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Thousands worked on the Stung Meanchey dump, seen here in 2008
It was the most powerful symbol of the poverty under which many lived in mid-2000s Cambodia: a vast rubbish dump on the outskirts of the capital.For many, the Stung Meanchey dump near Phnom Penh was home. About 2,000 men, women and children would sift through the 100-acre mountain of rubbish in appalling conditions looking for recyclables to sell.Stung Meanchey was also a dangerous place. Some were crushed by dump trucks while jostling to get a prime spot when waste was released. People would fall ill through exposure to open sewage and harmful toxins.Among those born in the dump were Sok Vichey, Ouch Theara and Ouch Hing. “We’d have no food for days, we just hung around the city with plastic bags to pick up cans to sell,” Vichey, 18, says.”It was very hot under the sun and we had no water. We didn’t go to school. We had no choice.”
Ouch Theara as a child living on the Stung Meanchey dump
Theara’s mother had died and his father had left. He was living with his aunt and her seven children on Stung Meanchey. Vichey lived next door and had also lost his father. His mother spent her days sifting through rubbish on the dump for a couple of dollars a day. They were not alone. In 2007 about 47% of Cambodians were living in poverty, according to the World Bank in Cambodia, with many living on less than a dollar a day.By the time Theara, Hing and Vichey had reached their teens, their remaining family members could no longer provide for them and they were placed in the care of local NGO Moms Against Poverty.It was there they met Swiss-German social worker Timon Seibel.
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