Dr. Doug Villella is the Executive Director of Vision for the Poor. His most recent trip to Guatemala City included a visit to the community that lives in the area surrounding the Guatemala City dump.
"Five people died while we were there," Dr. Villella recalled at the beginning of our conversation about his visit. Four children between the ages of 3 and 7 died after eating instant soup they found near the dump. An elderly woman was killed while scrounging through trash when a wall of garbage fell on top of her.
Accidents like these are frequent in the neighborhood that is known as Zone 3 which is comprised of close to 10,000 residents. It is situated atop a landfill just outside the boundary of the active city garbage dump. Residents of the neighborhood fall victim to crime, exposure to toxic contamination and frightening hazards like the fires that burn deep down inside the heaps of trash and threaten to cause combustion. Members of the community known as guajeros work inside the dump collecting plastic and metal to sell to city recyclers.
As reported by those living in the community, government services are not provided within the neighborhood, and little is happening to help mobilize people away from life in the dump. Many of the people living there are recent immigrants to the city, drawn by the vision of greater opportunity and freedom from poverty. Unfortunately, the newcomers often find themselves without family networks, no access to public services, and expensive food and housing. As a result, they are forced into an even harsher form of poverty than the one they knew in Guatemala's rural farmland.
Visualiza, the network of social service eye hospitals in Guatemala City that Vision for the Poor supports, has begun an outreach program in Zone 3. Each month Visualiza visits the community to screen for eye disease. Those in need of surgery are invited to the clinic where they receive free care. During Dr. Villella's visit, three eye doctors screened 100 individuals, 5 of whom required surgery.
Normally, outsiders are not allowed to enter the community, as the risk of theft and violent crime is high. Visualiza is now permitted to enter, but precautions are taken during their visits.
"While we were in the community there was a man who seemed to be working
on an old stove in a corner of the room where we conducted the eye exams," said Dr. Villella. "But he was being really inefficient; just working and making noise for hours. Later we were told that this man was a respected elder within the community, and that his presence in the room with us indicated to everyone else not to mess with us; that we were welcome and could be trusted."
For Dr. Villella the trip was emotional, heartbreaking, and an important reminder for why Vision for the Poor/Climb for Sight are so essential to improving the quality of life of underserved populations. We feel honored to support Visualiza and admire the dedication of the entire staff to providing consistent, quality care to those in most dire need.