Girls at the Korah Garbage Dump in Addis Abbeba, Ethiopia
“Look at that woman’s hand,” my driver said in a low voice. “All the fingers are missing.”
“Now, over there,” he gestured in another direction. “That man’s nose is almost gone.”
For no more than five minutes, our car had been still as a large vehicle ahead blocked the way; out our windows, no other light-shinned faces met my gaze. My driver quietly speculated we were the only two white people within a 20-mile radius. Dozens of people moved past our car, eyeing us guardedly.
Stuck in the passenger seat, I felt like an exotic animal inside a cage. Feeling the stares of passersby, I began to feel unsafe and wanted to hide. Not since my first trip to Sierra Leone had I felt this way.
This time I had traveled to Ethiopia to perform a feasibility study. My driver was Dr. Tadesse Kassaye, North African Manager of a London-based organization Health Poverty Action; he agreed to take me personally to see the needs of those living in the Addis Ababa garbage dump.
Not a half hour from our hotel, the 30-acre landfill appeared just off the main road. No signs of any kind directed us; endless mountains of garbage just open up in the middle of what looks like a middle class housing development.

Korah, the dump where lepers live and work
“Garbage dump’ poverty is broader than we realize. Help us alleviate this poverty.
If not us, who?
If not now, when?
Having made this kind of trip to many parts of the world, I had come to the conclusion garbage dump communities are all the same. Only the appearance of those living and working in the dump are different.
For example, the skin color of people working in one dump might indicate you were in Africa. In the Philippines and Cambodia, the Asian features of workers there would say you were not in a Honduran garbage dump. But everything else about these landfills is similar; masses of trash, fire and smoke, dogs, rats, and the stench of rotting garbage are everywhere.
With no official figures on how many people live and work this landfill in Addis Ababa, local authorities can deny that there is any humanitarian problem. But on this trip, I could see how the people there struggle for existence. In addition to vermin and toxic smoke, I saw human beings scratching for survival, scavenging through dangerous mounds of decaying food and discarded goods.

What made the Addis Ababa garbage dump stand out, though, was the startling incidence of a disease that has been eradicated in most of the world. Because of the stigma attached to their condition, these dump workers are shunned; the landfill is the only place they can turn for a livelihood, for survival. Nobody knows when or how they got there. No one knows how many of them live amid the garbage. But I saw the woman with no fingers and the man with almost no nose, there in the dump where the lepers work.