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EDJAIS: The invisible soldiers of Phnom Penh

Som Kanika / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Many plastic bottles and other recycled materials packed on a truck heading to a local recycling facility. Miguel Jerónimo

Roaming around the city, edjais are waste scavengers who collect trash including plastics, aluminum and other unwanted items from the streets. In spite of putting blood, sweat and tears into their daily routines, they are often labeled as lower class citizens and useless individuals.

A photographer Miguel Jerónimo took notice of the edjais and considers them as an integral part of the society. He said the edjais contribute a great deal, especially when it comes to recycling plastic in the Kingdom.

Jerónimo wants edjais to get more exposure and wishes that their efforts are acknowledged by more people in society. This drove him to initiate a photography exhibition to tell the untold story of Cambodia’s trash-pickers whose roles are often brushed off by the public.

Loads of metal scrap collected by edjais are converted into metal cubes for recycling. Miguel Jerónimo

The invisible soldiers is what he calls them, which also makes for a perfect name for his exhibition.

“Roaming every street and valley, collecting waste and selling them for money but at the same time they also promote plastic recycling in the society. Therefore, I think they deserve the name the invisible soldiers of the environment,” said the Portuguese photographer.

This series not only aims to offer a glimpse into the informal recycling industry in the country, but also give more visibility to the countless waste pickers who work tirelessly in spite of the discriminations they face.

“Through this exhibition, we want to raise more awareness for them…their role should be valued and their way of living should be more respected and appreciated by the society,” said Miguel.

Despite the challenges in locating the waste pickers, Jerónimo still made a headway in completing his project, which he hopes will eventually promote for a better living condition for the edjais.

“Regardless of the issues and problems faced in searching for the edjais, I still got a lot of help from the Heinrich Boll Foundation Cambodia. They helped by looking for sources in the plastic recycling industry and find the homes of many waste pickers, as well as raising more awareness in Phnom Penh,” he added.

Roaming around in the city to collect street waste, waste pickers can hardly make a living. Miguel Jerónimo

“I want people to become more aware and respect these people as they play a crucial role in the recycling process in the country and solving the waste issue in the country. But at the same time, I also want to increase more awareness about single use of plastics.

“We should not do as we please just because we know edjais will be there to clean up after us,” he said in his concluding message.

In collaboration with the Heinrich Boll Foundation Cambodia, The Invisible Soldiers exhibition will be held from January 8 to February 8 at the Bophana Center.

Playing an important role in recycling, waste pickers deserve to be respected by their society. Miguel Jerónimo

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