Dr Fong salutes 14 women waste pickers

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Asinate Lewabeka of designated Vunato speaks at the Waste Recyclers training workshop in Koronivia, Nausori yesterday. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr James Fong became emotional when he spoke to 14 women informal waste pickers yesterday, saying their plight was often a topic of discussion he had with his wife.

Speaking at the Waste Recyclers Fiji Ltd (WRFL) Wellness and Literacy event in Koronivia, he said he was aware of the challenges they faced and was looking forward to all informal waste pickers in the country forming an association, so their issues could be better addressed.

He said by formalising their sector, the informal waste pickers could be provided with safety equipment to aid in reducing health and safety risks while sorting through rubbish at dump sites.

Dr Fong acknowledged the work done by WRFL in removing the stigma associated with waste pickers.

“I’d like to salute all 14 women for your wonderful work especially the impact that you have in sorting and managing waste in our environment,” he said. “I do know that many of you deal with negative labels and some undergo a little bit of verbal abuse from people who just watch what you do and they make their own judgments, not understanding that there is a struggle — trying to raise a family that you’re trying to feed.

“This is an honourable work as it is for a good purpose, and it serves a greater good.”

Dr Fong added domestic violence was a big issue in the community and children and women were the most impacted.

“FWCC reported around 9478 cases of which close to 73 per cent was domestic violence and children remember behaviours and some of them go and repeat it again and the cycle continues to their children.

“This is a stark reality about the society we live in and by empowering you with your rights hopefully will give you the strength to defend the helpless among you.”

WRFL director and CEO Amitesh Deo said the workshop aimed at bringing to the forefront the stigma attached to the work the women did on a daily basis.

“One of the key notes that we would like to bring to the forefront through our work is the stigma that is attached to this trade, the name calling and the difficulties that the community faces as waste pickers,” he said.

“The ladies will also attend a workshop that will be held here in Suva from June 21 to June 25 focusing on them becoming ambassadors for good waste management in their communities.”

The workshop was initiated by WRFL in collaboration with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) and International Union for Conservation of Nature. Other partners included Fiji Cancer Society, Department of Environment and BSP Financial Group Ltd.

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