Today was one of the most important days in the itinerary: Poverty Day. This meant that we made a visit to the Leon dump to talk to the people who work there every day, rain or shine, in order to provide for their families by finding things to sell or use.
So, what do you imagine when you think about poverty? Flies, piles of trash, no food, just pure misery. But that’s not all there is to it. To be honest, I was expecting to have to breathe through my mouth and cringe every two seconds, but I found I didn’t have to do any of that. There was a distinctive smell of smoke from the regular trash burns that take place there every day, and there were a lot of hard sights to see, but there were not huge mountains of trash and unbearable smells like I had expected. Still, the experience had a huge impact on me.
As soon as we got to the dump, we split into 3 smaller groups. I saw old people, kids, people with disabilities, women, all of the above. The first person that our group talked to was a 13-year-old boy and the thing that shocked me the most was not what he told us, but it was when I shook his hand. This kid had a callous set of hands that shows years of hard work and struggling, and I can only imagine what else he’s been through. We also talked to a mute man who looked like he was on the brink of starvation. His name is Rafael, and although he was unable to say a single word, his genuine smile sent me a beautiful message. Although it was a short experience, I will never forget it.
After the field trip, the day was basically routine. We had time to take some much-needed showers and do some self reflection on our experiences at the dump. We also heard from Don Tomas, a local entrepreneur who shared his story of growing up extremely poor and working hard for every penny until he was able to be the owner of the bus company that we use for our private buses! He shared some valuable advice with us about earning our way, saving our money, working hard, having goals, and being humble and honest in everything we do.
In other news…in a shocking twist of events, I had an intense duel with the staircase at the hostel, and I lost…but it was a close fight! To wrap it all up, it was a memorable day for each and every one of us.
David Paul Nguyen