Out of the Trash Dump

Out of the Trash Dump

By: Cesiah Magaña in Mexico   |   Posted: August 09, 2010

Many caregivers work in dumps to support their families. Compassion helps to stop the cycle.
Esau stands on the trash dump with his grandmother, Ricarda, who comes here every day to work and earn money to feed her grandchildren.

With more than 21 million residents, Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world and as such, generates a lot of trash. Every day, more than 12,500 tons of trash are hauled away to dumps  like the one in Sierra de Guadalupe.

Every morning in Sierra de Guadalupe, about 300 men and women walk to the huge mountain of trash at the dump. They are here to work, picking through other people's garbage to find items to salvage and sell so they can feed their families.

The mountain of waste has a powerful stench. Bags and bags of garbage are mixed with rotten food and even dead animals. Flies swarm over the trash and buzz all around the workers.

Men, women and even elderly people survive off the waste the city spills out regularly. Ricarda and Francisco are among the dump regulars. They are both the head of their families, and each has a child assisted through Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program.

And though Ricarda and Francisco accept their lives of labor in the dump, they know their children will not have to follow in their footsteps, thanks to Compassion.

A Man's Life of Work

Francisco, 35, is responsible for his wife and six children. He knows all too well the dangers of working in the trash. Francisco was seriously injured recently when a truck dumped garbage on his leg.

"My knee bone was dislocated. The garbage dropped on my leg, and my knee was bent," he says. "Now I cannot work."

Francisco is recovering at home, but he knows that as long as he takes days off, he is not earning money to provide for his family. His oldest son, Joel, 16, has taken his father's place in the dump. He is the only breadwinner in the family for now.

When he was healthy, Francisco would make about 800 pesos (U.S.$57) per day if he worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine. Francisco could sell 60 pounds of plastic for $2. Then on Sundays, he could sell toys, clothes or trinkets he found at the market.

Another Life, the Same Trash Dump

Ricarda, 54, is responsible for two grandchildren who were abandoned by her daughter.

Ricarda herself was abandoned by an abusive husband, and she had to go to work. First she tried working as a maid and doing laundry with neighbors, but the community where they live cannot afford to pay for such luxuries.

She often found herself without enough to survive, so she scavenged plastic bottles to sell for additional income. Then she started visiting the dump. Working with her grandson, Carlos, she can make about U.S.$20 a day.

"As long as God gives me strength, I will work and seek for something to eat," Ricarda says.

The Only Luxury Is Love

Ricarda's two grandchildren, Carlos and Esau, live with her now. Carlos is 14 and has been raised as Ricarda's son since he was 2 months old. Esau is 10 and has been part of this family since about a year ago, when he picked up his belongings and left his mother's home.

"The boys don't like to be at their mom's because when they are with her they have bad times," Ricarda says. "She is an abuser and beat them a lot."

The three live in a small room, no bigger than 10 square feet. The house holds only a twin bed, a table, an old, small stove, a small wooden box that serves as a shelf, and a seat next to the door.

"There is no luxury here," says Ricarda. But, "As long as I have God with me, it doesn't matter if I don't have other things."

A Close-up of the Dump

Every day Ricarda wakes her children with a cup of coffee. Carlos is the first to leave home to head to the dump. Later in the morning she drops Esau off at school and walks to the dump herself.

The dump workers scoop up metal cans, plastic wraps, aluminum bottles, cardboard, paper and any other items good to take or sell. They spend long hours digging and walking under the hot sun.

No one complains. They are all proud and thankful to be able to provide for their children, even at the risk of their own health. Most of them don't have many job opportunities. They either work here or struggle to get one of the few jobs available for people who can't read or write.

Francisco's Son

Aaron is the fourth son of Francisco and his wife. Aaron, 7, was born with a genetic problem that has challenged his development. Friends from the family invited them to their church so they could find a way to help Aaron, and he was then registered at the Compassion-assisted child development center.

At first, he did not talk to others. He could not stand straight or even walk well. Now, after just a couple of years he is far more independent. He is able to relate to other children and play. He is able to stand firmly.

"My son has friends there, and I know it was in the child development center that he started to walk and develop himself," says Francisco with pride.

At the program Aaron has received support to follow up on his health and to ensure he is cared for and valued just as he is. His self-esteem has grown through the relationships he has developed at the center. 

Ricarda's Grandson

Esau, Ricarda's grandson, is quiet and insightful. The support Esau receives at the Compassion-assisted center has contributed to his success at school. He is a great student, which is evident in his grades. A's and B's are all over his school reports, but he especially enjoys math.

Many times Aaron walks with Esau to the program. They both live only a couple of blocks from the center.

The opportunity to attend school will make a difference in these children's lives. Their education combined with the skills they learn at the Compassion center will help them find better jobs and a brighter future  away from the dump. 

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