he visited every year to bring clothes and take them to the doctor. Hbtamo once accompanied him driving around the south of Ethiopia to find children with cleft palate or in need of minor surgeries to take them to the hospital. He regularly makes donations to the hospital for the medical expenses of patients that couldn’t afford their treatment. He equips and supports the older children so they in turn buy food for the younger children and supervise them. He sounded like a cool dude. When we found out where Mr. Homes was staying, we took him to dinner. Mr. Homes smiled when he learned we are photographers. Years ago, browsing through a magazine, he saw a picture of a young Ethiopian girl that broke his heart. He found the photographer who had taken the photo and asked him exactly where he had found the girl. His answer was Jinka. Mr.

ia. Jinka, Ethiop launched in as w e af C b and The ftirst Raha hu, Emebet, are Eli, Sentay es m na r’s sist that with The proprieto to act. To in ies moved us or st r ei . Th a. Maret n do miracles ey, people ca on m ed e se a little bit of eir return? Th . What is th ts en m st ve ur in tions Consider yo se. Reputa ill be immen w e ur nt ve al is ed. Financi profits of th Pride restor . ed al he Bodies regained. ined. e girls working stability atta limited to th t no is n sio our vi so be The scope of cafes will al pe that the ho e W s. re fe . Places whe inside the ca e community th r fo es ac itness. eeting pl important m ccess they w ired by the su sp in e ar d er an campaigns people gath lebrated and ce e ar s ht rig women’s birthed Places where t women are abuse agains al xu se d le an ical where peop against phys town. Places at th in e er either e atmosph services they to change th zations and ni ga or e th ed ted to that produc get connec the societies re he w es assist. Plac e. need or can ffee at a tim e cup of co on , ed rm of fo are re our network such misery ur team and O . se on sp a great re the idea. We received forward with d us to move te an w e afe m ck ho st Rahab C supporters ba ished the fir bl ta es rls gi cups, ft Jinka, the tables, chairs, Before we le e beans, tea, ffe co ht ug . We bo We hooked with our help ffee grinders. co d an , ys pitchers, tra spices, water


them up in hopes they could keep the ball rolling and make this thing a success. We enlisted a local woman named Boku that Lale knew and trusted to support them on an ongoing basis. She is absolutely amazing, a great mentor with a great heart. The sad reality is that each girl could earn up to 50 ETB per customer when they prostituted themselves. Although this is less than 4 USD, it was enough to survive on most days. In early days of the cafe, the girls had to be patient as they grew the business and fought to ensure its profitability. This is where character comes in. Only patience, hard work, and a dedication to their own integrity prevented them from backsliding into their past activities. Babe had been instrumental in winning the trust of the girls. He did an awesome job translating all our conversations. Hbtamo was also helpful in this department. Several times, he tried to advise the girls on customer service showing off his own entrepreneurial skills. However, even angels can fall from grace. Shortly after the cafe was running, the girls discovered that Babe was stealing money from them. He was kicked out of the group and asked to stay away. This news was very discouraging for us; but it reminded us of the sad reality underneath




people will do bad things to get by. Considering this discouraging development,



hoped that they would make it.


Back in Korcho, Josh and Liz prepared to lead a group of seven further south. Their goal was to enter Sudan through Kenya and work their way to any refugee camp they could enter.


luck and international politics were not on our side. The International Criminal Court indicted Sudan’s president. Subsequently, he kicked 13 major aid organizations out of Sudan. All our entry efforts were rebuffed. Pick a Pocket is resolved to enter Sudan in the future to document the conditions of its people, to share their stories, and create relationships that will enlarge our world and theirs. However, when we are not granted access to the places we want to go, we press on to any destination where we can make a difference. With this in mind, we accepted our friend Phillips’s invitation to meet his mother in Mombasa, Kenya.

Interestingly, Mombasa is

frequently in the news as it often is the first destination of freed hostages previously held by Somali pirates. Pirates are intriguing, but we were more interested in preschoolers.

e p i r a t es ar i n t r i gu in g, bu t w e w er e

m o r e i n t e r -e s t e d in pre c s hoolers...

jam e s

Traveling through Ethiopia and Kenya, many children ran up to the windows of our vehicles as we passed through their villages. Some cry out for “Highland” because they are thirsty. Others ask for “One pen” because they are thirsty for an education. Pick a Pocket helps support the El Roi School because we believe in teachers and education’s power to end extreme poverty. All donations we collect are used for supplies and rent. Your generosity will be transformed into books, pencils, and desks for a generation that deserves better than life in extreme poverty.


p i c k a p o c k ee tel h el ps s u p po rt t h

e r o i sc ho o l be c a us a c he rs w e b e lie v e in te po w er a n d ed uc a ti o n s to e n d ex t re m e po v er ty .

