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Garbage Dumps and Handkercheifs

July 1, 2011

In the past two years, I have spent 5 months volunteering with children who live in and around the Guatemala City garbage dump. When I arrived in Managua exactly one month ago, I learned that one of my two co-workers (Yamileth) had worked and lived in the Managua garbage dump (la chureca) for years. This strangely made me feel very at home.
Last Saturday, Yami brought me to her house and we walked to la chureca. Unlike the Guatemala City garbage dump, we were able to enter unnoticed by the security guards that didn´t exist. Apparently la chureca is much more lenient than the Guatemala City garbage dump. People tend to come and go frequently, working only 1-4 hours at a time. There are no walls or anything designating a boundary between the dump and the communities surrounding it. Garbage overflows into the neighborhoods. For blocks around the dump I found mounds of trash sitting in front of houses. People sat in rocking chairs sorting out recyclable goods.
As we walked around the dump and met some of Yami´s friends, she told me more about the ¨Spanish Project¨ that I had heard whisperings of. This is what I learned…
The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) has donated $40 million dollars to essentially exterminate la chureca. They have cleared space where mountains of garbage once were in order to build two processing plants. One will recycle materials while the other will use trash to create energy. Quick side note: If you are at all interested in how the hell this whole garbage into energy process works, check out this website from a company in Madison, PA-
Anyways, this Money will also support the construction of 260 homes for families that live within what is now the garbage dump. The members of those families will also receive jobs at one of the two processing plants.

Well, this all sounds magnificent, huh? A real solution to a real problem. And it´s green!
But let me explain to you why the churequenos are more frustrated than ever.

1) 1. There are WAY more people living around the garbage dump that depend on la chureca who will not receive housing or employment.

2) 2. Yes, recycling plants are green according to our standards, but the art of scavenging is WAY more sustainable. Thousands of people in la chureca (and their families) eat, wear, and play with other people´s garbage. The ultimate hand-me-down! How will these people eat and dress themselves without this garbage and without a job?

Yami told me that at one point she decided to leave la chureca. She was determined to find a ¨real¨ job and make a better life for her children. After a couple months trying to get by, she returned to la chureca claiming that she made more money recycling and that the benefits were much better (ie. food and scavenged goods).
Of course I´m not saying that the Spanish program is not an incredible achievement for Managua. And I´m not saying that the life of a churequeno is luxurious. I am simply pointing out what I´m sure all of us interns have discovered when searching for solutions to social justice issues: There is no such thing as a solution without negative repercussions.

Moving on to a lighter topic.
The past two weeks I have spent my time in the office of Esperanza en Accion preparing for a weeklong trip to Malacatoya (an hour outside of Granada). A women´s cooperative in this rural town has been embroidering handkerchiefs by hand as their main product for about three years now. Last Tuesday, Emily (my other co-worker) and I had to break the news to this group of women that the market for handkerchiefs went out with the twentieth century and that their product just won´t sell.
Our solution: A week long workshop with yours truly! I will begin by teaching these women how to use a sewing machine and offer several different product ideas that Esperanza en Accion thinks will sell in the US.
Our ideas so far: Aprons, pot holders, place mats, and reusable grocery bags that fold into a little pouch. Yes, it might sound a bit random, but the women seemed excited to turn a page in their artisan career books.
On Monday I will pack my bags, my patterns, and my example products and head down to Malacatoya.
I am very excited to spend a week with these women, learn about how they live and hopefully help them create some goods that will generate a greater profit.
But first, I am off to Leon for the weekend to visit my host family, friends, and the other heston interns.

If you would like to see pictures of my first visit to Malacatoya you can go to the Project Gettysburg Leon Flikr website:…


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