I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Life in the Garbage Dump - Before and After the Fire

Before the 2005 fire, children in the dump (from Giramondo's blog post)
Recently there was yet another methane fire in the Guatemala City garbage dump.  Fortunately the fire was quickly extinguished, and no one was injured.  That was not the case for the for the fire in 2005.

If you search on Google Earth for Guatemala City, you be be "flown" to the geographic center of the city, right to the garbage dump.  
Google Earth image of the dump in Guatemala City
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported in 2009 that 30,000 squatters resided on the perimeter of the Guatemala City garbage dump.  Most live on the landfill that is being formed over the years as the deep ravine of the dump gradually fills with garbage, and the active part of the dump moves north.  You can read more about the dump in Giramondo's blog post.

Before the big fire in 2005, the people recycling the garbage from the dump could build a simple shelter and live right in the active part of the dump.  Children and even babies where allowed into the dump.  Mothers put their infants into cardboard boxes as they scavenged, and covered them to protect them from being attacked by the ever present vultures.

In 2005 there was a huge methane fire that burned for days.  The smoke and fumes endangered the people living in the area and closed down the city's international airport.  One consequence of that fire was that the city officials built a perimeter wall around the active dump,  stopped people from living there, and forced them to the perimeters.  They also started a permit system where individuals had to purchase a permit to enable them to collect materials in the dump.  Children under 14 are now no longer allowed to enter the dump.  That doesn't stop the children from working as recyclers.  Some crawl into the garbage trucks lined up in the morning waiting to enter the dump.  The children sort through the contents of the trucks to find materials to recycle.  Others meet their parents at the gate of the dump, to take the bags of materials collected.  If it's plastic jugs, for example, the children often take them home and spend hours washing them out, as they can sell the clean jugs for much more than the dirty jugs.

Fortunately not all the children work as recyclers.  600 now attend Safe Passage (Camino Seguro in Spanish) programs.  The "A" marker in the image above shows the location of the Safe Passage Fran Doonan Early Childhood Education Center, where children from 2 to 7 learn and grow in full day programs.  The center is built on the landfill and is surrounded by the squatter neighborhoods.  The "B" marker is the location of Safe Passage's Educational Reinforcement Center for older students, which also houses the health center, kitchen, dining hall, library and computer lab.  "C" marks the location of the adult literacy program, and social services, as well as the shop for visitors to purchase the jewelry mothers make from recycled paper.  "D"is where the Entrepreneurship program is located that helps mothers to start their own businesses.
Now with Safe Passage - learning in the pre-school
What a difference for the children who now attend Safe Passage!  I am glad to share their stories during the Kayak Safe Passage Expedition.  Learn more and see how you can help by visiting our website.

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