La Chureca, Nicaragua

Man sifting through garbage

Man sifting through garbage

Over 175 families live in the Managua city dump, known as La Chureca. Many more come daily to comb through the mountains of trash and smoldering waste to find enough plastic, aluminum, glass, and cardboard  to sell to pay for food and other life necessities.

Typical House_small-1Over half the people living in La chureca are under the age of 18, residing in homes pieced together from scrap metal and barbed wire and subsisting on rotten food salvaged from the over 900 tons of garbage dumped there annually.

Severe respiratory and other health problems come from breathing in the fumes from the smoking and burning piles of trash. Malnutrition is widespread and evident in the children’s swelled bellies and blond hair that lacks the nutrients to maintain its natural dark color. Sexually transmitted infections and prostitution are also a problem, and girls of all ages sell their bodies for money or better trash.

Life in the dump

Life in the dump

Because unemployment and underemployment, poverty, and lack of education are rampant in Nicaragua, there are limited opportunities for the families living in La Chureca to find employment or housing outside the dump.

The nearby lake at the dump where animals defecate and bacteria-ridden runoff washes is where women, men and children wash their clothes, bathe, and fish. Severe skin funguses, ear infections, parasites, and other diseases spread among the people who encounter this water.

The source of food in La Chureca also leads to malnutrition.  In addition to the bacteria and filth that cause severe health problems among the people at the dump, the air quality also impacts respiratory health. Over the years, planes dumped fuel and chemicals over the waste to burn the excess trash. The ash and smoke that resulted created incredibly toxic air.

Life in the dump

Neighbors chatting outside their home

In June 2009, a team from Northwest Pediatric Center, including Dr. Jennifer Polley, Dr. Lily Lo, Margret Strohbach RN, and Lin Grey RN, traveled to La Chureca to hold a medical clinic at Colegio La Esperanza, a school run by Open Hearts Children’s Relief Mission in the middle of the dump.  The team performed health assessments and provided medical care for an estimated 250 of the 350 children currently enrolled in this program.

The school in the middle of the dump

The school in the middle of the dump

The team also spent two days working at House of Hope, a rescue home for young girls and women rescued from sex trafficking.  In the mornings, Drs. Polley and Lo examined patients and in the afternoon, the entire team did crafts and played games with the girls.  Many of the adult women, deprived of a childhood themselves, enthusiastically joined in on parachute games, crafts, and crocheting.