The Dignity Project is an art-and heart media project using photographs and prose as a fundraising mechanism for supporting Burmese migrants in Thailand, particularly a community that is living on a rubbish dump in Mae Sot, Thailand.
While the Dignity Fundraising Mechanism page will explain how it all works, the candle for this project was lit in 2010 when I traveled to Mae Sot, a bustling town on the Thai-Burma border. While seeking to learn more about Burma’s sociopolitical situation and its affects on regular people, I met exiled Burmese monk Ashin Sopaka who took me to meet this community of migrants living and working on the dump.
During my times in Bosnia (2007 & 2009) I observed bombed out buildings and a blood stained shovel used by my friend who had defended his home city throughout the 1990s Bosnian War. I had deeply absorbed the horrific personal stories related to the madness of armed conflicts fuelled by the greed of the world’s elite.
When I first went to Mae Sot, I was appalled upon witnessing people living on a rubbish dump just a few hours from where I live. The parallel between the Bosnia war and this rubbish dump, I later realized, is that people will survive, light will shine, even amidst some of the worst situations. Life, does goes on.
Deeply moved by what I had experienced there, the seeds of Dignity had been planted in my heart. They have sprouted and have been growing ever since.
The Mae Sot Rubbish Dump Community
Many people inside Burma are unable to earn sufficient income to meet the basic needs for their survival, so they flee. Hundreds of thousands of them have left their homeland in the hope of better opportunities in Thailand.
Once in Thailand, they face many difficulties connecting with social organizations. They fear that doing so may lead to possible reprisals for family members back home by drawing the attention of local Burmese authorities. This makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Many have no choice but to live in dangerous, adverse, conditions such as those at the Mae Sot rubbish dump.
The first three families came to live and work on this dump site in 1990. About 400 people are living there as of March 2014. Over 200 of them are under 18 years old. Seemingly abandoned and forgotten by any larger society, they ironically have few alternatives to scavenging for recyclable items and selling them for a pittance to local merchants.
Living conditions there are bleak, to say the least. Negligible access to basic needs such as running water, healthy food, and medical facilities, as well as the constant inhalation of toxic fumes, results in widespread illnesses and occasional deaths.
Homes constructed of bamboo, cardboard, and the encompassing trash are rent free. However, the real price is disease, respiratory problems, harassment from authorities, and disdain from members of the larger community.
Despite the harshness of their situation the people on this rubbish dump somehow manage to live each day with courage and dignity.
The Dignity Book
Encouraged to return to the dump, I began further immersing myself in daily life there. I accumulated a series of moving, troubling, fascinating, and beautiful images of the community; their life, their situation, and how they’ve responded to their plight.
I wanted to create something beautiful – art – related to Burma, and global issues. Something that isn’t focused on the negativity surrounding poverty and strife. This community has much to teach us about this.
My book touches on socio-political issues, human rights, the environment and associated sociological and psychological problems by documenting this dump community. Their example is an illustration of the extent and complexity of these global concerns.
I decided to tell their story hour-by-hour throughout a day in their lives. As we are going about our daily hour-by-hour routines, this community is living and doing the same but there, in that horrific environment, yet retaining a Dignity often found lacking in more fortunate communities. This alone can provide plenty of fruit for contemplation.
This is a preview of the book