The Dumpster Dwellers

Photos and words by Koby Hagenfelds.

A truck backs into the dump, leaning it drops its load to a crowd waiting below. The mob climbs the slipping pile, digging in with hooks and sticks, madly pulling out anything of value. They are trying to find plastic, glass, metal, cardboard. A labor worth 33 US cents per day.

Kids run past barefoot, laughing with beautiful honeyed faces, they scream down mountains of trash on old bikes pieced together. The greatest playground that ever wasn’t. Ducking in an out of smoky plumes they laugh at me and grab my hand.

Leading us is Oscar, The founder of BuildinGUATE, an organization working to help the people living here. “Be careful where you walk,” he warned me, “the smoke is from invisible trash fires that burn very hot, you can’t see them in the day, but at night the whole dump is on fire.”

These mountains of garbage are what makes up the Escuintla dump in Guatemala. Home to over 18 families, that were conceived, born and will possibly live out their lives atop this mountain of refuse. Sleeping under sheets of plastic, “The dump is a dangerous place, hospitals dump everything here. I have seen bags of blood, used syringes. A lot of children walk barefoot, plus the dump is a source of food.”

Oscar and his team of volunteers are those everyday heroes you never hear about. In two years they have built 43 houses in three communities, kept schools and daycares running for the workers as well as run a bi-weekly soup kitchen. They listen and respond with genuine care to the needs and stories of every individual to cross their path. “There are no regulations here and more people are arriving all the time…”

The price to build one house is only 2,500 dollars, this guarantees a house off the tip, that their children will stay in school, a rocket stove and water filter.

These are the beautiful invisible people, cleaning up the excess of our lives.

All images were taken in Guatamala.


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