Rising from the rubbish: A mother’s impact on a village of trash pickers


Maggots squirm beside a rotting rooster. Trash litters every inch of the soggy ground beside a shack made of plywood, bamboo and recycled nylon signs. Inside, a woman cries out as her new baby is born.

The first face the infant sees belongs to a woman named Rusmini, who serves as midwife to most of the women in her area. Although she has delivered more than 200 babies, doing so more of a hobby than a job. What Rusmini spends most of her time doing, just like the women she helps, is picking through trash at Bantar Gebang, Indonesia’s largest trash dump.

Bantar Gebang is as tall as a 20-story building and spreads over 272 acres, an area about the size of 360 American football fields. Each day, trash that would fill more than 10 Olympic swimming pools is added to the dump.

Rusmini is one of more than 8,000 migrant workers living in villages that sit on the edge of the trash mountain. These workers, who came to the dump when they couldn’t find a job in their home villages, carve out a living by plucking out recyclable items that can later be sold to trash collectors.

Even here, however, pickers only earn around 10 cents per kilo and average an income of less than $200 a month.

Living on so little, the women can’t afford to go to hospitals. So they come to Rusmini.

“It’s not really hygienic,” Rusmini says. “We don’t have medical equipment. But they know, they know the conditions.”

Refusing any sort of pay, she helps the women through their pregnancies, childbirth and the first few years as the new mothers learn how to bathe, feed and care for their children. Rusmini teaches a village how to mother, something that comes naturally to her.

“Every woman here calls her mom,” says Rusmini’s daughter, Tryanita.

Rusmini loves and cares for the women she helps, but she dreams of leaving them. She dreams of a future where her children will have a better life. She dreams of having a house “like everybody else” and leaving the dump with her husband.

Still, she is grateful for this life among the flies.

“I’m not rich but I’m able to help others,” Rusmini says. “I feel blessed and I’m happy.”

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