After two days of early awakenings, we finally resumed our regular wake up time – six o’clock sharp. Forty minutes later, when everyone had completed their cold showers and morning routines, we lined up for breakfast at Buffet Estelí, which served savory egg and cheese omelets with sides of buttered toast. Once finished and back at the hostel, we prepared for the Poverty Day seminar, during which we organized into groups to analyze an article giving a state of affairs on the impoverished populations within Nicaragua. Many of the facts presented were astonishing, such as that 17 percent of rural households are headed by women, but only 15 percent of women hold title to land under their own names. Also, although unemployment measures 12 percent for the country as a whole, it exceeds 20 percent among poor rural families. There is hope for the future, however. Although the rate of betterment is rarely as fast as we need or would like it to be, poverty in Nicaragua has decreased from 50.3 percent in 1993 to 45.8 in 2001, per the statistics stated in the article.
With optimism in our hearts we endeavored to watch a documentary, “Dreaming Nicaragua”, on the way of life inherent in some of the countries poorest communities, namely those residing near Estelí’s dump. The film introduced various families suffering similar conditions: malnutrition, unemployment, and many more children than they can support. One individual was focused on most, Doña Francisca (who we would later meet, unbeknownst to us) who was 74 around the making of the work. She had her first child at 15 years of age and proceeded to have 24 more over the next couple decades, 17 of who died within their first two years as a result of the less than optimal living conditions (which she later told our group was a blessing from God, since there was no plausible way she could have cared for that many children and herself). This was my take-away from this hour of our day and, while morbid, it was truly an eye-opener and stimulant for self-reflection.
Little did I know how shocking the next two hours would be. The next segment of our itinerary consisted of physically visiting the smattering of houses known as “Las Cruces” (The Crosses) – the community where Doña Francisca lives – and the dump depicted in the documentary. After a short hike, we arrived at Las Cruces to hear a speech from the Doña, during which she introduced herself and talked about how she (when she was younger) and her children (currently) scavenged the dump for valuable items which they could then sell. Yes, this is how the individuals of this community survive, sorting and selling the waste of others – to say their persistence and determination is admirable would be an understatement. We then headed for the dump to watch the workers in action. The first detail I noticed was the ubiquity of flies, I made a great effort to not glance down at my arms or body during the experience for fear of noticing a second layer of clothing atop my long-sleeved shirt. We then meandered a quarter mile through the dump until happening upon Doña Francisca, the daughter of the first Doña Francisca. During a brief interview she reflected that she began scavenging in the dump at 22 years old, after working in a cigar factory for four years – which she ceased because she didn’t enjoy being continually hassled to work faster. “At least here,” she explained, “I can work on my own terms.”
This concluded our point-blank encounter with poverty for the day, and afterward we hit the showers and enjoyed a short-lived respite of free time. As if to check one more item off of the To-Do list which had been occupying my mind, we enjoyed a 20 minute bus ride on unevenly worn dirt roads to the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), UCA Miraflor, which we are partnering with for our delegation’s Community Action Project (CAP). We then entertained a presentation by the leader of the cooperative (since, as he later explained, there are 11 others in the entire system), during which he gave us an idea of what the community of Robledal – where we visited Sunday for living on one dollar a day – needs. Our minds jazzed to commence work on the CAP, we delegated participation to construction, artistic, and management positions and began brainstorming ideas for the project’s actual implementation. Since we still have much to decide on, I’ll leave description of the project to the next leader.
As a conclusion to the day, we had our normal nightly meeting where we all reflected on the day and tomorrow’s student leader usurped today’s in a revolution of interpretive dancing. All in all, today gave me a perspective I hadn’t considered much, and I am continually surprised how easily suppressed my first-world cravings are becoming in the face of a lifestyle so contrary to my own.