In 2014, we went to Jinotepe, Nicaragua with our church to build a small home for a local family. These are not the best images that I have ever taken but they certainly represent one of the moments from this trip that impacted me the most.
The area that we were working in did not have trash pick-up so we had to drive outside of the city to the local garbage dump, La Chureca, to dispose of the trash. Our host briefed us prior to the trip about the homeless population that lived within the area but his warning fell on deaf ears. As a social worker, we see the worst that humanity has to offer. I felt no hesitation or fear about what I might see and yet…nothing I have ever experienced was adequate preparation for what I was about to witness.
This was a type of hopelessness that I have never encountered before.
I had limited time to document what I was seeing but as I looked around, all I could see was an endless wasteland of garbage and burning excrement. The air was thick with a black smoke that choked out all sense of light. My mind could barely process what was around me. Even now, years later, I struggle to find the right words to describe it. The loss of human dignity was overwhelming to me.
Hundreds of families live in La Chureca. Some work in the dump sorting trash from recycling; others live there, but work elsewhere in Managua. Some decades ago, city officials negotiated an agreement with the owner of the dump’s property as well as several hundred people that were squatting there: the families could continue to live in La Chureca and work sorting out recyclable materials, for which they could sell and earn income from. In return, the city would rent the land from the owner, sanction the squatter communities on private property, providing potable water to the residents.
As we entered the gate, our van was greeted by those that live within. They helped us empty the van with smiles on their faces and then immediately proceeded to search through the bags. Bags that were filled with food scraps, empty cans and used tissues that had been saturated in human waste.
They live off of the leftovers of those that barely have anything themselves.