Last week I was able to spend the day at the Guatemala City dump. I had read about this area several years ago, and as bad as it seemed…I was anxious and excited to finally get to check it out.
This is one of the largest dumps in Central America and extends over an area equal to 22 football fields. They receive over 200 tons of garbage each day. It is surrounded by families that for generations have made their livelihood sorting through the trash to salvage and re-purpose anything they could find. In one area we visited there were 200 small corrugated metal homes all packed together, and we were told that 800 families lived in that area! Four families per home!
Our host for the day was an organization called Potters House. They have done an incredible job over the years investing in and providing for the people in this area. One of their precepts that I found interesting was what they called “The Eight forms of Poverty.” Like many, when someone referred to poverty, I immediately thought of a lack of food. However, they have identified eight other forms.
In order of importance they are:
- Spiritual Poverty – Lack of a relationship with God.
- Intellectual Poverty – Lack of access to knowledge or the presence of distorted knowledge.
- Poverty of Affection – Lack of love or having inappropriate feelings.
- Poverty of the Will – Lack of self-control.
- Physical Poverty – Lack of health.
- Poverty of a Support Network – Lack of a close family or community support.
- Poverty of Civic Involvement – Lack of interest or participation in community matters.
- Economic Poverty – Lack of financial resources.
We visited several homes of people that live in the dump and it was as you might imagine…difficult. One man we visited made t-shirts. They looked great! Just like something I would buy in a store! They even had a tag on them.
However, the most impressive thing I saw was the jewelry. The women take magazines or posters and cut them up and roll them in glue to make beautiful beads that they then turn into all types of jewelry. Absolutely amazing and beautiful! The women we met were actually on deadline to make jewelry for a large retail store! As we walked around, we began to notice just how organized it was. There were men that were sorting and stacking cardboard. There were men that were banding together plastic bags. There was a woman that was pulling a cart that was filled with scrap wood. She looked at us with a smile and simply said,“ If I don’t work…I don’t eat!”
We were also taken to a building that provides nutritious meals for the children of the dump each day. They even made lunch for us! Now, this was something I wasn’t initially looking forward to…me…“Mr. Sensitive Stomach”… eating at a dump. However, the lunch they made for us and the children consisted of chicken, beans, tortillas and potato soup…and jello! It was actually the best meal I had all week! We ate and then the children from the dump began to file in. They were organized by ages, and all sat at corresponding tables. We then were allowed to go to the kitchen and grab the lunch trays and serve them. How cool that was? We served several hundred children from the ages of 5 to 12. Then, after they ate, we got to sit with them and just talk.
The Potters House also provides schooling for the kids as well as a psychologist that meets with each one of them as needed. It was amazing to see the smiles of these children. I sat with the psychologist and asked her about what she has typically seen as problems within the community. She said that most were family problems. I also asked her about how the children’s self-esteem is affected by the reality of where they live. She said that the younger children don’t see living in the dump as a problem, but as they grow older, they begin to realize their environment. Her job (as well as Potters House) is to transform their thinking about themselves. They work with them over time so that they stop viewing themselves as “trash” and begin to see themselves as God sees them…a “treasure.” This is not just a “slogan” either. Each time someone from Potters House refers to a person in that community, they refer to them as one of their “treasures.”
Finally, I asked the Potters House if they knew of any environments that were worse than the dump. They all agreed that living in the dump provides the people with a strong community, friends and regardless of the conditions…it’s home to them. The areas they felt were worse were the rural areas where there is a limited opportunity or community. Ironically, these are the areas where Hope Ignited has been working! Wow. Worse than the dump…and after thinking about it…I agree!
All in all…it was a wonderful learning experience for me. I take my hat off to organizations like Potters House. We finished up the day by actually hosting a business training clinic for about 50 micro-entrepreneurs that live in and around the dump. We taught basic business skills, ethics, money management and customer service skills. It was well received and at the end of the day…so were we.
I actually hated to leave…