One of the Youth Development Fund’s most active programs is its young volunteers in action, better known as Y-VIA. The volunteers are typically young students still going to high school.
Last week, in Changjiji, Y-VIA put on a delightful show to launch UNICEF’s state of the world’s children report. They sang, danced, acted and joked for their President, Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, and other guests from the civil service, education system, international organizations, and the local community.
But the Y-VIA volunteers also used the occasion to launch their own report, based on three case studies they had done on extreme poverty among urban youth. The stories are painful, but they must be heard. So I’m reproducing below, in their original, their case study about Nima Dorji, a trash collector who lives in Thimphu’s landfill …
Nima Dorji is a 14 years old boy who works and earns his own livelihood by collecting trash and selling to the scrap dealer in Phuntsholing. Nima is from Samdhingkha in Punakha. Both his parents are working. In fact his mother is in the civil service while his father is a carpenter. Nima left home at the age of 11. He has two younger sisters. He was a student of Babesa Primary school and then later he became a monk out of his own interest. His journey from a monk to a trash collector motivated us to look deeper into his life.
We found Nima, when out of curiosity to see if we could find children in the land fill of Memelakha. We saw this thin and filthy looking boy rummaging through the piles of dirt along with the dogs. He ran away when he saw us for the first time. We made contact with him by giving him a set of clean clothes and some food. His story unfolds with him living with his parents in olakha. Both his parents work so there is some income in the family. He never enjoyed school. He refused to do his school work and this annoyed his mother. He wanted to be a monk instead. After failing in class two for two consecutive years, Nima‘s mother finally put him in a monastery in Samdrupjonkar. The same year, a lama advised the parents to send Nima to Trongsa dratshang. However, Nima was greatly disappointed when he saw the bad behavior of his monk friends and senior monks. He was bullied and beaten often. His learning according to him did not progress much. With great disappointment and despair he ran away to Thimphu. He found a friend in Thimphu who did trash business. Afraid to go home, he decided to become a trash collector and found a home with ten other young trash collectors. The two room house became Nima’s home and his friend, his new family.
We found his parents living in a hut in olakha. Ten members of the family live all together in this little hut. According to his mother, she is waiting to get him registered in a shedra. We took Nima to meet his mother to see their reaction. While Nima remained quiet, the mother was indifferent. It was difficult to see love or any family bond between Nima and his mother. We also visited his school and the teachers couldn’t recognize him as he had changed and aged drastically. Nima did not draw too much attention from his teachers. He was just an average student who did not enjoy school. His friends were in class 5 and they too did not recognize him. They do remember one thing about him. He was passionate about becoming a monk.
Nima never got into drugs or any criminal activities. He was never a naughty boy when he was little. He hardly gave any problems. His only problem was not taking interest in his school studies.
As a trash collector he earns Nu 1900 a month. Nima is known to be a hardworking trash collector who also sends money to his mother. He still hopes that a day will come when he can have another opportunity to go back to school.
Nima along with his ten friends, live in the filthiest environment that we can ever imagine. They live with the trash of the entire Thimphu city. They work bare hands with no masks and their clothes are filthy. They work is hazardous to their health and they are prone to communicable diseases as they often rummage through wastes from the hospitals. Their hands often get cut and poked by syringes that are thrown in the rubbish.
Their diet consists mainly of potatoes and rice. Their day begins at 7 in the morning with the leftover of their dinner. Lunch is around 3 or 4 in the evening. The wife of one of his friends and her sister cook for the boys. Living with are two little toddlers whose playground is the land fill.
They do not have access to clean drinking water and electricity. They use a solar light in the night. They often get sick with diarrhea, cough and cold, headaches and other ailments brought about by poor hygiene and sanitation.
Nima often feels depressed with what he has become. He regrets leaving school and wishes he got sound and adequate guidance from his parents and teachers. He looks furlong and hopeless. He feels he brought this situation upon himself. This is just a story of Nima but the eyes of his friends told their own pathetic sad stories.