Saturday 1 October 2016

Irish street sweeper travels 7,000 miles to do his job in poverty stricken Manila for new doc

Jane O'Faherty

Published 17/04/2016 | 21:58

Mark Crosbie, a street cleaner with Dublin City Council, swaps the cobbled stone streets of Temple Bar for one of the most polluted and densely populated cities in the world, Manila.
Mark Crosbie, a street cleaner with Dublin City Council, swaps the cobbled stone streets of Temple Bar for one of the most polluted and densely populated cities in the world, Manila.

A Dublin street cleaner says little could have prepared him for witnessing the world’s most polluted city.

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Mark Crosbie, who has worked as a street cleaner for Dublin City Council for the last eight years, agreed to travel 7,000 miles to do his job in one of the toughest place to be a street sweeper, the Philippines.

Mark said working on the cobbled stones of Temple Bar gave him an insight into deprivation here. However, it couldn't have prepared him for the level of poverty he would see in Manila.

“I see poverty in my own job every day,” he said. “I’m familiar with the current economic and homeless crisis.”

“I’m picking up sleeping bags. I’m talking to these people every day,” he added. “I’m cleaning up soaked cardboard. I’m picking up people’s homes, essentially.”

“But when I went over there [Manila], it was poverty on another level,” he said. “It was really emotional.”

Visiting Manila was a culture shock for Mark, where people scavenge dumps for something to sell and even attending a trade union event can land you in jail.

The city is home to 25 million people, four million of whom live in the squalor of slums.

During his time there, Mark stayed with a local sweeper Mel Macaereg, who works eight hours a day, five days a week. He earns just €60 a month to support himself, his wife and six children.

Thousands of waste workers contend with the city’s waste problem every day, but they are fighting a losing battle.

As part of a documentary to be aired tonight, Mark takes on Mel’s cleaning duties for a day, while grappling with the realities on Manila’s streets.

“Over there, they have no social welfare or special equipment,” Mark said. “They don’t even have proper sweeping brushes or protective gloves.”

Mel also witnessed how many waste workers are forced to root through rubbish for valuable items to keep or sell on.

Sleeping on the floor of Mel’s house, Mark also had encounters with mice, rats, cockroaches and even a scorpion.

But after-hours, Mark got to know the local community well and was often moved to tears by their warmth and generosity.

“With the poverty these people face, they gave me so much,” he said. “When I got back, we’d play basketball or play darts.”

Mark is a keen fundraiser for Inner City Helping Homeless, Autism Action and other charities. Following his experience, he now plans to raise money for the KNK (Children Without Borders) programme, which provides education to young people in the Phillipines.

IFTA award-winning director Garry Keane is behind Toughest Place To Be, which begins at 9.35pm tonight on RTÉ One.

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