Proyecto Nutritional de Soya Karen
Plenty Bulletin Spring 2010, Vol. 26 No. 1
I didn’t exactly plan to go to Guatemala in December. I had been healing from my loss of my wife Karen and staying with friends. They said they were going to Guatemala for the winter and asked me to come along. I decided to go figuring I could study Spanish and, visit my friend, Jorge Gonzalez, in Guatemala City. Jorge had been talking to Plenty Board members for a few years about doing a nutrition project for families who live off the Guatemala City Dump, the largest urban dump in Central America.
This would be my chance to meet some of these families.
Toward the end of her life, one of Plenty’s board members asked Karen, “Is there anything you would especially like to see Plenty do?” Karen answered, “I’d like us to help the people who work in the dump.”
After studying Spanish for three weeks in the highlands near Lake Atitlán, I headed to Guatemala City. Jorge met my bus, and the next day we rode the bus to the dump area. We met Jorge’s friend and partner, Chito. As we got closer to the dump we saw huge piles of recycled materials that had been salvaged by the ‘basuleros” (dump workers). The piles were divided according to content: glass, cardboard, metal, paper. Workers were sorting and cleaning the recyclables for eventual sales.
The whole area reeked from the stench of the dump.
As we got even closer to the dump, we came to a massive cluster of dilapidated shanties where many families were living. The name of this community is Asentamiento (settlement) Astrilla, named after the Guatemalan President’s wife. It’s a squatter’s camp that has existed for about six months. It is a place where the poor, displaced, and disenfranchised gravitate to eke out a living. We were met by community leaders and allowed to look around. Dirt paths divided the community into a grid. We were told there are 410 families with 1500 children living there. The average shack covered 100 to 150 square feet, with a dirt floor, no sanitation or plumbing. A trench ran along some of the paths and carried away the “black water” that ran from the smaller trenches coming from under the shacks.
I brought my digital camera with me and was privileged to take photos largely because I was with Jorge and Chito, who are well known by the people of these squatter settlements. Everyone was very kind and generous in allowing me up close with my camera. Perhaps they sensed that I was there to try to help. Nevertheless, Jorge kept me on a “short leash” knowing the potential for danger in the area.
The next day we came back. Jorge told me that city bus drivers get killed or robbed frequently, and that certain areas of the city, like the dump area, are known as ‘red zones’ because of their high crime rates. As we walked again through the streets, Chito said that a man had been killed there the night before. We visited a settlement named, “Alvaro Colon,” after the current president of Guatemala. We were met by a couple of community leaders and given a tour. Like Astrilla, it had little or no facilities, but was much dustier. The settlement is right next to the entrance road used by the trash trucks going in and out of the dump area. Approximately 250 families with 275 children are living there. Dust fills the air along with hundreds of black vultures. You don’t see any green plants or vegetation. Our guides from the community told us they are planning to build a park for the kids and some roads between homes. The walls of the shanties were constructed with cardboard, old mattress covers, signboards, or anything else from the trash that can serve the purpose, and most have a corrugated tin roof. Though the area is more spacious than Astrilla, it is surrounded by a great many piles of recyclables in which the children play. Food prep is done in the open areas adjacent to a home, and cooking is done with wood scraps. Very few of the women wear the traditional trajé of the Mayan people. Everyone seems busy and is very friendly.
The following day we came back to meet with the women of the local church, the Grupo Soya Santa Maria, who are now getting organized to make soy nutrition available for these communities. I was very impressed with their lively spirit and dedication. They want to get the equipment to produce soymilk and fresh baked products from the okara (soy pulp left over from making soymilk) for 300 children three days a week. The women making the soyfoods will be using the same equipment to make soy products for sale, to help fund the project, and produce a little income for their families. We have agreed to call this project, “Proyecto Nutritional de Soya Karen.” Plenty has received about 10% of the $50,000.00 we estimate is need for the first year, and we have started to fund the project to do some remodeling at the building where the food processing will be carried out.