People often ask whether the scavengers on dumps sell the shoes Small Steps Project gives out. Every dump is different and sometimes people do have to sell them, especially if they are starving or need something else more desperately. To try and lessen this situation we talk to the people and ask them to name the things they need most urgently. Top of the list is usually food and water as well as essential cleaning items and mosquito nets, which we have combined to make the Small Steps Hygiene Kits. The reason we do shoes is to help people take small steps out of poverty but we always take into consideration that they may need other things too. Because it is hard to walk very far when you are hungry.
This week we handed out over 50 Small Steps Hygiene Kits to the dump community, organising a comprehensive kit for each family whose members work on the dump. The kits were composed of antibacterial soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mosquito nets, washing powder, nail clippers, plasters and nit combs. As we had to organise families and keep our system orderly, we also provided food and water to everyone while they were waiting for their kits and took some fresh clothing for those who needed it.
In preparation for our upcoming shoe and boot distribution, giving out the Hygiene Kits (in reusable bags, of course!) gave us the opportunity to see how people responded to our presence and taught us how to organise everyone and, most importantly, gave us the chance to collect all the children’s shoe sizes!
The La Joya dump is particularly dry and smoky. People are constantly lighting giant fires which blow huge billows of black smoke everywhere. There is also a constant, prevailing wind which fans the fires and makes being on the dump for even a couple of hours very difficult.
It is hard to open your eyes, never mind see. Many of the children have red eyes and horrible coughs.
The environment made it hard work for everyone but gave us a taste of what it is like for the scavengers every day.
We also distributed surgical masks for people waiting in the smoke and to volunteers. Though these do not last long enough to use every day so we hope to get a donation of respiratory masks for future projects. Most of the aid we provided was bought locally at the bustling market in Masaya, however, the nit combs, shampoo and solution, surgical masks and toys as well as loads of babies’ and children’s clothes had been donated in England and then brought over by Hannah, a volunteer from the UK, who has worked on the project and as my PA, back home for over six months.
In the last month, after people had read that we were in Nicaragua, in the field, we received several donations of clothing including hundreds of pairs of shoes, but unfortunately the airline our volunteer used wouldn’t waiver the baggage allowance so the cost of flying them would have been more than buying them locally.
It would be great to be able to recycle things from the UK regularly and take things that are not wanted in one country to where they are really wanted in another. It was a real shame, considering how generous members of the public had been in the UK. Had the airline, which will (for now) remain nameless, been more charitable, we would have been able to get a whole lot more stuff to children in poverty.
All is not lost though! We have addresses here that we can forward the donations to and we will up our efforts to rally airlines and demonstrate how important it is that the communities receive this aid. It might be especially worth airlines putting something back because several airlines contribute heavily to landfill, some contributing up to 50,000 plastic cups a day!
Fortunately, thanks to public donations of money, we were able to buy everything here from some Nicaraguan market traders and in their own words, “made their day”. We bought boxes and boxes of aid to make up the Hygiene Kits and despite my having to have root canal surgery the day before (!), we had everything ready ahead of schedule. On the morning of the distribution the team gathered by the mini-bus and loaded up the bags.
We were fortunate to have in our ranks, Linda Cruse, a legendary humanitarian aid worker and nurse who gave us information on how we might introduce a medical project to the distribution ones we are doing presently.
We were also lucky to have a new volunteer Natasha Vanden Brand Horninge http://natashavandenbrandhorninge.com/ who presents an array of TV shows in her homeland of Holland and speaks fluent Spanish and English. Bonus.
She, like all our volunteers, was captivated by our work and took some time off to get involved. In total we had a team of 7, most of whom spoke Spanish. This was massively important because no one on the dump spoke English.
We gave out 50 Hygiene Kits to every family and we now have a thorough census of how many families and how many children there are along with all their names, ages and shoe sizes. In short, we’re ready for the imminent shoe distribution, which you will read about here soon!
Before I go, I just want to add a huge thank you to all the people who donated things for us to distribute. Individuals and companies like Nitty Gritty UK have all helped to enrich a rather unhygienic way of life.