As we plunged further in, we were met by a swarm of flies that dive-bombed ours eyes and ears and landed sticky feet on our cheeks. A few feet away, a mangy, mud-covered dog scampered across our path, followed by two or three of its companions. Fifteen to twenty more ranged across the landscape. Then, when the wind let up and the smoke cleared for a moment, we saw human silhouettes in the distance, bending and scooting and searching, only to be obscured from view again when the smoke resumed its torrent. Welcome to Garbage City. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Here, one man’s trash is another man’s only means of survival. The hundreds of people who gather here sift through trash to collect metal and plastic that can be resold to recyclers. For fourteen hours of work, they make an average of five to ten birr per day, the equivalent of less than 1 U.S. dollar. As Caterpillar trucks dump the trash, a small army of men, women, and children follow behind, picking out whatever valuables they find. They use hooks made of rebar to pick up the various scraps, put them in bags on their backs, and don’t notice when their feet sink nearly knee-deep in the waste.


They wear torn clothing that has acquired a waxy sheen from the layers of dirt. Their shoes are falling

apart. The women and girls tie their hair back with random pieces of frayed fabric. Our eyes noticed small accessories: a tarnished earring, a grimy necklace, even a yellow sleeping mask worn on the forehead. Despite their attempts to assert their individuality, there is always a small troupe of flies on every person – they’ve gotten so used to their situation that they don’t even brush them away. This dump is home for at least ten boys who rarely leave. The girls of the group do not live on the garbage dump but in the nearby slums and only come to this area to work, making extra income for their families after their school day ends. For the boys, the highlight of a typical day is the arrival of the truck that carries food scraps from the Sheraton and the Hilton hotels. When it arrives, they gather around and eat the mashed leftovers straight out of the garbage bags. Gaining access to any kind of plumbing is difficult. On occasion, the manager of the landfill will let people get water from the office buildings, but usually they have to bring discarded plastic bottles to neighboring stores or restaurants and pay five birr cents to fill up each one. With a lack of water comes the lack of personal hygiene. The idea of being able to jump into a bath or shower as easily as we do is completely foreign to them. When someone does get cut on a piece of glass or suffers from an eye infection due to the constant fumes from burning garbage, they cannot afford to go to the hospital. The combination of constant smoke inhalation, the ingestion of so many bacteria, and the lack of adequate shelter is a serious threat to their health.

the of k l aeca l t h y h ng s l i v id i t i o n e

n th c oo r t e n s g e

s h v e r ap a n a -s e

s l i f ef t h ee r s o rk st wo ju t o 0-35 . 3 rs ye a

64 68

There are two rooms about 12’x7’ that form one side of an abandoned concrete structure that used to serve as an onsite mechanic’s garage. Ten guys sleep in one of these rooms. Cardboard covers the floors and windows to offer minimal protection from the cold night air and the hyenas that visit the dump at midnight. Three pigs occupy the other room The chances of getting out of this situation are slim. Outside help has been a series of disappointments. The inhabitants of Garbage City are already disenchanted with foreigners who have come in, taken pictures, promised the world, and then never effected change. When we arrived, there were no signs of current assistance or engagement by an aid group As we first explored Garbage City, they boys and girls stared at us in suspicion and didn’t come very close. They people got excited when we pulled out bars of soap to give out. They clamored and shoved to get their hands on a bar, smelling it and shouting in glee. To show our appreciation for his guidance, we saved one bar for one of the apparent leaders, but when we gave it to him, he immediately turned and gave it to someone else – we were surprised and touched by this display of selflessness and promised to bring back more. Brahano is now 23 and the “Dad” of the family. He has lived in the garbage dump for 16 years. His parents did not have the money to look after him and so he left his parents’ house. We asked him about his dreams and hopes for the future. He shared, “Here, we have learned to live as a family in the garbage dump...that has changed all of our lives in a very good way. I would like to build a chicken farm upon which all of us could work together. The youngest of us should go to school. Naturally I would like to get married one day but before that the work has to be done here, the children and the young people must be safe and looked after.” We asked what he thought the most important thing is that he learned here: “We have learned to live with the hyenas...we have slept outside where we bury ourselves in the garbage to hide from the hyenas while they walk around looking for us.” We also made friends with Mike. He’s 28-years-old, lived in Garbage City since his parents died ten years ago, and is only person in the dump with a high school diploma. Mike has two older siblings that live far away from Addis Ababa, so the other residents of the dump have become his family.


