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“When I first came to La Chureca (The Dump), I almost died of fright seeing the conditions where people lived. Children were sleeping wrapped in plastic as blankets.  People of all ages were frantically raking through trash for something to eat. Their struggle to survive was indescribable. Things have changed. These people now have what they need. They now have dignified houses, jobs, and food. Los Quinchos will now move on to fill other needs,” said Zelinda Roccia, Director and Founder of Los Quinchos.

delapidated shack with family in front

Home inside La Chureca before the transformation into a recycling facility

Supporters of ProNica who visited La Chureca in the past can relate to Zelinda’s description of the dump. Visitors to the Quinchos facility left the dump feeling horrified by the mountains of trash spewing toxic smoke over the village of shacks made from scrap metal and pieces of cardboard—with barefoot, dirty children helping their mothers and fathers dig through trash to look for items to sell and eat. And yet they were equally inspired by the safe haven on the dump where until recently, Los Quinchos provided meals and a play space for up to 70 children per day for over a decade.

The walled oasis for children that Los Quinchos operated inside the old Chureca dump.

The walled oasis for children that Los Quinchos operated before the dump closed

One of those visitors was photographer, Samantha Oulavong.  She volunteered for ProNica shortly before the recycling facility was built, and her photos of the dump were selected for VSCO Journal.

In recent years the sea of shacks and families raking through trash has been replaced by a recycling plant; the once smoldering piles of trash have been compacted and covered with dirt. Only pieces of cement are left where the Quinchos walled oasis on acres of trash once stood.  Families that used to live in the garbage now live in the 258 newly constructed cement houses located outside the dump in a community called “Barrio Virgen de Guadelupe.” Both the recycling plant and these homes are part of a $45 million dollar project funded by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development, in coordination with the city of Managua. “This is an investment project,” says Carlos Vidal, International Coordinator for Los Quinchos.  With this project, the agency will potentially have access to the area’s resources, such as the water in Lake Managua or the petroleum that is said to be underneath La Chureca, as well as the recyclables they sell.”

Housing development where Chureca families were relocated

Housing development where Chureca families have been relocated

Instead of working their own schedules raking through trash to sell recyclables and valuables, the workers of the recycling plant now work 8 hours per days and receive US$205 per month. This wage can be compared to the maquila (sweatshop) workers of Managua’s free trade zone, who on average make US$125 per month.  The workers of the recycling plant are also receiving food social security. Each family that received a home has at least one recycling plant worker. The  residents of these homes are not permitted to sell their houses, and the titles of the houses are in the names of each family’s children. The homes come equipped with water and electricity, which the residents are responsible for paying after the first 6 months. The new development also includes a cultural center, and will soon include a hospital, school, and sports arena. “What’s missing from this project,” explains Carlos Vidal, “is training for the residents of this new neighborhood on how to use their modern homes.”  Several of the toilets in these homes are now broken because the residents weren’t taught how to use them properly.”

Los Quinchos co-director, Carlos Vidal

Los Quinchos co-director Carlos Vidal

Los Quinchos’ motto is Nunca mas un niño en la calle (Never again a child on the streets).  In a country where 55% of the population is under 18, Los Quinchos is an organization that exists for the children in most dire need.  The remnants of the La Chureca project is carried on for now in the kitchen of Doña Veneranda, who, with some funds from Los Quinchos, continues feeding the children who used to live in La Chureca. “We miss the former employees of our project in La Chureca. We all struggled together for years. They were part of our family, and they shared our vision.”

Recycling facility that replaced the dump

Recycling facility that replaced the dump

“We started the Chureca project to respond to an urgent need, and our strategy has always been to go to where the most vulnerable children are to support them, which is what we are doing and will continue to do,” says Carlos Vidal of Los Quinchos.