WILL Journal Excerpt: Carolin Guentert ’11

I’m not sure how much I can write today, because I really just don’t think I can. We went to see La Chureca, the Managua city dump, today, and ever since we got back, I just feel completely empty. I have never ever seen anything like this, and part of me hopes that I never will again. All of the girls, including me, are completely shocked. We are just sitting around the porch of hotel, quietly, sometimes talking, and trying to work out what we saw today. It was just so shocking and unbelievable, and I think what we´re feeling is just empty, past upset or shocked.

The dump is right next to Lake Managua, which is a completely polluted lake in the middle of the city. The dump is about 160 acres, it’s huge, and literally consists entirely of garbage. What looks like mountains is 40 years’ worth of trash piled up about 40 or 50 feet. All you see is trash, flies, and complete poverty. We actually entered the dump in the bus, because we weren’t allowed to get out. It’s dangerous for groups like ours to walk through it, and the entire dump is infested with disease and there is both the flu and swine flu going around, which is why they thought it was safer for us not to leave the bus.

I can’t even begin to describe what it was like. On top of the garbage, the waste, feces, dead animals, and remains were huts out of tin, paper, and garbage that people had built. The settlement is about 900 people, the majority of them kids, who live in the dump, eat out of the garbage, make their houses out of the garbage, and make a living out of it. All of the trash in Managua goes to this dump, and the people make a living by picking through it, sorting it, and selling what they find. They separate it into piles of plastic, tin, metal, food, bags, etc. Kids are literally born on top of the garbage. People eat and live and breathe it every single day. They have set up a school and a clinic in the middle of the garbage, which is just unbelievable. The school is not officially recognized in Nicaragua, and rather than learning valuable lessons or educational subjects like math or Spanish, the children are often taught that their fate is God’s will, and that they are meant to live in this place, and that they will never get out. The kids swim in the completely polluted lake, which is poisonous and contains mercury, and full of dead animals and garbage. They drink that water every single day. Cows and chickens live in the garbage, and the people live off of them. Drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and disease are rampant. We saw 5-year-old children who are addicted to glue, so spaced out and drugged out as though they’ve been dependent for years. People are literally starving, fighting with each other for territory in the dump.

We saw how a garbage truck came in and emptied its load, and people literally ran, barefoot, as the truck was emptying. They jumped into it, covering their faces, and started sorting and digging. They keep the things they find in piles, guarding over it, attacking each other if someone infringes on another´s territory. Kids climbed on top of our bus, not even realizing what they were doing because they were completely drugged up. One boy clung to my window, I’m pretty sure he was deathly ill, because he had festering sores all over his body and could barely focus his eyes on us. I can’t even describe it; the whole thing was just so awful. What makes it worse is that violence and sexual abuse is so high there. Hundreds of women are raped or sexually abused or beaten, dozens of women are killed by their husbands every year, young girls get pregnant or are sold into sex trade, and HIV/AIDS spreads every day. It’s just so unbelievable, and the whole day was very hard to process. We are getting together in a few minutes to reflect, we all really need it, especially tonight. The past few nights we have all just sat together and talked for hours, which helps a lot, and I’m sure it will tonight, too.

It’s just so hard to remember the big picture when I see things like this. We have had such incredible, positive experiences in Nicaragua throughout our entire stay. People are receptive and open, willing to listen, learn, and share. They have imparted more on me than I have on them; they have been sharing their world with us for days now. Wherever I look, people are making the most out of what they have. They see potential in everything, see possibility, even hope. They understand that life can be difficult, but not impossible. They know how to form communities, how to help one another, and how to contribute to each others’ lives. We have so much to learn from that. As difficult as today was, I know that I’ve taken so much from it. It was the worst situation I have ever seen, and as terrible as it was, it reminded me of just how much there is to be done in the world. It reaffirmed for me why I chose my major, my course of study, my college, and of course, WILL. It is necessary to see situations such as these, to learn from them and somehow contribute something positive. Although there is nothing I can do for the dump or its residents directly, I can certainly share the knowledge of what I saw today. I can carry it with me, bring it back to the people I know, and to my community at school. That’s how change begins. This experience, this entire trip, has truly put my life into perspective. It makes me realize just how much I truly have, especially in terms of people who love and support me. I have my family, my friends, and people like these girls, and how could I ask for more? It’s just so easy to forget that sometimes.

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