Anticipation rang in the air as plans for this day were revealed. This morning, we reviewed the words of Confucius on the topic of poverty. The quote read, “In a badly governed country, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a well governed society, wealth is something to be ashamed of”. We were asked to relate this quote to the statistical poverty rates of Nicaraguan rural areas and its current government. This sparked questions of what makes a successful government, and how this correlates to poverty. We never expected what this poverty would look like.
The answer came in our main activity for the day. This was the visit to the Dump. On the bus, as we drove past the colorful vibrancy of the city, we were met with the invasion of flies and an overwhelming smell. This provoked many of us to cover our mouths with our jackets and shirts. After my asking of silence, the students were pulled towards the sight through the bus windows. The continued image of shack houses, unleveled dirt, and dusty air forced us to embrace the forthcoming experience. The deeper we drove into the community, the more bumpy and ridged the ride felt. We had to hold onto our seats in order to gain balance on maintain stability during the ride. I looked over to my peers on the bus, and we all shared the same collective look of awakening. Before meeting the inspirational Francesa or touring the dump, we knew as a group we were going to be forever changed from this experience.
Getting off the bus, we encountered littered rocky paths that proved difficult to travel, even with the comfort of hiking boots. A long sobering walk led us to the home of Francesa. She is a 75 year old woman who welcomed us with warmth and smiles, a true beautiful sign of hospitality. She explained that her daily routine started from early in the morning when she would walk down the path to wash clothing. She often did not have anything to eat. She relied heavily on her children in order to provide for her. The most inspiring thing about her is that even though she was surrounded by garbage, hunger, and sickness, she was able to laugh and joke. She evoked warmth that I will never forget and will always cherish. She inspired all of us to be thankful for what we have and to actively desire to take action in the world.
After the emotional, but reflective conversation with Donna Francesca, a tour from her daughter Francesca had been planned. But, Francesca was experiencing stomach pains so we had to experience the dump without her firsthand explanation. Following tearful goodbyes and heavy hearts we headed off for our first view of the dump. We boarded the bus again unbeknownst to the working conditions of the Francesca, the adults and the children. While traveling, we experienced intense turbulence in addition to a plethora of flies that resulted in swapping and discomfort. Getting off the bus, our mouths and noses were again covered to shield ourselves from the odor and flies. The first initial response was shock and disbelief. What we saw were towering heaps of garbage and smoking manure. There were tents on top of the dumps that people lived in. The choking smell of burning garbage caused my peers to close their eyes and cough. The more we walked, the more trapped we felt in the mountain range of trash. While we were departing, we saw workers, who also lived in the surrounding town, chasing the newly arrived garbage trucks. They wanted to be the first ones to get the recyclables. That image lingered in our minds on the sobering ride home.
Self-Reflection was a complicated time. All of us were so raw from that experience. There were confessions of guilt and deep sorrow. There also was a passionate need to do something. Everyone was stating ideas on how to fix Donna Francesca’s situation, or how to change the conditions of the surrounding town. Of course, many of these suggestions proved to be irrational or unsustainable, but that is not the point. The point is that we felt strongly about what we experienced at the dump. We wanted to take action to fix the problems we saw. Also we were asking a lot of questions. How many towns resembled the one we visited today? How were people working and still in the conditions they were in? Was the government aware of this situation?
As a group, we decided to incorporate what we saw and the emotions we felt for the renovation of the children’s park we’ll be doing our community action project in. Our mural’s focus will be on recycling and the realities of the dump. We will make people aware and we will make a change. And, hopefully, it will have a lasting effect on the community long after we’re gone.