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Agbogbloshie

German photographer Kevin McElvaney spent four days in the Agbogbloshie area, documenting what is now known to be the world’s biggest e-waste dumpsite and the young boys working there.

Agbogbloshie is a former wetland and suburb of Accra, Ghana. During the 1980s, this area was a place of shelter for refugees from the Kokomba and Nanumba war, but during the the late 1990s the landscape began to shift. Industrialized countries in the West started to export unsalvagable electronics to Ghana in mass quantities, sometimes under a fake donation label. Today, it is the world’s biggest e-waste dumpsite. Computers, monitors, refrigerators, HiFi-systems, videoplayers, and other electronic devices are stacked everywhere in the area. The 40.000 settlers themselves call this place Sodom and Gomorrah.

Huge fires and enormous clouds of smoke dominate the landscape of Agbogbloshie. Most people working here are young boys between the age of 7 and 25. Starting their day at sunrise and ending it at sunset, they process the dump in search for metals, such as copper, aluminium, and iron, to collect and sell. To gain access to the metals, the workers either smash the electronics with stones or their bare hands, or they burn old foam on top of the electronics in order to melt the plastic. Magnets from other damaged electronics are then used to gather the smallest of metal scraps left behind. The remaining materials are either burned or dumped nearby.

What you do to get money,
is what kills you…

Injuries, such as sears, burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches, and respiratory problems. Almost everyone is suffering from insomnia and most workers die from cancer in their twenties.

German photographer Kevin McElvaney spent four days in the Agbogbloshie area, documenting the surroundings and the people working there. Despite the fact that the area is a socio-economic and environmental disaster, Agbogbloshie is also spiritual environment with hopeful, optimistic people.

– I feel sorry for what happens here, how they have to live and what terrible stories they have to tell, Kevin McElvaney said in a statement about his work. But somehow it feels wrong to walk around with a sad face, because there are still kids playing and dancing around, telling you stories about their visions and plans for the future.

Focusing his work on portraiture, not investigative journalism, he captures the workers in a candid and unbiased way, letting their inadequate dress and horrible surroundings tell their story.

As one of the workers, twenty-year-old Idris Zakaris, said: ”What you do to get money, is what kills you…”.

See a selection of Kevin McElvaney’s Agbogbloshie series and watch a video documenting his stay above. See more of his work on his website and Facebook page.