Continuing with the topic of the wealth generated by dumps, Small Steps visited la Chureca, a dump, which makes an estimated US$30m annually, from the waste is scavenged, sold and recycled each year. It has been alleged that €30m is being spent on the regeneration of La Chureca, once the biggest dump in Central America, certainly the most dangerous and, of all the dumps I have visited, certainly the most hostile and depressing.
Almost every child over the age of 10 was high on glue. I was told by another volunteer that when they huff it through their mouths, they’re not hungry anymore, in effect, so they don’t know they are starving to death, moreover, when they huff it through their noses they don’t know they are on the dump anymore. It is a place full of death, supplemented with fear, pain, a lack of hope and ultimately, skepticism that strangers will bring any help.
And who can blame these people, who are swamped with missionaries, empty promises and who have had their photos taken and been filmed more that most scavengers? What have they received? To them, it clearly feels like nothing.
The Spanish government has pledged €30m. So far the only investment that the communities have seen of that is the bulldozers that have flattened their dump along with their meager livelihoods and with only the promise of houses in the future, as one dweller put it, ‘I can’t eat a house, can I?’ As similar efforts in the past have shown, the houses are almost immediately sold for the cash equivalent and the communities will move back into squalid premises, close to whatever work they can find, be it prostitution, drug-dealing or working on another dump.
Allegedly a recycling plant will be opened, jobs will be offered, but only to men, which ignores the 50% of dump workers who are women. Women, who head households and already struggle to provide for their children.
So the solutions for the dump dwellers provided by the Spanish are not, the communities on and around the dump not considered solutions at all, just added problems and injustices in an already painful existence.
The areas that were not flattened and covered, turned to desert, creating dust everywhere and apparently cause sores on the children’s faces and eyes, were piled stories high with every sort of waste imaginable. This included bright red bags, which come from the hospitals. The inhabitants of La Chureca know they are contaminated, containing anything from foetuses, body parts, needles, bloody bandages and scalpels yet they still scavenge through them looking for IV drips, metal, anything with a cash value.
There seem to be dozens of NGOs , projects, and missionaries ‘helping’ here but they operate with a total lack of inter-organisational communication. There is little kinship, co-operation or teamwork between them and even hostility towards each other. Everyone I spoke to had negative things to say about other projects and felt their way was the right way, but I didn’t see anything right anywhere on or around La Chureca with the exception of one women’s clinic 100m from the dump, which offered pap smears, sex education and sterilization for the La Chureca women who regularly have up to ten children.
The environment when we visited was hostile. We were warned that it was not safe for us to be on the dump and were advised against taking pictures or filming. A Nicaraguan film crew filming a documentary had recently been mugged at knifepoint of all their equipment and we were told that the same would happen to us, if we were not accompanied by a police escort.
We crossed the dump in a car, filming discreetly from the window and then made our way on foot up to Los Quinchos, a children centre in the heart of the dump, a basic structure, where the children were fed a basic meal once a day, costing a suspicious $1.20 per child.
In the centre the children were very friendly and playing in an empty concrete basin envisaged as a swimming pool in the past but that had never been filled. The centre was balanced next to a sheer drop into a manmade lake, allegedly dug out by the city to sell as landfill, leaving a treacherous path, one meter wide, between the vertical rock face and the entrance to the children’s centre where toddlers are walking in and out bare foot.
Half the centre was walled and fenced, however the other side was not, offering very little and flimsy security to the place which is considered the only ‘safe’ place on the dump. I honestly feel skeptical about organising a distribution here, because I don’t think we would be able to control it and I’m worried it would become more of a riot and a danger.
We met a young 24-year-old mum who had 3 tiny little girls, all of them had orange hair, a clear sign that they are suffering from malnutrition. Their limbs were stick thin, their stomachs bloated with hunger and yet the mother was pregnant again. I asked our guide why the mothers continued to get pregnant while watching their existing children starving in front of them. The young mum giggled and it was explained to me that the women felt they should bear all the children god sends them. Even if those children are starving and born onto a rubbish dump layered with toxic waste circled by vultures.