Saturday, June 7, 2008
How do we help?
It is hard to come into a country such as Nicaragua and not feel helpless. I don't want to serve as merely a tourist but a volunteer that is here do whatever necessary to help in the best way possible. I'm here for what, 10 weeks, and I feel like there is enough work to be done for the next 10,000 years. All I can hope to do is have a positive influence on the former street children I will be working with from day to day (my internship starts this Saturday, June 14).
Pronica, the non-profit organization I'm working for this summer helps to promote healthy living, education, the empowerment of women, and agriculture to many people in Nicaragua, especially for women and children. Their goal is not to fix the problems that exist here, but to facilitate the Nicaraguans to help themselves.
Two days ago my group visited La Chureca, a garbage dump which is the final destination for 1.5 million people's trash. In and around this dump live over 1000 people, who dig through the trash day after day to find measly recyclables that could possibly be sold back on the streets. A great deal of domestic violence and sexual assault occurs within these families of people and their community. Children are infected at early stages of their lives with parasites and STIs, which often go untreated and unnoticed. Eighty percent of the women in this "barrio" or community have gynecological abnormalities, and have little access to treatment. The conditions are so bad that many journalists and socilologists have come and snapped photos, which can be found by merely googling "La Chureca." Many of the inhabitants feel as if they are in a human zoo because of all the people that take their photos.
You can not understand how horrific the conditions these people live in until you drive through the dump. My mouth dropped open and my eyes immediately welled up as I bumped up and down in another volunteers SUV, which drove us through the mud that was created from Hurricane Alma and the following rain storms. I couldn't believe my eyes; there were hundreds of people digging through the mountains of trash with sticks, so as to be able to feed their families for a day.
At the top of a large hill overlooking an eroding, contaminated lake, lies ProNica's dwelling that serves to feed children from the dump a hot meal a day. The building is somewhat of a refuge and positive atmosphere for the children to play games and get educational attention. Near the "Los Quinchos" building is a nurses office and farther away is a school building where the children have the option to attend. Los Quinchos gives the children hope and a small fraction of the necessary attention they deserve. Once in the walls of the Quinchos, one can almost forget what lies beyond.
I learned a lot from the children we played with at Los Quinchos (which is the program I will be interning with all summer - but in a different location with former street children). The children enjoyed themselves and were so appreciative of the smallest amounts of attention. Many family and friends donated toys and materials for the children, which we brought with us that day. The children squeeled in delight and played eagerly with the bubbles, jump ropes, puzzles, and markers we had brought. Thank you again to those who donated!
These children, and community members deserve more than they have been dealt. It wasn't these children's choices to be born into such communities and families. A lot can be learned from the conditions that people live and work in, and there positive attitudes they put forth despite such situations. I'm still not able to process what I experiences for that long hour I spent in the dump, but with time I will sort out my feelings.
If you are interested in helping to support Pronica and Los Quinchos, please visit pronica.org.