Invisible and important rag pickers and a lesson for my kids


Every school day I pass a dumping ground of trash and often see cows and dogs eating and people sifting through the trash – rag picking – to make their day’s wages off of recycling items. Recently I’ve noticed a dozen or so people around the area sifting through and making an actual “dent” in the items that have piled up. In that mix of rag pickers are children. Ragpickers are listed by wikipedia under “obsolete occupations” but living in India I can tell you it is far from obsolete. From the Acorn Foundation, India:

These thousands of children women and youth earn a living by selling the dry waste to scrap dealers, and most of the rag-pickers make barely 75-100 rupees a day (under $2)

I’ve posted that we have an excess of items and one that we had for sure is shoes. A few my kids have outgrown that I’ve attempted to leave out for the daily pick up (in most buildings someone comes door to door to pick up trash daily) but since they aren’t in “bad” condition I can’t get them to take them and I don’t want them to just go in the real trash and risk not getting picked through and instead end up in an over crowded landfill. There doesn’t appear to be a “St Vincent dePaul (aka St Vinnies) or Salvation Army or Goodwill to just do a drop off ,so I figured we can show some charity and give these shoes a second life with some shoe-less kids.

As for my kiddos –  let them know when I picked them up that I brought their too small shoes and wanted to see if we could give them to some kids. I was surprised but both said yes almost immediately.

They were quite happy and the older kids also were excited. I didn’t take a picture of the first shoes we gave out – but the second girl was so excited (and her friend here was even more excited). They were grateful- they didn’t ask for more as a beggar would or someone selling something on the side of the street.

rag picker donation of shoes
Such big smiles. I’m going to see if I have any other shoes – I think we have a pair of flip flops for the other girl. Tomorrow is a half day for my kids and after that we have a 3 week vacation. I’m not sure if they’ll have moved on from this landfill/dump by then.

Lessons in real life – Rag pickers

As we waited our rickshaw (this is around a minute walk from their school) a toddler of around 18 months old then asked his mom (or caregiver) for her shoes. She gave her chappals (sandals) and let him walk.

As we went home my daughter asked me “If they don’t have a house or any money for shoes, how did they  born?” I didn’t understand her fully and she asked “like how did they pay the doctor or hospital?” I don’t know. Home birth? Lay midwives? Transfer only as necessary?

In the end it is sometimes easier to just drive past rag pickers – but they are people too. They allow “us” to not sort our trash.

They are the real recyclers out there and it affects the economy and it is their livelihood. As more trash segregation and mechanized recycling occurs it is more important that there are real education opportunities for these kids as well.

Check out this article on the Dharavi Project that helps to bring up the livelihood and life of rag pickers.

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    1. Definitely. I struggled with posting the picture because of the perception of “poverty porn” but this is what we pass every day and the kids were SO happy – and they loved the photo and seeing it on the phone screen. I am considering printing it off and handing it to them. I think they’d be very happy.

    1. I do hope they see the value in helping others – even if it is just “one” for that one it matters.

      When I was in 2nd grade my home had a fire and many people came together and I had new and new to me clothes. I remember wondering “whose was this before” but I was happy to have clothes. :) I was also given tennis shoes by a mom-coach-volunteer for basketball and it was appreciated and I still remember it.

  1. I am so glad that you are teaching your children this type of compassion at an early age. I am sure those kids are grateful for anything they can get and will not be picky like most kids about color, style, etc. This is such a great story – thank you for sharing!

    1. Agreed – they were very happy to receive them. I will try hard to not say to my kids “don’t you think the kids there would like what you have” because sometimes it is HARD to not do that (and I have done it myself) but life experiences definitely shape us. But I don’t want to shape my kids into thinking looking the other way is okay. My 3 year old has even started saying “it is okay a worker will take care of it” – this was in regard to a mess he made. I said – that worker is me and you can help! :)

  2. It reminds you of how appreciative we should be for our good fortune and that we should always take the opportunity to help others.

  3. When we lived in Uruguay, they had the same thing. Instead of rickshaws, they had horse drawn carriages. But there were also children who would dig through the dumpsters for food. It was heartbreaking, but so eye opening that things like this do happen. And we have to feel very fortunate for everything that we have.

  4. Ugh :( I hate the thought of children in the trash, so many bad things could happen, not to mention it’s just not where you want a child.

    You are a gem to pass out the shoes you had. I bet you did make their day!

  5. Thats a shame that people have to do such a hard and dangerous job for next to nothing and well done to you for giving something :-)

  6. wow, it is so shocking to see such poverty. I’m so glad you were able to find some kids in need of the shoes you were able to give away. I think I would struggle living in India, seeing so much poverty and not being able to do more.

  7. I will be sending a big box of package to the Philippines and some of the clothes in it are used ones but still in good shape. A lot of people can make good use of them there.

  8. It is so sad that there are truly so many. It is wonderful that you are able to use your surplus to help others out, especially children that can not control that they were born into that situation.

  9. I think it is wonderful that you are teaching your children to be compassionate at a young age. Plus, what a wonderful gift for the children,

  10. One man’s trash…while unfortunate that there is such a widespread impoverished populace, I think it is a wonderful opportunity to show your kids how to make a difference, even a small one. Maybe we can raise a new generation of givers!

  11. It is so important to think about those who don’t have as much as we do and give to them! Just because we would throw something away, doesn’t mean someone else can;t still use it. You did such a good thing by giving away your shoes and I love that your kids saw you doing it, this way they might understand how important it is to appreciate every single thing we own!


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