The Treasure Seekers: an intro

Jason arrived and the 3 of us loaded up in Jonathan’s car to a group of people he has dubbed the Treasure Seekers. I didn’t ask, but I’m guessing that he arrived here via Matt:6 20, combined with the familiar idiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

The Treasure seekers are part of a group referred to locally as “newcomers”. They are individuals or families that have come from the rural reaches of Indonesia to the big city of Jakarta looking for a better life and more opportunity. Very few find what they are looking for. Some end up here in Bantar Gebang Landfill. I’ve occasionally thought that anyone who spends their day picking through trash must be looking for the basic necessities of life, food, clothing, etc. Not so here. While these people may eat, and ceratinly do wear some of what they find, this is not their main purpose. These people that form the bottom rung of the societal ladder here in Jakarta have actually become the first link in an entire recycling industry. All day they sort through the mountains of garbage looking primarily for plastic grocery bags. There are people who “specialize” in other things, such as rubber tubing, but mostly they seem to be looking for recyclable plastic. After spending all day collecting from the active section of the landfill they take it back home to a tiny shack in a makeshift community such as the one below that they have set up on a section that is not currently being dumped on. Ocassionally entire communities will be displaced as sections of the landfill are reopened for dumping. Here they wash and bail what they have found and sell it for approximately 200 Rupiah, or roughly 2 US cents, per kilogram. There are hundreds, if not thousands of families living like this, right here on this landfill. Not outside the landfill, on it.

Below is a picture of some recently sold plastic bails that we passed aboout a mile outside of the landfill.
As you might imagine, living conditions are anything but sanitary. One major concern is potable drinking water. Bathing water is plentiful. I believe this is taken care of in one of the many nearby canals which is of course, filled with rainwater runoff from mountains of trash. Although nasty, still it’s not as bad as drinking the stuff. Currenly families either buy drinking water, or boil what comes from the canals or shallow wells right there at the dump. Both options are very expensive for a family that is living on about 30 US dollars a month.Very common in missions is the practice of finding something that a local population needs and finding a way to provide that. This serves 2 purposes: 1) it creates a “legal” reason to be in a society that may not otherwise be open to a christian presence, and 2) it helps to develop a personal relationship with people and communities while serving their needs. One thing these people need is drinking water. This has been Jonathan’s mission for the past several months. On this day I was able to tag along as Jonathan went to talk about the results of some water tests that were the key to the use of low cost filters that he was attempting to provide to familiess here. The next few hours would be unlike anything I had ever experienced.

About Wendy Woerner

wife, mama to five
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