For our first day in the community, we started by visiting the garbage dump. The scent hit the windows of our van as soon as we passed the gates. It was at least a mile up and around the mountain of trash to the top, where horses and cows foraged, along with the vultures and feral dogs, for food. Dom Benedicte talked to us about the work. Trucks would drive up and dump their loads and individual people would forage for recyclable items. Some look for aluminum; some dig out paper; some bottles, some tires, etc. They then sell their bagged items to middle men who sell to the recycling companies. It's big business, and very organized, but unfortunately, it's not the residents of El Ocotillo who make the money. Honduras is not cheap. A forager may make about $15 a week but it is not really enough to live on. Benedicte said they also can get extremely ill from the subsidence gases, the trash itself, and small cuts which can lead to big infections. Without even aspirin, a forager or any resident for that matter, cannot afford the slightest illness or infirmity. Malnutrition is rampant here.
In the town itself, just up the road, people build houses out of whatever recycled materials they can find. If they ever do get extra money, they replace in pieces the temporary with a more permanent material, like cinder block.
The small clinic, which has a tiny dispensary, Dr. Lago's exam room, and a nursing station, was built by none other than Dolly and Joe Flasck, who built our own St Joseph's Hall/ Flasck Center for the nursing college. We were really excited to see the sign over the door. Dr. Lago is selfless and dedicated to the community. He drives 3 hours a day several days a week to provide care along with his nurse. There are no appointments. Just a line that runs around the building. If they have any medicine, they will give it out. If they have to write a script, it will probably not get filled. Anna, Aileen, and Joe will work there tomorrow. We delivered 3 bags of medicine today. Thank you Lourdes Community!
We also visited the school. Two other Ohio colleges have contributed to one of the buildings. It has 4 buildings and kids go half days or weekends so that each grade takes turns. Carmen is the director. She took us around to every class and introduced us. All the kids would applaud which felt a bit strange since we hadn't done anything yet. I asked her what the greatest needs were. They need bathrooms for the kids or even just a toilet and textbooks most of all.
Finally, we went to the nursery. This small building is a place parents can take their kids so they can go work. It's not exactly daycare. They will get a meal when possible and a bath while they are there. We played with the kids for awhile then got to work. I tore down a wall with a sledge hammer which helped me get out some of my anger that human beings are forced to live this way. Not once has a single person asked us for anything. In every ounce of work we have done members of the community and even kids have worked right along side us. We also started digging a trench so that water lines could be put in for the kitchen. In the middle of where we were digging, a tree stump covered in fire ants was in the way. Mike and Joe tackled it, but it was pretty stubborn. This old man with a machete was going past. He just stopped and pitched in, saving the day.
For a people with so little, the hospitality is so generous. After awhile, you don't see the poverty, the trash, the sores. You simply see stunningly kind and beautiful people who have welcomed these crazy strangers into their homes and lives.
We completed our second day helping out at the preschool in El Ocotillo. Everyone we have met so far has touched me in someway. Whether it is a child at the school or an International Samaritan member, the hospitality and love I have felt from the community is amazing. One very simple example of love I have seen was this morning when Joe helped a woman push an overflowing wheel barrel of sticks up a hill to her home. She was so thankful and he was so willing to help. It was incredible to see how hard this elderly woman works everyday to keep her household running. It is the strength of the people in this community, such as her who truly inspire me and make me want to return to support El Ocotillo and other garbage dump communities such as this which International Samaritan supports.