Monday was the infamous and highly esteemed Poverty Day, and I’d like to think I was fully prepared for the emotional strings attached to being leader of the day. In essence, the day revolves around the delegation traveling to El Basurero (or local dump), and learning about the lives of those who live and work there. It was definitely a very busy day, but we all learned a lot as a group.
We started the day off with songs. Lots of High School Musical and Hannah Montana echoed through the halls of the hostel as some students sang or held conversations about the 8th Wonder of the World (the mysterious flooding in Tommy and Matt’s room) before a banana pancake breakfast (featuring the last of John M’s Nutella). Afterwards, I led a game of Smile If You Love Me as our daily energizer before Deb’s seminar on poverty in Nicaragua. She talked about shocking statistics regarding Nicaragua – low literacy rates, but unemployment rates going through the roof, and that Nica is the most poverty stricken country in Latin America. Everything we were reading seemed so much more than just facts and figures on paper. Just days before we had seen all of this, first hand, in our experience with living on a dollar a day. By the end of the seminar, there was a general thoughtful (and for our delegation, unusual) silence. But Deb put us all at ease and had all of us run around the room and hug at least three people. Most of us just did as many speedy hugs as possible.
Next was free time, where we all were supposed to also prepare our lessons for English tutoring. Most groups busted out their lesson plans with ease, and we all ran up to the cafe for a quick coffee and pastry. Thank God for our newfound freedom – but it’s really getting us hooked on coffee! A majority of my time on the outing was spent obsessively counting to make sure all 19 of the students who came were safe and sound, though. Back home, Yazmin suggested that we all contribute about 20 cordobas towards buying some bread for the families at the dump. So I rounded everyone up to collect money, and then we proceeded with putting together the goodie bags with other donations – which consisted of pencils, index cards, and lots of candies for the kids. Before we knew it, it was time to go.
The delegation was first introduced to members of Club Infantil, an organization of people who work with families in the dump, along with the poorer youth from the cities. They explained to us some of their responsibilities, and also prepped the group for the day. In the past, many of the people from the dump were reluctant to have outsiders come in. However, through teaming up with Club Infantil and Global Glimpse, many of them were now very open to our presence, and willing to share their stories with us.
As we drove up hills and continued to chitchat to fill the time, there was still a bit of an ominous air that hung in the bus. We had previously caught glimpses of the dump while driving into Jinotega. There was smoke bellowing through the mountains, and students looked out the window to ask our leaders about whether there was a dangerous fire or if it was intentional. As Julia explained, it was part of burning the trash at the dump – which we would learn more about later in the trip. The brief look at the dump from far away wasn’t enough preparation for what we physically saw in our time there.
Honestly, it looked like a scene from a movie. There were hundreds of vultures either flying around, perched at the ends of the cliffs, or pecking at some rotten food they’d found. Piles of trash as tall as buildings were closer to the ends of the cliffs. Bony, stray dogs aimlessly wandered around. The thick smoke covered the view of the mountains across from us. Flies swarmed around anything and everything, leading us to consistently swat at the air. The roads were unpaved, rocky, and covered in with the soles of old shoes. The homes were made of large cuts of plastic propped against one another. As one dump truck drove in, all of the workers would hurriedly rush to begin sorting through the trash. And the smell – there aren’t really many words to describe that.
About 5 or 6 teenagers from Club Infantil who lived at the dump guided us throughout El Basurero. We stopped with a bit of distance away from the workers to both be respectful, but also to keep a safe distance from the cliffs. At this point, a chance to interview the kids opened up, and the delegation started pouring out questions. Some students wanted to know what the recycling process was like, while others asked about their dreams, or how often they ate full meals. This is when the most heartbreaking of answers came through. One boy said that even if he had dreams, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish them. When asked about one thing they truly want, another boy simply answered, “To get out of here.”
Then, we all went together to play a game of soccer with more of the kids and teens who lived there. Just like any other sports game we’ve played in Nica thus far, they clearly won – although Alex would argue that it was a tie. Some people stayed back to make bracelets with the younger girls. Personally, I helped with the bracelets until a met a little boy named Edwin. He had one dimple and the warmest light about him. He and I talked through my broken Spanish, and kicked a soccer ball between the two of us. Soon, his best friend came along, and I invited Diana, Ayden, Mark, and Christian to join us, as well. The best part of my interactions with Edwin was just after we passed out the bread and juice. Edwin ran back from the bus, and offered me his juice bag. I explained to him that I wasn’t thirsty so he could keep it – but it was simple gestures like this that truly touched the delegation. It seemed like everyone had a moment where these people with almost nothing not only shared their time with us, but offered up some of the few possessions they had. And not to mention, holding a smile the whole way through.
Other highlights of the day was seeing how the simplest of things could bring such joy to them. Deb gave each of the kids a couple of cartoon erasers, and I watched them all giggle with excitement and run to compare with one another. Celeste and Janessa made bracelets for some little girls and they would just admire it on their arms. Gabby mentioned watching a boy bring his grandparents the bag of bread and all three of them beaming and nudging one another as they ate.
The day ended just as quickly as it started. Upon returning home, we immediately jumped into a very, very emotional group reflection. Alex started it off with a quick talk – reminding us to shoot for the stars because of all of the opportunities we are given, and that we should never give up. He said, “Trying to fly is how you learn how to fly.” It’s hard to find a way to really capture the moment we all shared in this meeting without tainting it. The best way I can describe it, though, is that we collectively came to an understanding. An understanding of how lucky we truly are, or to take advantage of our great privilege – but mainly, an understanding that it was time to make a change.
I passed around post-cry Reese’s and Pocky, and some students took showers before we headed out to English tutoring. There was a celebration at the school that day where the kids played in a marching band with dancers, and it was a great way for all of us to distract ourselves and lift our spirits. We all coordinated a group game of Freeze Tag, and everyone reported feeling very successful with their lessons – so it seems like everyone channeled their uneasy feelings in a positive way.
To all of the parents/friends/teachers/etc of the delegation, I really thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to lead your daughters/sons/friends/students/etc. This is a special group of people we have in Jinotega right now. I can’t wait to see where the rest of this trip takes us.