Friday, February 9, 2007

Vietnamese Tree Bark Collectors


Collecting wastes for a living is a universal job for the hardcore poor, especially in the third world countries in Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America.You don't need capital or you only need a very minimal of it as you don't have to pay for most of the things you collect.You just have to work very hard and to always be ahead of competitors. Common in our country are people collecting all kinds of metal scrap, aluminium cans, glass bottles, plastic, old newspaper etc. But in Vietnam I came upon groups of women from the coastal villages of Mythoi , Long Xin and Quinhon collecting tree barks for a living. These coastal villages are located near to the main timber discharging ports in Vietnam. In recent years much of the timber imported to Vietnam for its furniture and construction industries is from its ASEAN neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia. Logs are normally shipped to Vietnam by open top barges instead of the traditional log carriers because of the mobilbility of the barges.
When a barge laden with logs arrives at one of these villages, it is like a gold mine for the villagers. But there are also rules to follow. Firstly the tree bark collectors have to follow the working hours of the port as no body is allowed to board the barge during non working hours. Secondly the tree bark collectors are not allowed on board when discharging of the log is in the process as it is very dangerous. The only time these tree bark collectors are allowed to board the barge is when the port workers are having their morning and afternoon breaks and when they are not working due to raining. Although these breaks are short, the tree bark collectors work feverishly fast to collect as much as they can before security guards warn them off.
Women, young and old form the majority of the tree bark collectors. Usually there are also a few young children among them. It is quite an easy job provided you have the correct tool.... a long and strong iron chiesel is perfect. But it is a dangerous job because you have to work very fast on top of the logs which are slippery when they are wet. Very often you also have to move underneath the piles of logs to collect the barks, just imagine the serious consequence when one of the logs slip and hit you directly.

Normally the villagers are very cooperative and they collect the tree barks base on first come first serve basis.The collected tree barks are sort out, bundled and transported home by bicycles or motorcycles. At home they are laid out to dry under the sun until they are ready for sale to bakery shops. Bread baked by tree barks are said to be of extra tasty and crunchy. So the next time you eat a loaf of bread in Vietnam, think about these tree bark collectors who risk their lives under the piles of logs to give you a good meal.

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