Maria, the trash collector

Maria is a young woman who fills the stomachs of her 3 boys whilst keeping the streets of Rawalpindi clean.

When hunger strikes, men and women come up with innovative ways to keep themselves and their families fed. When her husband’s income was not enough for their family of five, Maria put on a dupatta (scarf) on her head and headed out to help him. She got a donkey and attached a wheelbarrow type cart to it and started collecting trash from people’s homes. She has been doing so for 4 years.

Maria gets out in the morning and goes door-to-door with her sons who call out loudly on the street for people to dispose their trash in Maria’s wheelbarrow. (Also, she is from a part of the city called Bakra Mandi which is about 30 minutes drive from where I am). The trash is then transported by Maria and her sons to the Rawalpindi Cantonment dumpsters, where the Cantt Waste Management picks it up.
Because the streets are often crowded or narrow, the Cantt trucks can not go to the inner parts of communities. This is where Maria, her sons, and their handy donkey comes in.

If it weren’t for Maria, people had to drive their trash to the dumpster sites to rid of it and more often than not people get lazy and dump it in a sewer or any unoccupied piece of land nearby. This leads to a huge trash problem in the country and makes an unsanitary environment.

Now, people hand over their trash to her and pay her a monthly fee to transport it.
Maria said that the income from trash collection is enough for them to barely make it through the month. Sometimes, though, when they do not have food some of her employers graciously feed her family.

One thing I really appreciate about Pakistan is that even though there are many poor people, the ones who have money try their best to feed and help out as many poor people as they can. It is a beautiful trait of the Pakistani people that they are very charitable and helpful.

When asked do your kids attend school, she made a helpless face and said in Urdu, “Kahan??! Fees hi itni ziada hai!” (How??! The fees [for schools] is too expensive!)

Her youngest son was looking up at me with big brown eyes. He was very excited that I was taking his photos with this big black device and even posed happily with his donkey. It broke my heart when I realized that he would one day follow his mother and father’s footsteps and live the same cycle again.

Maria went on to say that the only education her kids receive is from a women who comes to their house to teach them Arabic. Most Muslims do not charge for teaching Arabic to read the Quraan because in Islam it is a charity in itself to teach a person to read and understand the Quraan.

When I see and meet these people, I am thankful for the life I live but I also feel embarrassed because I don’t think we are doing enough for the poor people of the world. Poverty is a problem every where, not just in Pakistan and it can be ridden of with one thing: Education.
These people continuously inspire me to go on ahead with my goal of an educated Pakistan and an educated world.

Maria is a Pakistani woman who is free and working hard. I thank her for efforts in keeping my native city, Rawalpindi, clean.





All photos shown were taken by me.  All photos are the property of


5 thoughts on “Maria, the trash collector

  1. Naima Shahab says:

    This makes me happy and sad at the same time… I personally feel the same when I see poor little kids and how they’ll have to continue with that lifestyle. Somebody with the power and resources to give them a better future needs to realize that too.

  2. Kiran G says:

    Wow, what a strong woman! I know this is superficial to say, but she is a very beautiful woman.

    • MayZ says:

      Thank you Kiran!
      Yes, she was beautiful and her beauty was actually what really attracted me towards her. It’s quite ironic how she collects trash/waste and probably lives in a shabby make-shift home but despite her living conditions, she is beautiful. Her eyes had a different kind of sparkle and I noticed that everytime I met her(I met her a few times after this post too). On my last day there, she prayed for my safe trip back.
      I think people who don’t have a lot in life have the biggest hearts!

      And yes, she is a strong and, in my opinion, an empowered woman.

  3. […] one is about the domestic help at my grandparent’s house, Nusrat. She, like Maria, is one of many Pakistani women who work to support their families. But her story is slightly […]

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