Earthquakes, civil war and a struggling economy have all taken their toll on the architectural remnants of Nicaragua’s Spanish colonial history. Its history and natural beauty, though, could be the country’s best hope for attracting international tourism and investment.
The night air is thick with the smell of glue. Near Managua’s Mercado Oriental (eastern market), emaciated, glassy-eyed teens hang out until the early hours, inhaling the fumes from jars and bottles filled with industrial adhesives. Many claim it’s not the same as doing drugs; they do it only to forget the hunger pangs for awhile. As dawn breaks and vendors begin to arrive for he day, the night dwellers shift to a shelter for street youth. They loiter on the street until they are ready to leave their glue bottles outside — the one requirement for entrance into the shelter.
A rural schoolhouse in the department of Matagalpa. Nearly a quarter of Nicaraguan children are not in the school system. Those excluded are most often rural indigenous children, African-descended, disabled or living in the streets.Though literacy rates among youth are encouraging at over 85 percent, only half of all children finish primary school.
On the streets of Managua, a girl tries to earn a few cordobas selling flowers. Nicaragua is a nation of youth: more than 50 percent of its people are under 18 years old. The children have inherited an economy still in ruins after a civil war that ended more than two decades ago. Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line, and 10 percent of the country’s children must labour to help make ends meet. Chronic malnutrition affects at least 30 percent of Nicaraguan children.
Teens rest through the day at a shelter in Managua after spending the night sniffing glue in the marketplace. Sniffing is most common among children who live on the streets and have no family ties. Short-term side effects include headaches, nausea, slurred speech, wheezing and loss of motor co-ordination. Long-term users can suffer brain damage; heavy users risk pneumonia, heart attack, hypoxia and death.
For most of the 500 to 800 children living and working at La Chureca (Spanish slang for city dump), school is out of the question. Their parents need help from morning to night, sifting through garbage in search of recyclables to pay for food. A cloud of toxic smoke hangs over the dump; the work itself is dangerous beyond imagination. Hazards include parasites and poisoning from eating contaminated food, injuries, infections, lice and blood poisoning caused by exposure to mercury. La Chureca is Central America’s largest open-air garbage dump, covering seven square kilometers.
Founded in 1991 in Nicaragua by Zelinda Roccia, an Italian woman, the ’Los Quinchos’ project gives hospitality to abandoned and mistreated children. Among its projects are a farm, cultural center and girls residence in San Marcos; a residence and workshops, hammock-making, electrical and auto maintenance training, at the Casa Lago in Granada, and the intake house in Managua. Los Quinchos serves more than 200 children in residential programs and street outreach programs. ProNica has helped the Quinchos extend their outreach to feed children in the Managua city landfill, La Chureca.
Personal Note: I just wanted to give you guys a little recap of how incredibly difficult it has been to write this post. Due to the nature of my work I have looked into the situation in Haiti and other impoverished countries. It was through no surprise really that I found my homeland right at the top of that list but what captured my attention were several reports on this hell on earth called La Chureca, where so many children live their day-to-day lives. Upon researching it I have come across images that have permanently burned themselves into my mind. Yesterday was the first time I ate a meal as I have made myself physically ill reading and searching for photographs and trying to come up with lists of items I know as sure that my name is Maryfelix I need to send to help these kids. This is what I’m passionate about, this is my life purpose…there is no question about it. Please refer to the links I have included and read some more on the amazing projects that are currently in place to help “The People of the Dump”.
(Post written for The Broken Heel Diaries)