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Durban Chronicle: Amazing Women

Dear Sisters in WP

I an indebted to you for the huge support and love that you are sending my way - Sara Colins, my mentor, Pushpa Achanta, my friend, Rumbidzai, Olutsin, Paula Lawsin and all you other beautiful hearts, I send a hug to you. Its this love that inspires me to excel and I am very happy to tell you that as a CCMP fellow, I have received a lot of appreciation; my stories have generated huge response and things are very exciting.
The summit is going to end tonight and in another 4 days I will be back to India - and to World Pulse as a VoF. Before that I wanted to share this story of mine that shows two very ordinary -and poor - women, who are speaking out here for their community - the ragpickers!!!

I hope you find this inspiring. I salute these two women.
Two women rag pickers from Maharashtra bat for India's poor in Durban
By Stella Paul
Durban09 Dec 2011

The big red bindi, the green glass bangles and the colorful sari notwithstanding, Suman More appears frail, tired and a little overwhelmed by all the hustle and bustle around her. But, ask her what brings her here and her eyes lighten up, her tiredness vanishes.

"We, the rag pickers of Pune (that's where she comes from) are in big trouble. We recycle a lot and help keep the environment clean. But now we are losing our livelihood. I am here to tell the world about that." she says, not mincing words.

Susheela Savle, sitting next to Suman, nods. Susheela, 44, is from Mumbai and like Suman,is already a young grandmother.

However, unlike Suman, she has been to a climate before. She had attended the Copenhagen summit in 2009, and, she had been to China too, to speak for the rag pickers at a climate change conference.

Susheela is quite articulate and tells about the problems that have been dogging the rag pickers of Mumbai.

"Though some of us work for the municipality, most are free roaming rag pickers who pick up waste from every corner of the city that include streets, abandoned plots and the city dumping grounds. But now there are privately owned companies who are setting up landfill and recycle projects.

“They ask us not to use the dumping ground any more. And we do not have any others means to support ourselves. So, in the climate summit, we are asking governments to recognize our work as waste managers, recyclers and create a small fund that would help us continue our jobs.”

The city of Mumbai produces 7,025 tons of waste every day. And, it’s people like Susheela and Suman who form the force that collects, sorts, segregates and manages this waste, keeping the city clean.

Now, they are asking for being accepted as a legitimate partner by the cities in their plans to fight climate change and build low carbon environment. But do they have the skills or capacity required?

Susheela has a ready answer: “We know segregation better than others do. Most of us are trained in composting. In fact more than 3,000 of us in Mumbai alone know how to set up bio gas projects.

“Given an opportunity, we can help the government manage the waste very well. But, if the government still wants to go ahead with private companies, it can at least give us some loans under the fund we are demanding, so we can set up our own recycle units and make a living.'

According to Susheela and Suman there used to be around ten thousand rag pickers in Mumbai alone, but the number has now decreased to about half. As free roaming rag pickers, they roughly make Rs. 100-150 (USD 2-3) per day by picking up waste and selling the recyclable material to scrap dealers. But after being denied access to dumping grounds, they have been forced to take up other work. Many have become house maids.

"The society looks at waste pickers as thieves. So, when we women go looking for work, home owners ask us about previous jobs. The moment they hear we are waste pickers, they either refuse to give us work or pay us far lower wages. So, most women make only half of what they would earn as rag pickers."

The situation is quite same all over the world, say Susheela and Suman, which is why they are finding support from rag pickers in other countries too who are also facing loss of livelihood and starvation.

In Durban, they have been joined by rag pickers from Costa Rica, Brazil, Senegal and South Africa. Together they have been trying to make their presence felt by meeting people in and out of the summit, screening films on their lives and demonstrating on the street.

But it takes more than a mere demand to bring a policy change at the global level, especially something like the creation of a global fund.

"Here, every country is promising to reduce poverty and help poor people. We are the people from the street. We are the poorest of the poor. If nobody hears us here, who will hear us then? So, we will continue to demand because we are asking for a legitimate right to survive,” say the women.

Given their determination, these Dalit women are sure to succeed in their fight for justice.


jadefrank's picture


Thank you Stella, for sharing Susheela and Suman's story, and the rag picker's fight for equitable opportunities to make a living and fight climate change. What a powerful story of determination and an example of how industry experts come in many forms and should be recognized and empowered to contribute and make a decent living. I send my gratitude and support to these two courageous women.


Stella Paul's picture

From insanity to sanity

Dear Jade

At this I feel like I am in an insane world, trying to connect with you - the world of sanity. I am sitting at the COP17 media center with all the press briefings cancelled or postponed until further notice. The air so tense, you can run a knife in it. We don't know which way the last minute negotiations are going, but we know that not many leaders here are ready to just say, 'ok lets just get the hell together and save this world.

And that two women with no or little education and no or little money or power will just dare speak here is a sign that no matter what the world says or does, common people, specially women are not going to keep shut....

I thank you a billion times for reading this and also for your comment!


Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Breese's picture

Amazing women, amazing story

Thank you for sharing the rag pickers remarkable story with us!

Stella Paul's picture

Thanks to you too, Breese

Your name should have been breeze, a nice warm breeze that is. In this very tension-filled evening of the climate change summit, your comment made me feel that people's,especially ordinary women's stories do have takers. And I thank you so much for that! Hugs!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Breese's picture

I've really enjoyed reading

I've really enjoyed reading your posts about the women you've met at the summit. It's such an important issue, and they have such important perspectives. Keep writing :)

usha kc's picture

Hey Sista, you are doing

Hey Sista,
you are doing great job to send us a many inspiring storeis of the courageous peoples from there.
I salute your passion and and the love that you do with us.

thank you for sharing this story .

love and hugs

Stella Paul's picture

How can I thank you enough?

You are such a well of joy and encouragement Baini, I cannot thank you enough! I hope to return to India soon and then read all your posts and reply to them and return at least some of the love you gave me.
Until then, take care and god bless!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

usha kc's picture

love you and missing u sis.

love you and missing u sis. in every news channel broadcasting the news of Durban I do search for you:)) and I tell to Ubhisha that Stella Aunt is there she gets happy to know that.

take care


Okeny-Lucia's picture


Dear Stella,
This women are representative of the other women in the unknown underworld.It is very interesting that you found worth a story to pick on and highlight .Congratulations!

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Stella Paul's picture

Thank you Lucia

Thanks my beautiful sister, for your comment. Yes, I have been lucky. I have met so many women here who are strong in their thoughts, courage and action. I think if we look hard, we can find them anywhere. But that is the challenge - looking hard. Thanks again!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

olutosin's picture


Thank you sister Stella for remembering my women. Poor women are the hero or sheroes. I love us though I hate poverty.

I have sworn my allegiance to poor women and children. I will stay with them as long as I breathe.

I love you dear sister and I will appreciate if you believe that...

We are together in the struggle to transform the world.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


Stella Paul's picture

You are special

I fell blessed to know you. You are constantly encouraging me here and on facebook and its such a beautiful thing! God bless you too, my sister. I consider myself as poor and), so the women I speak for - I see them as members of my own community. But though they are poor, they are speaking. And you and I are taking those words to others. This is how we are also working to bring change. Thats how the world will move! Lets stay together and work on like the way we are. Love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Nusrat Ara's picture

Glad you had a wonderful time

Glad you had a wonderful time and wonderful stories. Keep sharing.



Stella Paul's picture

Thank you Nusrat

Dear Nusrat

Yes, I had the time of my life here - reporting, learning, meeting people,expanding my network. And I am so lucky to have friends like you are always encourage me to excel. Thank you for being there!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

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