The scene that lies before my eyes could best be described as hell on earth. As I walk down the school bus stairs and onto the dusty Guatemalan soil, I can’t take my eyes off what is before me. I have seen places like this, but only in commercials that make me want to reach for the remote, or in letters begging for my support that I can never find the money or time to give. There are children around me, with shy grins and big brown eyes. I smile and go on. There is much to see, though I would much rather avoid the reality of what lies ahead. A path through the garbage and debris has been cleared, probably by those who work here. “Work” however does not imply a salary, but rather whatever items “employees” can salvage from the trash heaps to sell or use. I follow our translator past shelters made from an assortment of black garbage bags, scrap metal, and cardboard with their caramel-colored residents gazing upon the out-of-place herd of Americans I am a part of. The heat is unbearable and the smoke causes those around me to cover their mouths to avoid inhaling the dark smoke rising from the burning trash. We walk up a hill, the unrelenting sun beating down on our backs. I begin to regret my choice of purple and blue scrubs as the sweat begins to run down my back. As we reach the top of the knoll, our group stops. No one is talking, for there are no words worth speaking as we stare at the dump below. Our guides had warned us about this day-the day we would see the Guatemalan dump-all week. But, nothing could have prepared my heart for the despair that burned before my eyes.
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I hear the familiar voice of our translator, Wilson, asking us to form a circle. We are going to pray for the people of Guatemala we have served the past three days through medical clinics. I join hands with those on either side of me and notice a small boy lingering nearby dressed in a worn out purple shirt and dusty rubber shoes. It was not until returning home I learned he too had joined our prayer circle before returning back to the trash heaps to search for supplies.
After spending six days in Guatemala, I no longer can turn a blind eye to the extreme poverty that exists in our world. I always knew it existed, but now I know. I have seen it and touched it and walked in it. And now I pray I will never forget it.
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