by Tim Burkhardt, staff writer
Warren Wilson College’s Global Exchange for Sustainability Program received a $23,000 dollar shot in the arm this year. The school was given a grant from The Luce Foundation, a non-profit organization which has a mission of philanthropy aimed both here in the United States and overseas in China. The money will be used to send two professors and three Wilson students to China at the end of the semester.
When the school year draws to a close, Professors John Brock and Dongping Han will head up the trip to Kunming City in the Yunan Provence of southwestern China. Wilson students Johnny Slaff, Jacey Walrod, and Mary Reding will go with them on a mission of environmental education and service learning. While there, the students will get to know the citizens of Kunming who are waste pickers.
Waste pickers are frequently transplanted farmers who work in the city, yet lack the education to obtain better employment. They make a living by scavenging recyclable materials from heaps of garbage. This is a career choice which puts these individuals at risk for exposure to many toxins and pathogens.
Citing a recent World Bank study, John Brock said, “Two percent of the world’s population live by scavenging.” Brock, a chemistry professor at Warren Wilson and a trained toxicologist, expressed concern regarding the dangers these people often unknowingly come into contact with. He hopes that the upcoming trip will allow the team from Warren Wilson a chance to educate waste pickers; to explain the potential dangers, and suggest less hazardous ways of scavenging for those who do so in order to live. “This is intended to be a pilot project,” said Brock. “We hope to keep working with this community, deepening the cross-cultural experience by working with the same community repeatedly.”
Brock went on to say that he hoped to be able to conduct video interviews with the waste pickers, if possible. He said that he isn’t sure that video recording would be allowed, but that he would like to be able to document what the workers are exposed to, and to try and understand what drove so many people from a life working on farms to a life climbing through piles of trash. Video footage would help raise global awareness of the hardships suffered by those people existing on the bottom rung of the consumption ladder.
Dr. Han, professor of History and Global Studies at Warren Wilson, has led many trips to China in the past. On this trip he will help to prepare the students by informing them of the customs and social expectations that exist in China. While this is not the first international expedition Dr. Han has helped to organize and execute, he seemed particularly pleased with the socioeconomic and the environmental focus of the upcoming trip. According to Dr. Han, “It’s a wonderful opportunity. It meets the mission of our college. Wonderful for John and I, and wonderful for students to get to go to China with all costs paid; to learn from the Chinese, and to help the Chinese people understand the environment in a better way.”