NYT: Seeing People for what they Can Do

... not just for what they cannot do. 

Today's New York Times has a refreshing take on the story of slums.   It's a very different perspective than the Bloomberg story on cotton farming in Burkina Faso.  "In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics, and Hope", by Jim Yardley, is worth the read.
In the labyrinthine slum known as Dharavi are 60,000 structures, many of them shanties, and as many as one million people living and working on a triangle of land barely two-thirds the size of Central Park in Manhattan. Dharavi is one of the world’s most infamous slums, a cliché of Indian misery. It is also a churning hive of workshops with an annual economic output estimated to be $600 million to more than $1 billion.
“...They work hard,” Mr. Asif said. “They work from 8 in the morning until 11 at night because the more they do, the more they will earn to send back to their families. They come here to earn.”
Previously I recommended a blog about Dharavi, written from an Indian's perspective.  And as always, fixing, recycling, repair, salvage, reuse and tinkering are the core of the equation.  Without actually looking for it, the reporter Jim Yardley and Hari Kumar find recycling of plastic, computers, and airline waste.
And then still more: printmakers, embroiderers and, most of all, the vast recycling operations that sort, clean and reprocess much of India’s discarded plastic.
“We are cleaning the dirt of the country,” said Fareed Siddiqui, the general secretary of the Dharavi Businessmen’s Welfare Association.

I've written before about the slum of Dharavi, outside of Mumbai.   It is not just recycling materials.  It is recycling people.  Quote after quote in this article is from workers scrapping out a living, putting most of the money they earn to send their children to private school.  Parents sacrificing themselves, because they see their children for what they could be doing, if given the tools and the chance.

The reporter goes inside the muddy apartment of the seamstress, who recites the mantra of the parents generation, working with every gram of strength to create an opportunity or education for their children.
Sylva Vanita Baskar was born in Dharavi. She is now 39, already a widow. Her husband lost his vigor and then his life to tuberculosis. She borrowed money to pay for his care, and now she rents her spare room to four laborers for an extra $40 a month. She lives in a room with her four children. Two sons sleep in a makeshift bed. She and her two youngest children sleep on straw mats on the stone floor...
The computer sits on a small table beside the bed, protected, purchased for $354 from savings, even though the family has no Internet connection. The oldest son stores his work on a pen drive and prints it somewhere else. Ms. Baskar, a seamstress, spends five months’ worth of her income, almost $400, to send three of her children to private schools. Her daughter wants to be a flight attendant. Her youngest son, a mechanical engineer.
I fly frequently, and always wonder what happens to the surplus food and utensils and cans.   In the USA, they are frequently incinerated.
“But we recycle waste for the airlines,” [a recycler] answered proudly. “Cups and food containers.”
Recycling is all about finding value in discards, adding value in something which someone else wants out of the way.   In this article, the "something" is "someone".  We need to see the value that working people are creating, and not pretend that taking their work away catapults them to higher education and wealth.  Many want the worlds slums to be out of the way, out of sight, and out of mind.  Fair Trade is about people recycling, and recycling people.

A ban on trade with Geeks of Color is the worst thing a person from a wealthy nation could wish for.  It's a monkey paw wish, it is a talisman which closes a door without opening another.

Fair Trade Recycling is my proposal to reward hard work, reward recycling, use the money in trade to create incentives to improve on the standards.  Upton Sinclair would roll in his grave if the solution to the working class became "starving out the poor", or a siege against trade and value going into the slums.  Some liberals have manufactured an image of poor people so hopeless and ignorant that they spend ten thousand dollars on computers and burn them for three thousand dollars of copper, poisoning their childrens blood as nothing more than a favor to rich nation recyclers.  Bravo Team.   Leapfrog, leapfrog, leapfrog the slums!

These new Parasites of the Poor are NGOs who take snapshots of children, making their conditions look as primitive as they can, and shovelling guilt onto Americans, tricking us into shredding a billion dollars of recycling into a thousand dollars of mixed scrap. 

Below are two emails I read this morning from foreign "e-waste" buyers.  Shredding the electronics is just a card dealt against the working poor in emerging markets.  They will still be there.  Ban them from buying broken IPads for screen replacement, ban them from buying broken smart phones, ban them from refurbishing display devices for doctors and hospitals.  Run it all through a taxpayer subsidized HR2284 blender, the blue and yellow calvary charge to kill reuse.

Guess what?  The poor are still there, hungry as ever.  You cannot eliminate poverty with a boycott or by destroying added value of the rich nations discards.   Read the NYT article.  Then read these two emails I woke up to this morning.  Tell me they are better off buying our "shredded pickings" than our cracked IPads.

Exporter Email #1:   looking for broken ipods for repair,thanks

Exporter Email #2:
Hi Sir,

Happy holidays to you and your family.

We are looking to buy the following materials by containers. Please let me know if you have any available.
-Electric Motor
-Alternator & Alum Starter
-AC compressor
-Sealed units
-Shredded pickings

Flashback:   Q and A on E-waste Exports 

Getting e-waste policy right.  It isn't only about "stuff".  It's about human beings, too.

1 comment:

refuse compactors said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.