Thursday, January 14, 2010

La Chureca

By Danae Ioannidis

Today an incredible man named Carlos Vidal took us to La Churreca to see where many of the children from Los Quinchos live. La Churreca is the largest dump in Central America. Nearly 200 families live inside La Curreca, and another estimated 1,200 families live on the outskirts of the dump. All of these people survive on the garbage that others throw away. Never will I be able to erase from memory the sights, sounds and smells of this place. Hundreds of men, women, and children were sifting through mounds of trash to find a bit of plastic to sell or food to eat.
Carlos shared with us a tragedy that happened in La Churreca not too long ago. A group of three boys found a box of chocolates. Unsure exactly what it was but only knowing the box contained a sweet treat they many never taste again the boys hungrily devoured the chocolate. Within 30 minutes the boys began foaming at the mouth. What they had actually digested was chocolate rat poison that someone had casually tossed into the garbage without a passing thought. Whoever threw that poison away probably has no idea of the death of those three boys who believed in the good fortune of finding chocolate within the heaps of waste at La Churreca. Unfortunately, these are the realities that the people who live in and around La Churreca face daily. Malaria, dengue, parasites, respiratory and skin infections are only some of the diseases prevalent among the community. Violence, sexual abuse, and incest are some of the physical dangers of this nightmarish place…

Walking through La Churreca was the most difficult experience of my life. Seeing small children pick through waste not only like vultures, but literally along side vultures, was more than my senses could bear. The smoke, dust, and soot permeated the air so much that it was suffocating. After walking through the dump for an hour our skin and clothes were covered in a brown film. Imagine this being your life – spending every hour of every day in this nightmare. It's too much. It is a place I never thought I would see, and am still grappling with. It is a place no one should have to live, especially children. Yet, even with all these horrors the children we met today that Carlos tries to recruit for Los Quinchos were still smiling. As children all over the world do, these kids still found ways to laugh and play and regardless of their struggles, still find ways to be children.

I have not wanted to blog much since we have been here. In fact, I have done my best to avoid it. It is difficult for me to find words to accurately describe the things I have seen, the knowledge I have gained, and the emotions I have felt throughout this experience. There are so many more things I would like to share about today, but instead I will end this post with the smile of a child who, like all the others we have met over the past week, find ways to keep smiling.

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