I knew we were on our way to a Dhaka slum, but on the way, the slum wafted into the car. The sour, stomach-turning odor matched what I began seeing: fly-covered piles of trash lining the sides of this Bangladeshi road. Crows and cows picked through the festering debris, hunting for food. Plastic bags and chicken bones emerged from the piles, all cooking in the sticky 100 degree heat. And on top of the mess: a couple of barefoot, shirtless kids.
The boys wandered through the piles, looking for something to eat. My van stopped nearby, and I popped open the door, holding my breath, which only works for so long. I watched one boy, maybe five years old, as he held a piece of scrap metal and poked at the garbage. He would head in one direction, then change routes, scanning the ground.
At one point, the tan, black-haired boy picked up what looked like half of a rotten melon. He brought it to his face, took a whiff, dropped it, then silently kept on moving. He eventually disappeared from view behind a shack, near where a woman (his mother?) was prodding at another pile of trash. It was almost as if they were thinking, “surely, this is not all there is for me.”
Across the street I saw row after row of ramshackle homes. Waterfront shanties, with front lawns of blowing trash. The nearby lake was red with pollution. Who knows what chemicals had been dumped in there to make that unnatural color. Later in my trip across Bangladesh, I saw a river that was black with grime, and saw a barge pump something grey directly into a lake. I am not sure if the fishermen nearby even noticed.
Without a doubt, this experience is depressing. Still, I know that World Concern is doing something to change this situation. A few minutes after we drove away from the slum, we visited a woman now able to provide for her family because of a small business loan. After that, I met another woman who has a growing screen-printing business because of World Concern.
We can’t take care of all of the problems in this slum, but we are doing what we can to change the picture of poverty here, one person at a time.