“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The stench hit me before we rounded the corner. The fumes of rotting garbage filled my nose and immediately made me gag.

Walking into the warehouse, I was stunned by the sight of countless piles of garbage.

It smelled so bad, I could taste it.

I squatted next to six female rag pickers circling a pile of garbage and began sorting with them. With no gloves, masks or other safety measures, we sorted and sorted. Dry plastics. Salvageable cardboard. Things coated in unknown liquids. Glass.

After four hours, I was exhausted and deflated. How could these women possibly do this work day after day? It was backbreaking manual labor in unsanitary conditions.

But I was captivated by their stories. They were the stories of sacrifice in pursuit of a better vision for their families. While it was no surprise that they did not enjoy their job, they found immense satisfaction in being able to feed and educate their families. These women did, however, believe they deserved fair treatment at work through reasonable wages and access to healthcare.

Seeing the beautiful homes that the women were building through a job that left their clothes reeking and their fingernails embedded with dirt, inspired me to imagine their power and impact in more honorable working conditions.

So with my one wild and precious life, I want to create dignified employment opportunities for women who have a vision for a better world.

— Megha Mathur