Mumtaz and Beenish are in their sixties. In fact, they are not quite sure of their exact ages. But they are sure about their love for their community – and they want to serve it in any way they can.
Formerly brickmakers from Punjab, they moved to Islamabad for better prospects. Home is on an informal settlement made up of around 825 households, with no infrastructure or utilities because it is unregistered. They live with family – seven adults and three children – in two small rooms built of concrete blocks with cloth covering the doors.
They have just begun work as E-guards, or waste collectors, as part of the Saaf Mahol, or “clean environment” project. Prior to the project, there was no waste collection in the area. Instead, waste was discarded at the edges of the community, where it accumulated in large piles along access roads and was regularly burned in the evenings.
“The trash causes many problems such as coughs, fever, and some diseases which are unknown,” says Mumtaz. “When it is rotten, it smells and because we cannot dispose of it all it spreads pollution.”
Tearfund partner Pak Mission Society (PMS) is starting the Saaf Mahol Project to manage the waste and create income for the community. Mumtaz and Beenish were recruited at a meeting held by PMS to discuss matters with the community at a local church.
“They told us that wages would not be high but we agreed and resolved to work with full devotion [and] without considering any time limits,” says Mumtaz.
They had worked as waste collectors before but this role enables them to work together and they do not need to travel to work as they already live in the community. The couple’s earnings are spent largely on doctors’ fees and taking care of their health.
Beenish and Mumtaz have developed a routine. She knocks on people’s doors and collects the trash, then Mumtaz takes it away to create designated piles and returns with an empty wheelbarrow. Empty containers are returned to householders to use again. As Mumtaz goes about his work he likes to sing Psalms and worship songs.
“Some people happily hand over the garbage and some of them ask about who pays us,” says Beenish. “We tell them that we are not concerned with wages. We are concerned with the trash [collection].”
The trash is taken to the Haryali Hub in Islamabad where it is segregated. The recyclable materials are sold, the organic material is converted into compost, and the residual materials are sent to the government landfill site.
“We will be able to live happily and are grateful to God who has helped us to find a job in our neighborhood,” says Mumtaz. “This place will be clean as well. Our brothers and sisters will be saved from these diseases.”
When they return from work at the end of a long day, they have dinner and play with their grandchildren for ten minutes. They then take a short rest. It is not long, though, before they get up and are busy doing household tasks. Mumtaz is leveling the ground in his yard as he prepares to expand their home.
“You can see for yourself the whole mess around us,” he says. “And we have to dispose of rubbish for our house as well!”