It’s amazing how I keep winding up back at a place I never want to see again – Stung Meanchy. We pass the dump’s sign on the way in which reads “Helping to keep Phnom Penh beautiful” Ironic words for the ugliness that lies within. We get there early before the worst heat of the day and discover that it is apparently the height of garbage picking rush hour. It is absolutely crowded with kids and trucks and the flies are so thick, they rise up in clouds of black by the thousands. There is plenty of footage for Art to shoot for the B roll between the tractors and the scavenging children: pulling apart plastics here, separating out garbage from a pile of discarded noodles there. It is revolting to think that they will consume those noodles later. I’m thankful I skipped breakfast today and then I’m ashamed of the very thought that I have the freedom to simply skip a meal while these kids pick noodles from fly and maggot filled piles.
We are having no luck at all getting kids to talk. Many are too busy and don’t want to miss the good garbage as it comes through. Others are simply illiterate and cannot really answer the questions with complete thoughts. They know nothing beyond the dump about life or opportunity. We meet one girl who was born here. She is fourteen. She has been raised literally in the dump and knows nothing else. Her world is limited to the mountain of rubbish and the sound of dump trucks coming. For her, there is no future. Having never been to school and with no hope at her age of starting an education, she is content with her life with no expectations of the future. Perhaps when you put it in perspective, she is fortunate – she has a life here in the dump with her family and she has not been sold into prostitution. We here a couple of chilling description from kids on the things they find: a lower leg, a bag of fetuses…. It chills to the bone.
Finally, after traipsing through the sinking mounds of filth and rot, we venture to a quieter part of the dump. A boy calls to us from the top of a small dump truck. He is willing to be interviewed if we will wait for him to finish his work. His name is Hov Ngan. He is 13 years old. Smart and articulate, he discusses everything from his family life to his work in the dump to his future ambitions. He doesn’t want to wind up like his father, a life long trash picker. He tells us foreigners care only for the girls and not for the boys. Girls are rescued more often and the boys are left behind. He shows us a wound on his foot where he stepped on a piece of glass the week before. The entire interview, Ngan is covered in flies and one even perches on his lower lip completely unnoticed by him. For my part, I am madly waving off the army of bugs coming from the curious boy who has perched at my side. We decide to cast all our fortunes with this bright, well-spoken youngster and ask if we can visit his home in the dump village. I privately go off to the side and call Scott to ask if I can bring a 2nd boy with me. Scott had previously given me the go head to bring in Chharram, the little street beggar with the little sister from the day before. He tells me to bring Ngan as well. While I am talking, a pretty little girl with tears running down her face comes up to me and throws herself in my arms. It is Layseng, one of the girls from CCF and a child we are profiling in the project. She came home to the dump the night before to visit her dying father, who is suffering from sclerosis of the liver. She missed the Tuk Tuk back to CCF for school that morning and was sad and worried about her father. Mind you, this is a man who has beaten her and treated her like an animal in the dump, yet her love and affection for him is like that of any child with their beloved parent. She hasn’t eaten, needs to get back to school and is worried about her hungry family. I hug her and tell her I will take care of everything. We follow Ngan and Layseng to the village and spend time with each of their families. Layseng’s mother, father and baby sister live in a well built hut that Scott at CCF financed. It is still rough and meager by any standards, but it is on stilts off the ground with two levels. One for sleeping and one for gathering. Each space is about 8’x10’. Her family speaks to us about surviving the Khmer Rouge, the government and its abandonment of the poor and how they miss their daughter but are happy she is getting an education.