Treasures among the trash

Sydney poses with two girls she met in Guatemala. She met them during a bible study program.

Sydney poses with two girls she met in Guatemala. She met them during a bible study program.

When I stepped out of the bus into the heart of Guatemala City, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Towering above me was a trash dump that seemed to have no end. What shocked me even more was that thousands of people lived inside the dump. It is their only source of food, shelter and income. They cannot find anywhere to work in order to provide for their families because they don’t have the qualifications for another job.

During the week-long trip, my friends and I spent the majority of our time getting to know people living within the walls of the dump. Most of the people who live there work for recycling companies, as small store owners inside the dump or truck drivers responsible for transporting trash each day. As I learned more about the people and their life stories, I found myself wondering how they ended up where they are today. While many of their stories are filled with gang violence, drugs and crime, many are filled with compassion, love and hope. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why such good people were in such a bad place.

I met one family that had been through two deaths within two months; their 20-year-old son died caught in the middle of a shooting due to gang violence, and their 12-year-old daughter had committed suicide just a week before our arrival. This family also had a 14 and 16-year-old girl who are both married with children, along with 11-year-old twins, one of which is deaf. This family dynamic was strange to me, as I couldn’t imagine any family like theirs in the United States, but their character and their personalities, however, impressed me more than anything I encountered on the trip. Every member of their family has a strong sense of hope and love, and they care for everyone they encounter. They didn’t even have beds to sleep in. Regardless, they invited us in and were so generous in getting to know us and telling us about themselves.

Seeing the social interactions in the dump has changed my idea of what community means. In the dump, everyone knows each other well, and they all believe in helping each other in any way they can. Here in Texas, I don’t even know my neighbor’s names. My trip to Guatemala taught me about life, but I think most importantly it taught me how to value other people more than myself. The Guatemalans living in the dump call each other the treasures, because they are the treasures among the trash. I think treating others like treasures is something that can apply anywhere, because no matter the situation, among all the trash there are treasures. You just have to be willing to find it.