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Two Days in La Chureca

Monday, July 7, 2008

The last two days on our trip was spent at La Chureca, the city dump of Managua. A couple thousand men, women, and children call this place home. Most have never been outside the gates. As we arrived at the entrance, our driver instructed us to close the windows of our minibus, even though it was at least 90 degrees outside. We soon found the reason… the constant flies. We drove in on the only dirt road, lined with trash. As you can see, this wasn’t your normal America dump, this place was trash as far as we could see. It is hard to describe the scene, and pictures just don’t show the reality. There is a constant smell of smoke from the trash spontaneously combusting. Some men and women are standing around or rummaging thru trash on the sides of the ‘road’.

We drive about half a mile in and turn into the residential area, noticeable by the shacks lining the road and lack of large trash piles. We go a short ways and arrive at the dump school. Yes, there is a school in the dump. It was built 3-4 years ago from donations. For the first few years, most kids in the dump were not allowed by parents to go, because they needed to ‘work’ collecting trash. Thru the efforts and friendship of Gloria and other locals (along with the free meals), now 80% of the children attend.

During the day, the men, boys over 12, and some women, spend the day digging thru trash with picks looking for food or resources. The city dump trucks would show up, drive the ridge of trash mounds and dump their loads off in the distance. We heard past stories of residents fighting over what was found. One man returning from ‘work’ stopped to rest next to our group while we were looking around. He set down a small cardboard box containing his day’s prize, an old cantaloupe and some other unintelligible fruit. He looked tired but satisfied with his find. Flies were swarming the fruit and I tried to image what it must be like to live like this.

We enter the school grounds and are instantly swarmed by kids. They want to be held, tickled, played with and have their picture taken. Surprisingly, most kids are clean, considering their living conditions. I think I expected filthy, smelly people here. Even in the dump, parents took pride in sending their kids to school with ‘clean’ clothes.

The gals in our team spent both days de-licing the girl’s hair, which they loved. We even had girls come back the second day wanting it done again cause they loved the attention and pampering so much.

Us guys were given the task of adding plastic to the roofs of some shacks. July is the start of their rainy season. We completed 2 the first day but were frustrated due to lack of supplies. One of the shacks had weak ‘rafters’ and badly needed repair. We found more scrap wood to wedge in and add some support. The following day we asked to stop at a hardware store in town to get more supplies… lumber and nails. The house in this picture here is where we spent most of our time. It was one of the largest in the dump with 3 rooms. (We were guessing about 20 people lived in it). We started on the roof and quickly realized that most of the roof was sagging and holding water. We added some more support with the lumber we had, which was a challenge working around cramped space and exposed wires. (There was stolen electric into the dump, running thru wires draped over trees and homes).

I found the people in the dump very friendly and grateful for any help we gave. It was hard to communicate due to the language barrier but smiles and ‘Hola’ went a long ways.


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