A Day with Madeleine

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Only a few days in and already this has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. I know Hero Holiday is going to change my life.  Of all the worksites and projects we’ve been a part of yesterday’s visit to the dump was definitely one of the hardest. At the dump we paired up with Haitian refugees who work there.  They collect recyclable materials and earn a meagre 85 cents per bag. As soon as we drove up I was shocked by how much garbage there actually was.  There were literally mountains of garbage.  I teamed up with a little Haitian girl named Madeleine who’s 12 years old.  She was incredibly helpful and an amazing inspiration to me.  As we helped them find recyclables I found I kept picking up the wrong things.  Digging through the piles and opening up bag after bag of garbage only to be met with disappointment.  It was hard to find anything useful.  Madeleine had a great eye for finding plastic bottles though; she could spot them from miles away.Madeleine had a smile the entire time.  She laughed every time I celebrated the fact that I had (finally) found an acceptable addition to our bag.  She was wearing 2 different shoes – a ballet flat and a runner- but she didn’t think anything of it.  Some of the other Haitians were barefoot or wearing flip flops which hindered their work.  I can’t believe that Madeleine is considered lucky to have 2 closed-toe shoes even though they didn’t match and probably didn’t fit.   I kept thinking about how I had bought 3 new matching pairs of shoes for this trip while Madeleine doesn’t own a single one.The most heartbreaking part of the dump was the discoveries Madeleine kept making.  First she found a battery-operated fan.  Her eyes lit up and for a second I think she thought it was going to work.  When it didn’t she laughed, as happy as ever, and held it to her face pretending she was feeling a breeze.  After that Madeleine came across another plastic bottle but this one still had some water in it.  She opened the bottle and started to drink it.  I stopped her before she could have any and brought her back to the truck for a cup of clean water.  It horrifies me that back home we won’t touch water that hasn’t been filtered, purified and bottled yet there was Madeleine about to drink from a disgusting bottle she found at the dump.My North-American reaction to the garbage was to back away and not touch anything.  At times I would turn something over and have to hold my nose for fear of vomiting.  It’s a terrible job to have with the smell and the heat and the incredibly unrewarding pay for such tireless work.  I only had to do it for an hour and half.  Madeleine does it for 7 or 8 hours every single day.  One look at the determined little girl beside me and I was right back at it, digging in the dumps.  In the time I spent there Madeleine, I earned less than a dollar.  At my job in Toronto, I would have earned $10 and not worked half as hard.  When it came time to leave I filled up Madeleine’s cup, left her my gloves and gave her my sunglasses.  She was shocked and really happy.  We said our goodbyes and as we drove away I saw Madeleine running back to the garbage truck that was dropping off fresh garbage.  I can’t fathom what keeps her going and what keeps her happy working and living in conditions like that.  It makes my problems at home seem so insignificant.  Madeleine is my inspiration.  If she can work as hard as she does every day for almost nothing then who am I to be complaining about late buses, homework or long commercial breaks?  I may have only helped Madeleine make an extra 50 cents or so but she has done so much more for me then she’ll ever know.~ Riana, an intern in DR

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: July 10th, 2010