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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The homes of the families in the garbage dump community

A street in the garbage dump community
The last post was about the tent that will be my home for the year while I kayak from Maine to Guatemala.  Thinking about that made me think about the homes of the families in the garbage dump community.
The garbage dump is slowly filling up a deep ravine that runs through the center of Guatemala City.  Much of the community is built on top of the older sections of garbage dump - on land fill.  The community is built up of many little neighborhoods, with 25 to 250 families per neighborhood.  The newer neighborhoods have homes built of scavenged material found in the dump - old tarps, rusty pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard.  In the older neighborhoods house might have walls of cinderblocks that the families have collected over the years, or might have been built by volunteers who come to help with housing.
Houses built on the side of a small ravine
Vacant land is scarce in Guatemala, and expensive.  Struggling families build simple shelters on the edge of the ravines, but such locations are very vulnerable to landslides - especially in the rainy season.

I have been fortunate to be able to visit in the homes of many Safe Passage families.  Today I'll share the story of a visit to the home of Clara, with two of the Safe Passage social workers.  To enter her ten foot wide home, we had to step over a low cement wall and then descend four steep cinder block steps, being careful to step around the huge pot of corn cooking over an open fire near the door. The huge 30 inch pot stood over an open wood fire, on a simple stand made of rebar.  The walls and corrugated metal ceiling of the home were darkened with the soot from many fires.  Clara, an entrepreneurial business woman, explained her tortillas business. In the afternoon, while the children were not around to get burnt, she boils the dry corn, adding some lye to prevent spoilage. Once it cools down, she dips out the cooked corn into small plastic containers, since the pot is too big for her to move when it is filled.  The next morning she takes the containers of corn to the mill where it is ground into the masa she needs to make tortillas.  Like others in Guatemala, the tortillas are made by taking a small ball of the masa, and using the hands in an alternating slapping type motion to flatten the masa into a four inch disk.   (I first learned the motion from a three year old when we were playing house in the Safe Passage early childhood center.  For me, that clapping sound is the sound of a Guatemalan home.)  Several times a day Clara cooks the tortillas on a circular sheet of metal placed over the open fire to form a griddle. She wraps the tortillas in a cloth to keep them warm and then goes out to sell them. Clara doesn't try to sell them in the dump neighborhoods as the prices there are too low. She goes further away to other neighborhoods, returning in the afternoon to start boiling more corn for the next day's batch. Clara has worked out a finely tuned business, figuring out the most efficient way to handle each step of the process. The bags of dry corn and containers on a shelf high up along the wall attest to the constant work of her business. 

The floor of Clara's house goes down in a number of levels, as it follows the contours of the side of the ravine. There is a rough wooden ladder that goes up to a sleeping area, and there are a couple of small rooms off the side of the main room. Her main problem, she says, is when it rains, as the water runs down the paved street and into and through her house as it descends down into the ravine. There is a drain at the bottom of her house to prevent things from being washed away, but she said it often gets clogged with the garbage that the rains wash through her house. The water has been as high as waist deep in her house. The new foot high cement wall we climbed over to enter the house is helping, she says, to keep much of the water out of the house now. While we were talking, her very polite son stopped by to get something from the loft, and another young boy called in to ask if she needed to buy any more firewood. She was a gracious hostess, generous with her time with us, saying she enjoys the visits from Safe Passage.  She offered us tortillas, which were delicious.  Clara is one of the enterprising mothers that I so respect, as she is doing everything she can to support her family, and to keep her children in school so they can have a better future.  

I hope you and many others with sponsor my Kayak For Safe Passage Kids, by clicking on the "Give Now" button.  All of these tax deductible donations will be used to help add additional grades to the Safe Passage school, and help Clara's children stay in school.

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