“Never again a child on the streets.”

That’s the motto of Los Quinchos, one of the organizations that has long supported the dire needs of children in Nicaragua: Nunca mas un niño en la calle.

Managua_empty staring eyes

I last visited Managua in 2009 and shared the story of La Chureca. Even now, the acrid, burning smells and sights of ‘garbage living’ make me wince in memory.

Managua_scavenging the meat load Managua_young boy pokes head out of his home as we walk by

Imagine having to scavenge for your food through the loads dumped by meat trucks from nearby businesses: outdated meats from grocery stores, only food good enough for the dump.

Earlier this year, the Spanish aid agency AECID provided the funding to seal off the dump, establish a recycling plant and provide housing for some of the families. The city dump was renamed Bajos des Acahualinca.

It’s hard to believe the reports, and I long to go back and see the changes for myself, but according to ProNica:

“…the sea of shacks and families raking through trash has been replaced by a recycling plant; the once smoldering piles of trash have been compacted and covered with dirt. Only pieces of cement are left where the acres of trash once stood.”

The changes have brought about other needs, as Carlos Vida, International Coordinator for Los Quinchos, reports. Children are vulnerable; the drugs and violence and abuse have not disappeared, they have merely been moved along.

As with so many projects to provide a way out of poverty, it’s about a long-term commitment to empowering people through education.

La Chureca

La Chureca was a garbage city, dumped in Nicaragua’s capital of Managua.

A city built of rotting food, burning rubber, chemical waste and debris; inhabited by garbage foragers – many hundreds of them human.

As we drove down a long, gravel road leading into this place that so many call home, the sights and smells that accosted us were unbearable. An already humid air hung with the pollution of pungent, decomposing meat mixed with billowing black smoke from the burning waste. It was tough to breathe without gasping for air.

Trucks bearing Managua’s trash and slaughterhouse remains, filed past us continuously adding to the landfill’s collection, as well as bringing hope and serving up the next meal for los Churequeros.

It wasn’t just the smoke making me tear up. Amid the mountains of discarded plastics and animal remains, the landscape was crawling with adults and children, while scavenger birds swooped down among them and the filth. Discarded lives.

And yet…In the middle of this dump was a school. More than 350 children attended class in the school managed by a devoted family from America, who had the compassion and commitment to help the people of La Chureca.

Our jeep crept along and I was discreetly, but feverishly, taking photos. This particular scene immediately stopped me in my tracks:

La Chureca girl La Chureca girl turns aroundShe hadn’t seen me yet. A girl, perhaps 10 years old, was perched upon a hillside made of garbage. She was looking off into the distance of her back yard. The look was empty, hopeless and so, so sad.

Suddenly she noticed me and got up to leave. I had an urge to follow her and got out of the jeep. The girl walked steadily homeward bound and I went with her. I wanted to know more about her and the unbelievable life she was living.

La Chureca girl's familyLa Chureca girl and siblingsBeyond words: the grim reality of what we don’t see, of living behind those dilapidated walls with so many family members. And yet…the smiles.

Seeing her here, I realized immediately there was hope for this precious, hurting girl, and many more like her.

As my mind went back to the dump school, I understood it took a brave heart to step in and be committed to building relationships to make change. Clearly there was a need for direction, access to education and opportunities, as well as a consistent, positive influence. I believed at that moment that if we have a “can do” attitude, the task would not be overwhelming.

I knew then we would partner and support the school, as well as a daycare centre and feeding programs. Positive mentoring and counselling were going to be key.

Our hearts break, then we have to do something.