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First visit to the Los Quinchos Project in La Chureca

Wednesday, 2 April, 2008

The visit took place a few days after the protest by some of the families in La Chureca had come to an end. Organised by the Movimiento Comunal (which grew out of the Sandinista neighbourhood defence committees of the ‘80’s) they were refusing to let the council rubbish trucks into the dump in protest against the bin men going through the refuse and taking out the valuable stuff (tins, plastic bottles, metal and even paper) before the trucks get to La Chureca, thereby depriving them of the materials they sell for recycling. They said that the Mayor, Dionisio (Nicho) Marenco, should increase the bin men’s wages so that they didn’t have to augment them by ‘prepping’ the refuse. Nicho replied that even if he did increase their wages it was impossible to ensure the bin men didn’t extract recyclable materials. El Nuevo Diario said the protest was politically engineered by the government in order to discredit Nicho, formerly one of Daniel Ortega’s right hand men, who had been very public in some critical comments he made of the new government’s style. The newspaper said the government was holding the population of Managua to ransom over an intra-party feud which caused rubbish to pile up in the streets.

(Scroll down for photos)

Eventually Nicho ceded and upped the bin men’s wages although the trucks didn’t return to La Chureca until the day after my visit. This meant that when we entered the rubbish dump the scene was a little less Dantesque than when the Welsh delegation was there last year due to the trucks not bringing in new rubbish for at least three weeks. There was dust blowing everywhere but the stench was not as strong and there were no fires burning.

We arrived in Los Quinchos’ battered old yellow pick-up truck which makes the journey down from San Marcos every day. San Marcos is a town about 35 km outside of Managua and over 700 feet above it, where Los Quinchos has its head office, a cultural centre, the girls’ house ‘Yahoska’ and the boys’ farm. Most of the staff who work on the project, with the exception of the cook and the guard who live in La Chureca itself, live in San Marcos and travel to the project five or six days a week. Three ex-street kids (the coordinator and the two instructors) work on the staff team. Los Quinchos has a policy of getting the staff to train street kids in their skills in order that they can replace them when they’re old enough. By there time we got to the project around 10am a few children were already there, the cook was busy making lunch and a couple of German women, volunteers on the project, were playing with the children.

The building work that was in progress when we visited last year is finished and there is even a small ‘swimming pool’ where the children sometimes bathe, if there is enough water. There are two small rooms, one which acts as the kitchen and the other is a storeroom for materials, medicines and food (rice, cooking oil, etc).

Shortly after getting to the project Carlos called all the staff together and we had a meeting (see photo below). Carlos explained that before Wales NSC started paying the staff’s wages the only people employed were the cook, the guard and one person to work with the children. The fact that they can now employ a team of people has made an incredible difference to the project: it has brought it to life. The project is open from Monday to Friday from 8:00am to 3:00pm and on Saturdays from 8:00am to midday. Each person on the team explained what they do.

Jazmina Mejía (Educator): About 45 children come to the project every day but sometimes, such as during the recent protest, as many as 50 to 60 arrive. The increase in numbers during the protest was largely due to the fact that the children and their parents weren’t working and therefore had no money coming in with which to buy food. Hence more children were coming to the project to eat. Jazmina teachers the pre-school children; they learn the alphabet, draw and play games. She teaches them basic hygiene, how to behave and reinforces any learning the older ones might get at school.

Quite a lot of the older children from La Chureca go to school outside the dump. A couple of them arrived before I left and as we left the dump we passed more coming home, scrupulously clean and smart in their school uniforms, incongruous against the dismal backdrop of the towering walls of refuse.

Jazmina also keeps a record of attendance and visits the children’s families at home. At midday they have lunch, between 45 and 60 children. There is a different menu every day, six days a week. The food consists of meat or chicken, rice, beans, tortilla or other carbohydrates such as plantain, vegetables or salad and a refresco (fruit drink). The day I was there they were having a tasty looking and nutritious meat and cabbage stew.

Melvin Velasquez (sports instructor): when Melvin arrives in the morning he helps Jazmina out by playing with the children then at around 11:00am takes a group of them to do exercises and to play football or baseball.

Juan Carlos Urbina (hammocks and bracelets instructor): Juan Carlos (or Pikachu as he is also known) teaches the children from eight years old up how to make hammocks in the morning and bracelets in the afternoon.

Amanda Luz Cerda (nurse): Treats the children and teaches them basic hygiene. The main health problems are respiratory (due to dust, smoke and contamination) and skin problems such as scabies and lice. They have some medical supplies at the project such as dressings, plasters, some medicines, such as for getting rid of intestinal parasites, surgical gloves and a kit for minor surgery. They really need a ‘nebulizador’ which is an apparatus to ease breathing in the case of asthma and other respiratory problems or infections. Amanda said she could also use some electric hair clippers to give haircuts to both the children and the men in order to combat the lice and nits problem. Cleanliness is an uphill struggle and she is always trying to get the children to shower at the project but often they don’t want to because they have no clean clothes to put on. Other health resources outside the project are a ‘casa base’ in La Chureca which provides very basic medical care particularly in the area of giving out rehydration salts and diagnosing health problems. There is a clinic in the Oriental market where the children are treated free and they also have the support of an orthodontist.

María Auxiliadora Martínez (Cook): Was too busy cooking lunch to participate in the meeting but Carlos said that they had trained her in aspects of health and hygiene relating to food production and sent her on a course to get a health certificate.

José Francisco Escobar (Guard): Works from 4:00pm to 8:00am, guarding the project at night and in the daytime cleaning the swimming pool, watering the trees and keeping the place clean. I asked him if he weren’t afraid at night or if he’s ever had any problems but he says that everyone in La Chureca knows him (apparently his mother was one of the principal protesters, so the family is well known) and he’s not in danger.

Daniel Paniagua (Coordinator): Buys the supplies for the project and also for the street boys’ halfway house (El Filtro) in Managua, coordinates the team’s work, coordinates with the other Los Quinchos projects, with the school, the health centre and the children’s families. Some of the children from La Chureca enter the Los Quinchos system, even when they have families. This is particularly the case for girls who are being or are in danger of being sexually abused and exploited, also for children who won’t take any notice of their parents and are sniffing glue or stealing. Sometimes their parents ask Los Quinchos to take them away from La Chureca. Most weekends a group of children from La Chureca go up to San Marcos on Friday and come back on Monday. The farm in San Marcos has a swimming pool which the boys love to play in.

The team sent their thanks to Wales NSC for making it possible to work with the children in La Chureca and earnestly hope that you will continue to support the project through 2009. Carlos Vidal gave me copies of the wages sheets for January and February signed by the staff. In order to be able to pay their Social Security payments Los Quinchos is asking Wales NSC to raise a further C$ 1,867.50 a month for the second half of 2008. This is equivalent to US$ 97.47 or approximately £50 a month.

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