“Four angels died after trying to satisfy their hunger,” lamented a tearful Marta Lidia Sinay, neighbor of four children poisoned by ingesting contaminated instant soups.
Amid cries of sorrow, the bodies of 7- year-old Jeremiah Catalan and 3- year-olds Jeremy Fernando Hernandez, Barbara Catalan, and Estephany Vian recently lay lifeless in the Guatemala City garbage dump neighborhood. Relatives and neighbors could not believe what had happened. “I saw Jeremiah yesterday,” said a young boy from the neighborhood. “We saw each other in the morning, and I told him that he could play with me later. But he went to lunch and did not return.”
Roberto Garza, spokesman for the National Institute of Forensic Sciences, stated the children were killed by food that had expired and was spoiled.
Their deaths exposed the plight of the dump community to those who do not necessarily live near the landfill. It is not uncommon to see people sort through the garbage despite the smell. Some seek recyclables to sell; others seek their first meal of the day.
Regardless of the children’s fate, neighbors continue to ease their hunger at the dump and are resigned to eating from the landfill because wages earned from garbage scavenging are not enough to buy food. According to residents, the landfill is their only source of work. “We collect chicken, cheese, cream, beans, and other things found in the trash because we cannot afford to go to the market,” said Marta Lidia Sinay.
“When I find candy, cookies, soft drinks, juices, bread, chicken, pizza, and sweets, I take them to the house and eat with the family. We are told not eat it, but nothing has ever happened to us, and there is nothing else to eat,” said Blanca Solis.
Dr. Carlos Mejia, an infectious disease specialist, explains that guajeros, or garbage collectors, are exposed to gastrointestinal infections from contaminated food in the trash, as well as bacteria or toxins that can be released from canned goods. They are also exposed to rats, bugs and parasites that can transmit various diseases, and children are at greatest risk.
A Work in Progress
To alleviate this grave problem, International Samaritan serves nutritious meals everyday to the 750 children at the Francisco Coll School and Santa Clara Nursery. While they can count on safe food there, parents must still be educated about the risks of feeding their children food from the dump to prevent future deaths or illnesses.
“Sadly, none of the children who died participated in our programs in Guatemala; if so, perhaps their poisoning could have been avoided,” said International Samaritan’s International Program Director Andrew Pawuk.
“These deaths highlight the overwhelming need to expand our programs to help children looking to satisfy their basic need of finding a healthy meal that will not kill them.” Like Guatemala, similar food programs are set up in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Haiti. Help us continue feeding these innocent children and educating their families on safer practices by making your donation today at www.IntSam.com/donate.
Visit www.PrensaLibre.com for the full version of “Familias buscan comida entre desechos” (December 7, 2014).