A Day in a Trash Dump

Writing and Photography by: Whitney Runyon, co-founder of The Archibald Project

Writing and Photography by: Whitney Runyon, co-founder of The Archibald Project

There are moments in our lives that define us, set the course of our future and if we’re lucky, humble us in a way that keeps us grounded in our beliefs. For me, one of these moments was walking through a Thai city dump with a Burmese refugee who has dedicated his life to supporting vulnerable children and families. 

I met Daniel in a Thai border town. Our team spent the previous night in Bangkok, walking the streets of the red light district looking women in the eyes and wondering their story. Why were they there? Was this a personal choice? Were they trafficked? Was a pimp watching us nearby? Were these women abused? Were they Thai or Burmese? Were they promised a “better life” and then shipped off to be someone’s instant gratification?… 

And then we woke up, bright and early, drove halfway across town and boarded a prop plane hoping to meet a man who might give us some answers. 

This man’s name is Daniel. Daniel fled Myanmar (or Burma) with his brother and spent 4 years in a refuge camp. Upon leaving the camp Daniel had 2 choices, he could go to the big city or he could stay in the border town and work with his people. I’m thankful he chose the later. 

After spending a few days with Daniel and learning about all of his life work with Global Child Advocates he drove me to the dump and shared that it was this particular place which caused him to stay and work with vulnerable children. You see, Daniel has a civil engineering degree, but after one day in the dump, talking and working with Burmese migrants and refugees, he decided to stay and work to protect these people.

Along with GCA, Daniel and his team build relationships with vulnerable community members in order to keep children in their birth family, help abandoned children find foster families who are of the same ethnicity, and keep kids from being trafficked. 

Daniel prepared me for the dump. He prepared me for the smell, and the sadness. But what I wasn’t prepared for was watching the GCA team jump right in and serve these beautiful people. They sat on piles of trash, dug through the new dump truck’s stash helping the community members find a treasure they could clean up and hopefully sell in the market. The staff didn’t care about germs; they weren’t afraid to touch the people and sit and drink tea with them. 

I started talking to Daniel and he paused, “it’s not fair,” he mustered out through holding back tears. This wasn’t fair. People should not live like this. People, real people, should not live in trash! But they do and they are often unprotected leaving them and their children vulnerable. Traffickers wait to prey upon them. But, the Global Child Advocates team is there, building relationships and informing people that there is another way. They do not have to sell their children to make it in life.

After traveling to dozens of developing countries, this day in the dump, watching the GCA team work and serve their countrymen, humbled me to my core. I hope and pray this day stays with me, my heart, soul and actions for the rest of my life. And I’m so excited to share this day, and many others learning alongside Daniel with you all in our upcoming film of The Advocates, Episode 6: Thailand. Keep an eye out to have your heart impacted by this odd and passionate Burmese man named Daniel.