Prev Witness for Peace
Guatemala 2000
A photo journal by David Booth

Day 3 Part 1 - Guatemala City dump and dump dwellers

Tuesday, February 29, 2000

Day 3 Part was also packed full.   In the morning we drove across the city to tour the city dump.  Along the way we noticed a large shantytown precariously perched on the side of a deep ravine, where many families were living.  Although there is constant danger that their makeshift houses may be washed away by rains, these ravines are some of the few places that are public land, and therefore available for squatting.

As we approached the dump, the smell of the dust was nauseating, and we covered our noses and mouths with whatever cloth we had handy in order to breathe.  We were lucky that it was a dry day: on wet days, the smell is overpowering.  

Hundreds of people live in the dump.  Ostracized by the general population, many spend their entire lives in the dump, subsisting entirely on scavenging -- for food, clothing, everything.  In the past few decades, the problem has worsened to the point that many of these dump dwellers have never known of any other life: They were born and raised entirely in the dump.  Their parents and their parents' parents have lived there all their lives.  Glue sniffing is also common problem among dump dwellers, as it gives a temporary high and deadens the smell of the dump.  

Even among the dump dwellers there is an established social order.  People with seniority are at the top of the social strata, and get the garbage from the trucks that came from the richer areas of the city, while newcomers start at the bottom. 

The dump also functions as an informal recycling industry.  People specialize in collecting specific items or materials, which they sell for reuse or as raw materials.

Shantytown near Guatemala City (364.66 Kb) Shantytown on the bank of a ravine in Guatemala City.  

Street near city dump (254.19 Kb) A typical street on the way to the dump.

Garbage truck (258.23 Kb) Garbage truck.

Street near dump (262.91 Kb) Approaching the dump.   Buses come and go, providing transportation to those who live or work around the dump.

Entrance of dump (274.87 Kb) Entering the Guatemala City dump.  Someone has been collecting cardboard, on the right.

People unloading garbage from trucks (574.60 Kb) The Guatemala City Dump.   Dump dwellers pick through the trash, as garbage trucks empty their loads. 

People unloading garbage (231.43 Kb) Closer view of trucks unloading.

Families picking through trash (209.47 Kb) Families picking through the trash, searching for anything of value.

Two girls at dump (320.09 Kb) Two girls who live in the dump.  

Prev | Home | Next
All text and photos by David Booth unless otherwise indicated.
Change image size: Tiny | Small | Medium