This will probably be my only midweek update of the semester, but today I had a crucial experience that honestly shook me.
For 6 hours a week every week, I volunteer with an organization called Fundación Extreme Response in their guardería (daycare). What does Extreme Response do? They’re an international organization that started right here in Quito. They do different things in each country that they are located in, but here they work with the families of the Quito Dump. The dump (or estación de transferencia de basura en español) is the workplace of some of the most impoverished families in Quito: these families have worked here for generations. Before Extreme Response, young kids would work alongside their families in the trash, in unsafe conditions. Extreme Response started the daycare, an after school center, and began supporting the families emotionally, physically, and spiritually (holistic care for the win!).
I absolutely love working with Extreme Response and with the most vivacious, precious niños ever. The love in my heart for these kids is strong. The staff members at ER have become some of my friends this semester and we’ve talked about everything from social mobility to family dynamics to faith. We sometimes even have informal Spanish and English lessons together. So thankful for these people!
However, the daycare is located far away from the Quito Dump, so while I interact multiple times a week with the children whose parents work in the trash, I had yet to fully understand the reality of their lives. Today, Daniel, who is the director of the guardería, invited Maria, Caylee, Sarah, and I to visit the dump. I was so excited! Social Work Emily (as my pal Abby sometimes calls me) was in full force- ready to see an aspect of real-life poverty and analyze it.
I was not prepared.
Honestly, I thought I was. I had been on mission trips and seen poverty. I had taken countless social work classes and watched countless documentaries that touched on these topics. Still, I was not prepared for what greeted my eyes in the Quito Dump.
We had to go through security to get into the Estación de Transferencia Norte, which is located surprisingly near my neighborhood. After Daniel turned in some paperwork and some of the workers let us borrow their orange vests and hardhats, we got access to the dump.
As I climbed the stairs to a viewing platform of the work area and got my first glimpse of the trash, I felt my heart stop. I couldn’t breathe. I had never seen anything like this in my life.
There were piles and piles of trash, and within the trash, people scrambling to dig through it all in order to find pieces that were recyclable. The garbage from all of Central and North Quito- MY GARBAGE- was there, and these people spend 13 hours a day sifting through it. There aren’t adequate words to describe what I saw.
I couldn’t speak for several minutes because I was so choked with tears.
I made a silent vow to never throw anything away again. I realized this was unrealistic promise, but there in the Quito Dump, I made a silent vow to stop wasting food, to stop wasting ANYTHING. Because this is where it ends up, and now I’ve seen the people who have to work in my trash every single day.
These people are not paid hourly: they are paid based on how many plastics or other recyclables they can find amidst the garbage. The families that do this job make about $200 every two weeks. However, there are also older adults who have worked here since they were elementary school age. They can no longer do the risky garbage sorting, so they have an “easier” job. They only make $120 every two weeks. These people work either from 7am to 6pm or from 6pm to 7am in a toxic environment. Even among the other low resource populations in Quito, they are seen as outsiders because of their occupation.
I am shook. I am shook because this is reality for the families of many of my little amigos. I am shook because if not for Extreme Response, these precious kids would be working with their parents and grandparents in the dump. I am shook because I live about five minutes by car away from the dump, and I haven’t thought twice about my trash until today. I am shook because today I saw the poorest of the poor in this city and what they do all day.
I am shook, but I’m glad that I’m shook. I’ll never forget what I saw today. I have a greater appreciation for the work of Extreme Response and a greater empathy for los niños in the guardería. Because of their care for the kids and their families, for the first time in generations, these families are raising kids who have a chance: a chance at education, a chance at being well-fed, a chance at getting a job somewhere other than the dump, a chance at living lives that aren’t as difficult as the lives of their parents.
My trip to El Estación de Transferencia de Basura Norte was impactful and profound and hard and heart-wrenching. Yet- this is the world! This is reality for people. I’m so thankful that my eyes have been opened to this reality and I pray they’ll continue to be opened to the hardships of this world- because if we don’t know about these things, how can we advocate? If we don’t know, how can we truly be compassionate, justice-seeking global citizens?
Check out Extreme Response here (this link goes right to the Quito Dump page, but explore the website a little!): http://extremeresponse.org/how-we-serve/quito-dump/