Life on the dump
I have been living in Peru for three months now. I have a nice little apartment, with running water (until 3pm) and everything I need to live comfortably. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how thousands of people around me are struggling to get by every day.
This week I visited the ACJ Project, which is working to improve the lives of families living and working on a city dump. These men, women and children spend their days sorting through rubbish to sell to recyclers for less money per week then what I spent on a Chai laté in Japan.
I stepped out of an ancient VW combi and watched the dump dwellers sort through garbage outside their home. I felt compelled to walk over and talk to them. As I approached, the father waved to me and I felt encouraged. I had been told that the people were shy and that I had to be discreet when taking photos. I didn’t want to offend anyone by pulling out my camera.
I walked closer and saw the little boy crying to his Mum. I pulled out of my bag a small koala that my Mum had sent me, to give to Peruvian children. ‘Tengo un regalla para tu’ (I have a present for you), I said in my best Spanish. He took the toy and the conversation opened up. De donde eres….cuantos anos tienes….
I asked the little boy his name. Ronaldo told me he is six years old and I told him that his is tall for his age. I showed him how to use the little koala and I clipped it onto his finger.
I was a bit afraid that these kids who literally live on piles or rubbish, would be jealous of his toy and beg me for a present. But they just seemed happy that Ronaldo got something and asked me for nothing.
Before I knew it, the children were asking me to take photos of them. Even Ronaldo had wiped away his tears and was waiting for his photo to be taken. Mama arranged the niños into a row, before returning to her work of smashing bottles into a bag. She was injured years ago and now cannot walk well. She seemed proud of the recycling job that she was doing.
The kids loved having their photo taken and soon wanted to have a go at the camera. I held it for them (it’s so heavy) and taught them how to take photos, helping them to reach their tiny fingers around the camera to the shutter button.
I may not have had much impact on these lives, but they certainly touched mine. The adults have been living on the dump for 30 years. I felt like there are certainly a lot of people out there who really struggle through life. With living on a dump comes injuries, diseases, uncomfortable living conditions and a feeling of alienation that I cannot even comprehend. These people are not citizens. They do not exist on any records. They live in their own world, a world that I briefly brushed up against before returning to mine.
If they taught me anything, it’s that you should never be ashamed of what you are. We are all the equal people doing our best to get through life, and if we can do it with a smile then we are doing okay.
For more information on the ACJ Project:
Me showing the kids how to take a photo
The photo the little girl took