COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – Kandegedara Arachchige Lionel, 43, has been working for more than 11 years in Kotikawatta-Mulleriyawa, a village council in Sri Lanka’s Colombo district. He is a health laborer, otherwise known as someone who collects garbage.
He says he does the job so that he can afford to educate his daughters, since he studied up to only grade five in school.
“I want to give good education for my three daughters of 13, 7 and 2,” he says.
But he says his family is embarrassed by his job as a trash collector.
“My wife did not like this job,” he says. “In first few months, even she did not talk to me. Every night, she cried a lot. At that time, we had only my eldest daughter. Several times she got angry with me, and she wanted to leave me.”
But he says he persuaded her that it was a good job to support their family.
“I tried my best to make her understood,” he says. “Now she is OK.”
Still, his job continues to mortify his oldest daughter, whose school is situated in the same village council area where he collects trash. He says that when he rides by on his garbage tractor, he tries to hide from his daughter’s friends and teachers to preserve his family’s dignity.
“But my two little kids who go to school not complaining me about my job,” he says. “They are still very young. I cannot think about what will happen in future.”
Despite his family’s disapproval, he says he is grateful to have a permanent job, which means he will have a job until he retires around age 55 to 60, at which point he will receive a pension. As a government employee, he is currently entitled to a system of monthly wages, and he says he’s happy with his pay.
“I get 12,690 rupees [LKR ($115 USD)] as my basic salary and another 5,750 rupees [LKR ($50 USD)] and 634 rupees [LKR ($6 USD)] as allowances,” he says. “Except that, the permanent health laborers are entitled to be worked additional 100 hours as overtime. I [am satisfied] with my salary.”
In addition to being able to afford his daughters’ education, he says he has been able to buy a three-wheeler, a hybrid of a car and a scooter. One of his relatives pays him to borrow it, so he earns extra money this way. Thanks to his job, he is also building his family a house, which he says has earned him respect.
“Three years before, with a support of a bank loan, I started to build a permanent house, and within another few months’ time, it can be completed,” he says. “I earned everything because of this job. Whoever underestimate this job, I have a respect on this.”
Although Sri Lanka has a well-organized garbage system run by local authorities, many citizens don’t follow the regulations and dump their garbage on the streets instead. Garbage collectors say