Otra Cosa Volunteer Agency - Huanchacho, Peru
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Squatting in the dirt… in the garbage, I spoke to a man the same young age as me who looked 40. I was trying to look like I didn’t care about the hundreds of flies that swarmed around us or the rotting fruit between my feet. I didn’t want the man to lose face over where he lives, and I wanted him to share with us what it was like to sleep on a mattress each night that was laying on top of a rubbish tip.
We had cruised into the area via a taxi filled with six volunteers and a driver, along a road that took us all past the prison close to Trujillo. We drove up onto the garbage, into the land of thousands of unregistered people who don`t exist to the government, and therefore receive no money. Children are sifting through the garbage with huge bags of bottles balancing on their backs, while donkeys pull carts over slowly decomposing mounds, and dogs scavenge wildly throughout the area.
Jerome translated for me once again, as the man who lives in the rubbish tip named Osualdo, who has been living here for four years, spoke to us about how he had come to live in such poverty… such sickness. Osuald used to live in Lima and work in the clothing and material industry. But he worked with unstable work conditions and would sometimes have no work… therefore no income. He came to this area Relleno Sanitario to get some recycling work, in which he would get a more stable income.
The hardest thing for Osualdo is sickness. Wounds heal incredibly slowly, and when first cut, infection spreads rapidly. There is no medical help at all here, and people need to walk a fair way down to a medical post where they must pay for any medication with money they simply just don`t have. Remember, they live in garbage.
When someone is in severe need of medical assistance but can`t afford it, sometimes they can be helped by one of the elder men who lives in the town and is part of an organisation. This organisation doesn`t have a name as it is improvised and made from the locals of the rubbish filled area. They go down to Lima to get food, clothes and masks, which also help them to work a bit safer. A few years ago someone was run over and killed by a tractor.
The organisation, which acts as a voice for the community, also tries to fight off the government who are trying to privatise the area. There are many immigrants in the area, which would mean jail for some people, and back to instabillity for the rest. With 250 families living here, there are about 1000 people working, and medication is first and foremost a must within the community.
Asociacion Cristina de Jonenes del Peru [ACJ] (meaning Young Christian association), gives an alternative to the families and their children who are living in this community. ACJ is linked in with a health centre, the municipality and education centres. The health centre trains women to become more self sufficient for their community, and through ACJ the families are also taught about things such as saving water, so that they can get the benefits of what little they have.
There are many different projects within ACJ including an Earth project for adults, children`s sports projects, where teenagers can help out in the activities, and projects to generally open the door to the basics of life. There is also the Association de Recycladores de Sueño, (Dream of Recycling) where most of the mothers in the community work.
Mothers who are trying to get help for their family come to ACJ. They can`t completely leave their devastating situations, because they need to work at the dump to make money. ACJ has just begun to help many mothers start their own organisation, with a volunteer lawyer assisting and teaching them the basics of the required positions the drive it. eg. President, secretary.
ACJ`s main goal is to fight against child exploitation, but it is hard for them to get the children out as the improvised organisation within Relleno Sanitario keeps brining clothes and other resources to the dumps, which makes it easier for the children to work there. ACJ is trying to inform the locals of the dumps that they are severely cutting the life of the children.
Four teenagers from the ages of 12-18, were working 24 hours per day, 7 days a week in the rubbish tips. Now, thanks to ACJ they take photographs, which are then turned into postcards, and sell them to help raise money for this dire situation. They got this idea from Otra Cosa Volunteer agency who works closely with them, providing volunteers.
We were shown the bakery where teenagers and young children are taught the ropes of baking, so that they can have an alternative to working in the tips. But ACJ is in desperate need of volunteers. We witnessed the children sitting alone, waiting for either one of the two volunteers, or Director of the organisation (Cecilia Carrascal Campos) to help them in class.
It is free to volunteer here, and they are in the process of planning accommodation and other logistics.
If you would like to volunteer at or donate to ACJ, please contact any of the following: