Tightly holding his big pipe with his right hand while cleaning black water and drops of sweat from his forehead with his left hand, Han La, 29, was pumping waste from the drainage pipe near Sisowath High School.
“I am not really satisfied with this job, but I know nothing and money is very important for my family,” said La.
La stopped his studies during primary school to help his parents at their farm in Takeo province. Six years ago, he moved to Phnom Penh and became a drainage pipe cleaner.
He said cleaning drainage pipes is not an easy task because it is dirty and has no specific working hours, with work sometimes required during the day or at nighttime. He might be asked to go into the pipe to move plastic bags and other pieces of rubbish.
“Sometimes, there is feces floating out of the pipe that I’m working on. It is really awful but I have to be patient and calm down to finish my task.”
Besides bad smells and dirty conditions, working in the pipes brings the danger of illness brought by the diseases in the dirty water. La said that after exiting the pipes, it is very important to clean his body with clean water and soap in order to remove the bad smell and the germs on his skin.
La also said that injuries can occur in the small pipes. Whenever he goes into a pipe, his team has to make sure the pipe isn’t too short, and some people stand near the pipe to help if there is an accident.
After five years on the job, La said that he never lets his work conditions get him down. Even though he is not satisfied with the job, he still likes being able to work.
“In spite of the fact that it is dirty, and low paid, it is a legal job that I earn from my hands,” said La, who added that he has to earn around $200 each month to pay for his rent, electricity, food, medicine and other expenses. In addition to himself, La supports his wife and daughter.
He added that he expects that one day, when he has enough skills and the right opportunity comes, he will have his own pipe cleaning company.