Long story short, I was in NYC this past weekend and traveled from there to Guatemala today. That required a 2:30 am wake up in order to arrive at 3:30 am at LaGuardia. No one told me LaGuardia security doesn’t open until 4:30 am. Really? In the city that never sleeps?
My flight connected in Houston, TX, and I enjoyed the next leg to Guate City where I sat next to the most delightful older gentleman who spoke very little English but had fun trying to talk with me. Unfortunately my French and Russian studies were of no help. Every now and then we struck common ground. We discussed the beautiful lush landscape of Guatemala as we neared the ground - amazing rough territory with steep mountains, ridges, and sharp ravines. I cannot imagine traveling that land on foot.
I figured out customs and met the two people from Potter's House who were waiting for me. We went to lunch at a lovely café downtown where I had Tortilla Soup that rivals my favorite from Baja Fresh. I'd love to go back for that soup every day while I'm here!
Then we went to Potter's House where I took a tour of their amazing facility that feeds 200 kids from the dump every school day. Since students only attend school in the mornings, Potter’s House prepares lunch for them. I met many of the 60 staff members and finally met Yasmina (pronounced Jasmina) who had stayed at our house with her husband Douglas 9 years ago when they were in Memphis learning English. So fun to see her and catch up! Yasmina took me to the overlook to see the dump from the distant vantage point of the ancient national cemetery.
No outsiders are allowed in the main part of the dump due to safety issues, but 3000 Guatemalans are issued work IDs to forage through garbage every day. That number doesn't include their children who technically aren't allowed in the dump but walk around the outside of the gates to find a way in. Our driver was a young man who had grown up working in the dump with his family and who now works at Potter’s House, helping others.
Vultures swarm the dump and watch the arriving garbage trucks below.
Venders sell food at the tents, but few can afford it so they work from
dawn to dusk and return to eat at their homes.
From this distance, it's difficult to make out the dozens of people surrounding the trucks, hoping to be the first to rummage for valuables (like metal, plastic, and glass) among the trash. Some are run over by the trucks. After all the trash has been gleaned, it'll be pushed over the edge of the ravine and covered with dirt, waiting for the next fill of refuse.
When we returned to Potter's House, I met a high school senior who lives in the edge of the dump and whose father died when she was 4. She started going to Potter's House when she was 8. Her mom and 2 older sisters worked the dump while she cared for her 2 younger siblings who were also admitted into the after school program. Through their program of encouragement and nurturing, she stated at the age of 10 that she wanted to learn to speak English. So Potter's House began to teach her. She has studied hard and worked academically and this year has applied for the Walton Scholarship to send her to college in Arkansas. She's anxiously waiting with high hopes.
But she is not the norm among Guatemalan students. On average, most children here only attend about 4 years of school. It’s worse in the dump where many children help their parents earn money for the family.
Tomorrow I’ll travel to the fringes of the dump and meet others whose lives have been changed for the better. They will invite me in their homes to see the prizes they found in the dump - rugs, furniture, dishes, and even TVs. Tune back in to see what I learn.