Today we went on house visits within the squatter community close to Casa del Alfarero. It was very humbling, eye opening and emotional for all of us. Tisa explained our first visit in her last post, and here I will highlight our second house visit.
After we left Blenda, Virginia, and Ruth, we walked further into the community in hopes to find Carolina’s house. On the way we saw the community water supply. The houses do not having running water, and the cost to install the infrastructure was too expensive, to the community shares a water source which is reduced to a pipe and a bucket. We also learned that electricity has been installed in many of the houses, and some of the neighbors will share a cable bill. I never saw a bathroom, and in the shock of everything else did not ask what the people use or where they go. This question will be saved for another day.
We passed by dogs and children playing in the alley between the maze of cardboard and tin houses, and finally found Carolina. We ducked under the sheet she used as a door and escaped the smells of hot garbage, sweat, dirt, dog feces, and marijuana, and entered Carolina’s home. It was made of the same scrap metal and cardboard as the other houses, and had the same dirt floor, but was a little larger than the first house we visited. Carolina lives there with her two daughters who are 15 and 16 years old. As soon as I entered her house I saw that she had a bird cage, and in the cage were two parakeets singing their song, and brightening the mood of the home. Instantly I thought of my own parakeet, Santiago, and later shared that with Carolina; she laughed and introduced her birds to me. Carolina also participates in the jewelry workshop at Casa del Alfarero, but explained to us that even though her dream is to leave the dump behind, it is not possible to do right now because she still has to support her daughters. She attends the classes to prepare herself and give herself the opportunity to create a better life and escape the dangers of scavenging. Then, she told us a story. Carolina explained that the dangers of working in the dump go much farther than health risks and violence, recently while she was working the mountain of garbage gave out under many of the workers, this created a landslide like effect, and thankfully carried the workers with it down the side of the ravine where the dump is located. She explained that they were lucky, and many times the garbage will fall and bury the workers, who trapped under hundreds of pounds of garbage will die there, and may never be recovered. Carolina is anxious to leave the dump, but knows that it will take time to build her business big enough to not have to rely on the dump and its resources anymore.
Then Carolina showed us the jewelry that she made, and told another story. Last thursday, mother’s day in Guatemala, Carolina was very worried. She had no money and didn’t know what to do next. She went to Casa del Alfarero for her weekly jewelry class, and there Laura, another Volunteer purchased a set of her jewelry. Carolina explained this act as Gods blessing that gave her the opportunity to run to the store and purchase a phone card. With this phone card she was able to call her mother that she hasn’t been able to talk to in a long time on mothers day to tell her that she loved her. Her children were able to talk quickly with their grandmother, and she even had enough minutes left to call her brother in the U.S. to say hello to him. As Carolina told this story her voice cracked and her eyes began to water, and that is when my defenses broke down. Seeing her standing in her home, thanking God for the opportunity to talk to her mother, while so many things in her life have been so hard for her made me realize just how different life is for the Treasures.
We went to another house visit, which Nicol will explain in her post, and returned to Casa to teach our first class. In this class we focused on getting to know the women. We wanted to know who they are, and what struggles their facing, and what they want to get out of our classes. Tisa and I prepared about me speeches in Spanish to introduce ourselves to the women, and included information about our families, what our hopes and dreams are, and why we’re here. We believe that creating a trusting environment with these women will help us to help them as much as possible, and encourage them to participate in our classes so that our time may be spent productively and our lessons will be tailored to the specific needs and situations of these women.
I am humbled by their eagerness to learn, acceptance of our presence, and courage to dare to dream outside the life they have known all their lives, whether that be 20 years or 60 years. These women are some of the bravest people I’ve ever met, and I have learned more from them in the past few days than I could hope to teach them in the next month.