La Chureca (‘the scavenger’), located in Managua, Nicaragua, was home to one of the largest inhabited dump communities in the world when I traveled there in 2007. It had a population of almost 1700 people who were housed within its walls. Over fifty percent of them were children, some of whom were addicted to glue, worked in the trash, and, on rare occasion, were solicited by truck drivers. It was a permanent community where people often worked for many years as recyclers, exposed to illness and environmental dangers. There was a small school, an ill-equipped clinic, and two youth programs that received essentially no funding from the Nicaraguan government. The several hundred children of La Chureca had some access to education, small daily meals, and a couple of safe places to play to escape the dump. Recently, the Nicaraguan government relocated the family’s to newly built housing nearby.
On the surface, their lives appeared enclosed within a trash dump. However, in getting to know them, I witnessed a richer, deeper life beyond the trash. They had a childhood, developed relationships and experienced boredom and loneliness, like anyone else. Despite enduring exceptionally brutal, dehumanizing living conditions, they were still able preserve their dignity and passion for life. This is a small and hopefully enlightening glimpse into their lives.