to keep a confident, relaxed smile, despite our fear. The

an interview with two of the ladies.

buildings are more decrepit, with fewer vendors. The women

translating, but teasing out their stories was still difficult.

Daisy helps with

stand in doorways; sit on metal cots, or stoops. The women are noticeably diverse, some with darker complexions, others with more Nepalese features. They are quiet, blank-faced, and unsure of our motivations. We walk much longer than I thought we would. Karan then took us to Falkland Road. Here the women are displayed in larger groups, in lineups along the sidewalks and gutters. They are more defiant, yet resigned and sad looking with a few saucy exceptions. One lady slaps Uli on the butt saying, “Hi Sexy boy” We smile and laugh, but don’t really know how to feel about this encounter. Finally, Karan indicates that the tour is over and we make our way back to the hostel. We share among ourselves that it was not as scary, intense as we thought it would be, but still unsettling. We realize we have barely scratched the surface, truly only experiencing it superficially. The next day, the girls volunteered at the Toy Room (a day shelter for the children of the sex workers) to play with the kids for the first time and scope it out. They were there from 11 am to 1 p.m., talked to the children, and played some games. Although 50-60 children normally pass through, there were only about 13 children that day. The Winnie the Pooh mural made the small room seem like any other day care center. Later, the four female members of our team were granted


grew up in a small village and was married off at a young age. Soon after her marriage, her husband began to beat her. In her despair, she confessed to a male acquaintance that she wanted to get away from her situation. The man asked her if she wanted to leave with him and she said yes. What happened next is not entirely clear, but she believes the man slipped a pill in her drink and she passed out. When she woke up she did not recognize her surroundings. She was later told she was in Mumbai. At the time she thinks she was only 10 or 12 and already pregnant with her husband’s child. A boy. Years passed. She did not want to tell us about this period of her life. Her son grew up and married, having two daughters of his own. While he was alive, he provided for her. Later, her son passed away leaving her with two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law. With no other family to care for her, she faced a new life of terrible hardship. With no other options for survival, she started working in the red light district. Her grandchildren played in the streets when she took customers to a room. Vera met them and began to ask questions about their situation.

After a while, she invited the children to

s a t h i a na t h a n, the head leader, told us a bit of his story: He grew up in Chennai and came to Mumbai in 1999. After that he started to get a passion for the street kids, since then he is working there with his team. For the future he wishes to have a bigger room for the Preschool, and one day, a clubhouse house where kids can come around and just hang around or play or get taught or get washed, get food, like a club house for them. Karan’s future goals include establishing a hospital with perhaps 200 beds for the poor suffering from fever, tuberculosis, alcoholism from drinking “moonshine”—“local wine”/alcohol-related diseases, and AIDS.

Vis i t i n g T h e

p r e school

We met Karan and took the train from CST to meet the rest of the team: Sathianathan (the leader), Sammy, Ruth and their daughter Rebecca. We walked towards a slum area with them and kids started to run in our direction, screaming: “Good morning!” We took a left into a very tiny alley and walked by many shanties. A multitude of men, women, and kids were sitting, standing staring at us. All the kids followed us. After introductions, the team showed us a small room in one of the shanties. It’s the room they use for the Preschool when it raining or when it way too hot to be outside. They rent this room from a woman who owns that room. Only 15 kids can fit in there comfortably, so they try to be outside with the kids as much as they can since normal attendance is 30 or 40. The room is tiny with a very low ceiling, perfect for the kids, but rough for us. The walls are corrugated metal, and with no windows, it’s dark in there. The light fixture is part of a rigged ceiling fan hanging from the roof (You have to take care not to get your head in the fan!). There is nothing else in the room except a self-made kitchen table with a few cans and plastic buckets filled with drinking water. So we gathered instead at the back of the street with all the kids sitting in a group. Ruth, Karan and us stood in the front and they started by singing songs. The kids loved it, getting excited for their lesson. Mothers, fathers, random neighbors and other kids started to gather around to watch. The group of participants was made up of boys and girls ranging between 2-14-years-old. A few were really dirty. Some screamed and fought with each other. Some kids were half naked. Slum kids. Kids. Just children, really, in a difficult situation.



