September 2023

The stories behind our photos

Since 2020, when Saamuhika Shakti began working with waste pickers in Bengaluru, photographer Vinod Sebastian has been documenting the partners’ work and the waste pickers’ lives. Every photograph, a unique story — of faces, families, jobs, homes, lanes, lives, resilience. Here is a collection:

2020 | For our InvaluableRecyclers, chai time is a well-deserved break after hours of back-breaking work sorting through and finding value in the waste we throw out. In this photo is Radhika taking her chai break.

2021 | Taken at a waste sorting centre. Vinod writes about documenting these women: "Watching them work, it becomes obvious that they have been doing this for a long, long time. They know exactly which tray the various plastics go into and don't even need to look while tossing them in. All the time that I was watching this process, they didn't miss or toss into the wrong tray even once!"

2021 | Scenes from a waste-picking community. In many such communities, waste workers live and work in the same place, allowing several members of a household to contribute to segregating different types of waste.

2021 | When Saamuhika Shakti began, partners not only had to brace themselves to work as part of the new, yet untested methodology of Collective Impact but also had the unique challenge of doing so through three waves of a pandemic that exposed the waste-picking community to even more insecurity and vulnerability. All partners had to shift focus to immediate COVID relief before beginning to work their programs on the ground.

2021 | A woman from the Summannahalli community uses Rangoli powder to mark areas where open defecation would take place. This photo was part of a series that documented a participatory research exercise with the community's women to map the area's water, sanitation and hygiene conditions, and to work with them to rebuild the community toilets. Today, over two years later, the community not only has functional toilet stalls but also an active maintenance committee run by the residents themselves.

2022 | Abhijit Maji serves Vinod a plate of chaat he made in his food cart. Abhijit and his wife Savitri worked with Saamuhika Shakti's life skills and entrepreneurship programs and began a food cart to business to supplement their waste-picking income. When this photo was taken, the couple was selling about 100 plates a day.

2022 | Sowbhagyamma wraps up after a day's work at Jolly Mohalla. She and others like her from our partner organisations have the deepest relationships with members of the waste-picking community - as they spend time in their neighbourhoods, stop by for a cup of tea, chat about their issues and challenges and help connect them to training programs, government schemes, job opportunities and so on. Saamuhika Shakti's work would be impossible without the help of these ground staff and the immense knowledge they have of the community.

2023 | Waste pickers dance at the Hasiru Habba — a celebration of and for the community. There was art, dancing to the Happy Number, campaigns against child marriage and stalls to showcase waste pickers' products, including handmade crochet toys and baskets.

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