Lying awake here in my hotel bed in Sosua, I eagerly await the challenges tomorrow holds as we visit the garbage dump for the “In their Shoes” work experience day. Rushing through me are feelings of anxiety, nervousness and excitement. The stories I hear from the staff, interns and returning volunteers
send chills through my spine. From what I understand, I will not be able to comprehend the immensity of the life changing experience until I have had the opportunity to do so tomorrow.
Monday, July 23, 2012. 5:30 pm.
Her name is Sonya. She arrived to the Dominican Republic from Haiti at the young age of three. Only ten years later at the age of thirteen, she began working in the garbage dump. Now another ten years later, a twenty-three year old Sonya, the small yet strong mother of four, has had no opportunity to escape the dumps. You may find Sonya, as well as many others, working long gruesome eight hour days, six days out of the week. You figure on average at twenty-three years old, one may have just graduated from University and began looking for full time jobs. As children in Canada and The United States we are taught from a young age that we can be anything we would like to be. We are taught to set goals, and are given support to one day reach them. The people of La Union on the other hand are taught which recyclables and useful and which are not. All day I have wondered what Sonya’s dreams are filled with, and what she wishes for herself and her children. I wonder what she saw herself doing in the future when she was only a small child. Did she ever dream of becoming a doctor or a nurse? Did she imagine herself in a large home with her family? Did she think after ten years, she would still remain working and providing for her growing family in the garbage dump?
Words cannot describe the feelings and emotions embedded forever in your mind after only one and a half hours of working in the garbage dump. No one can understand a day in their shoes until one has smelled the rotting garbage, felt the flies invade your skin, and most horrifyingly- seen the good natured human beings work alongside one another in such heart breaking conditions. My eyes were in absolute shock, and my ears in disbelief. You can expect to find a little boy, who is spending his tenth birthday today at work in the dump. You may find a single mother of ten children, working to support the five in Dominican Republic, as well as the other five still living in Haiti. You may find yourself uncomfortably close to a number of cows who are eating the garbage you were about to pick up. You can even find yourself next to Sonya, the tiny woman just above four foot wearing only one glove, who shoves and digs her way through the garbage, not even remotely intimidated by all of the men. But it is not until you begin sinking into the mountain of garbage, and your feet and shins are covered by unrecognizable filth, that you may actually have a couple of seconds to take in your surroundings and understand the daily struggle that a stateless individual living in a developing country may endure.
After a day spent in their shoes- or even flip-flops as I saw on many, I was able to identify the real heroes of this trip, as well as this world. It is not those who have bought the newest iphone or ipad, or even those who have the most money. Rather, it is those hero’s working hard to support themselves and their families today and everyday in the garbage dump. They were the ones smiling, and laughing, with grateful and positive attitudes that made my experience in the dump a truly amazing one. Their fight, courage and strength make them the heroes. They are special and valuable individuals who we have all been honored to meet on this trip. This community has not only inspired me, but has given me so much hope. They have ultimately changed me for the better, and I am forever grateful. I would like to thank LiveDifferent Hero Holiday, the community of La Union, as well as everyone who fights and believes in themselves, the people they love, and a better world. Most importantly, today has taught me that it is not enough just to be grateful, but instead, you must help make a difference and be a part of the change.