The team travelled west to meet our friend Samuel who has moved to Nepal for a long-term commitment.


the border from India into Nepal and to Chitwan was easy enough. However, further travel was made difficult by road strikes. Only through creativity and perseverance were we able to reach our destination.

w o u l d i tn fo r th e n a t i o

Wha t



d fi g ht fo t o u n if y ann d j u st i c e , fr e e d o m a st r a the r

th a n ta g a i n

o n e a n o he r? 

bardia Just as we got ready to mosey on to the Westside, politics butted its dumb head into our business. Road strikes and poor travelers don’t mix. There are very few affordable ways to get to Bardia, and the road we needed was shut down. Some political actors were coordinating these blockages and transportation strikes in an attempt to win autonomy for their region. Since 1951, the Nepalese have seen their kings make steps toward sharing power. In 2008, the monarchy became a multiparty








there is still considerable political unrest. recent definitely extra


upheaval added




an of our

travels. After a period of waiting, we spent 11 hours on (and on top of) a bus to reach Bardia a village in


the jungles of West

Nepal. There we met a Nepalese man we’ll call Mr. B. He operates a tourist lodge, leads a church, and has ties to several villages. He is a nature lover. We pitched our tarp for the night after hours of walking. The next morning, a boatman helped us cross a river and we continued on foot for another mile to a village. Arriving at noon, we sought relief from the sun in a patch of shade. As we stopped to rest, we turned and noticed that several women and children had followed us. This crowd of people grew quickly. In this village, people infected



diseases invited us into their homes, told us their problems, and even show us their ravaged bodies. They continued to follow us to another location and lined up to have a photograph taken in hopes that help would come to them. Porby and Gita have lived with skin rashes and aching backs for several years.

s t o n e b r e ake r s Paved roads are often a sign of a country’s development. Dirt roads have a connotation of poverty. Modern technological advances are foreign in many countries, consider India for example. Though this large country is growing in world status, modern technology seldom interferes with the caste system, especially when it comes to those in lower castes. In India, it is the Wadari people who make the roads, but first they start with earth. It’s not far from modern technology that people are literally living as in ancient times, and not only that, but they are defined by it. They are the “stonebreakers” the foundation of modernism, and though they are rejected by their society, there is hope for the Wadari people. Some of the women we met sell fish in the local markets because of physical problems that disables them from heavier labor. In the cities, however, most Wadari work as construction laborers, building residential and commercial buildings, and repairing roads. In rural areas they sit in the earth and pound boulders into smaller stones.

The Wadari

people are considered low-caste in Indian society. Originally, these “stonecutters” immigrated from Pakistan, and have spread throughout India, and as far as Bangladesh. Currently, over 150,000 Wadari people are living in the Pune, Maharastra area. Because of


the lack of proper education and the Indian caste system, few of these people ever rise above the stonecutting profession and lifestyle. Like Nagipur, most Wadari that we met, remain in the same place for their entire lives. He has been laboring in the same stone field for the last 20 years with his two sons, and is generally inebriated. They labor strenuously in the exhausting heat for 8-12 hours every day, and they, as well as the other men women they work with, have resorted to an apathetic lifestyle of alcoholism and gambling. As a result, their children remain uneducated, continuing the cycle of hopelessness and depression throughout generations. One man, however, rejected the limitations of his caste by embracing Christianity. Sandeep grew up as the son of stone-breakers in the slums of Pune. In his late teens he began an argument with a man preaching on the streets. After minutes of debating, Sandeep insulted the man, and walked away. However, Sandeep became intrigued by Christian beliefs and later adopted them. Today, Sandeep is happily married to a woman of a higher caste, and is the father of two beautiful daughters. His background enables him to empathize with the Wadari people, and he has created and recorded inspirational songs in their language. His songs caught the attention of many Wadari, and one woman told us she conquered her alcoholism with his help. For some, faith in a higher power is the key to escaping poverty.

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a few artists' fight against extreme poverty... ORDER ONLINE!

Reject This Reality  

a few artists' fight against extreme poverty... ORDER ONLINE!