Waste Pickers are invisible labour force in any urban set up. Our story began early during the beginning of 1980’s. The sight of children rummaging the rubbish bins of Bangalore, had moved us. There was inner call, to do something for them and with them. The beginning was simple. To be engaged with them in listening, frequenting their places stay, understanding the vagaries of street life and responding in small little ways through our presence, words, and supportive actions. This simple response opened us to an awesome world of waste related activities, persons, and families at the bottom of social ladder. It is the world of men, women and children surviving from picking recyclable discarded materials like paper, plastic, metal, bottles and what not. waste, that had a value, in terms of cash. They taught us what we call Trash is Treasure is no more waste and it had a market value. With the advent of waste pickers in our lives, their stories, trials, deprivation etched a lasting impact on us, and we found ourselves changing. Beyond small gestures and acts of kindness, we felt the need of enduring structures that can respond, advocate, and support them in finding a place in the mainstream society. Thus, was born a non-formal night shelter called the “Ragpickers Education and Development Society (REDS)” in 1985. Later in 1987, we formalized this visibility of waste pickers with another registered, non-profit organization, “Mythri Sarva Seva Samithi”, (MSSS) to mean “Friendliness and Service to all”.
The Journey of non-profit MSSS helped us to traverse many paths, to gain many insights, to specialize and develop expertise in multiple sectors that has a connect with the lives of poor and deprived communities. The first problem we tried to address was to protect street kds from the thugs in the street, police brutality and from abusive parents. Later, organizing them around a business opportunity helped us to trade in waste, procure it from clean source and ensure, children and families have more money in their hand to feed their families. Education, skill development, organized recreation, exposure visits had became a part of their lives. To locate their families, we moved into the slums and there were we confronted, not only waste picking population, but children working as child labourers, construction workers, house maids and we could not ignore them. Preschool education, organizing the women, promotion of self-help groups, community mobilisation, health care, micro finance, sanitation, housing became an integral part of MSSS activities. Older wasting picking adults were trained as adults to become entrepreneurs to procure waste from clean sources and increase their income through advocacy and lobbying. Specialising and extending services water, sanitation, solid waste management and micro finance to increase income and improve livelihood. Yes, we traversed many paths to innovate and find our own niche in serving deprived communities. On that road of meeting and being exposed to the lives of extremely poor, we had gained a lot. Our dream, vision and mission today are shaped from ground realities of their life. The street people were our guides in learning life on the streets.