When asked about her mother, one little girl responds by saying,
“My mom went to the mall.”
This would be a normal response for a child if it were not for one small detail: there is no mall in her city. Her mother went to the city dump to pick through garbage.
But this little girl calls it a mall.
Simone is the director at the Projeto Crescendo em Sabedoria* in Brazil. She explains,
“The majority of the neighborhood goes to the city dump every day. This is normal life for them, much the same as going to the mall to buy something is normal for many others.”
Many parents get up and go to the city dump as if it were their regular job. They go by foot, walking through the dusty, unpaved streets, under the hot, tropical sun. Walking takes 15 to 30 minutes – depending on the distance the family lives from the dump.
As they reach the entrance, the road gets worse. Old fences surround it. The environment is a mixture of green coconut trees – typical of the region – and dry grass. There are also several pools full of dirty water, which the children swim in.
As the people approach the dump, the smell of something rotten gets stronger and stronger.
In the dump, hills of garbage form the landscape. People hidden behind these hills share this landfill with vultures and fight them for the food.
The garbage dumped at this landfill has not been separated: hospital and industrial waste, household garbage, even remains of slaughtered chickens from the meat market.
Every day people wait for the garbage trucks to arrive, but before the trucks dump the trash, people go out with their buckets and start their own selection. They know where each garbage truck comes from.
At the end of the day they return to their homes carrying castoffs from people they will never know – old toys, clothes, broken chairs, decorations, cutlery and even photos.
Parents teach their children this way of life.
Inside their hearts these people know they weren’t born to live in such a place or situation. Maybe because of that, they prefer to call this place a “mall” or “store,” instead of by its real name: dump.
But a light is shining in this community.
Alberto is pastor of Compassion’s partner church, International Mission Assembly of God. He rented a shed a few years ago for Sunday services.
“At that time, I had no idea that God would send a social project for us. Nowadays, we work every day of the week.”
Before partnering with our ministry, the International Mission Assembly of God used to work with children in just the spiritual area, but it was not consistent and they had no money to support the children.
Through our partnership, this child development center is now able to serve 206 children in the community. It started with 30 children the first week of registration and has continued to increase.
The beginning was not easy.
According to pastor Alberto, when the community learned about the proposal of the development center, many families opposed the idea, thinking it was another strategy to get votes from them – votes in exchange for “little favors” that would be removed after the elections.
“At first, they asked me how much it cost to enroll their children, and when we told them that they wouldn’t pay anything, they had difficulty believing it.
By working hard every day, we proved to them that we don’t have any ties to politics. We are just Christians.”
Mothers are happy to see the behavioral changes in their children. In the first week, 15 children learned about Jesus and accepted Him.
Jesus Christ is the key to keeping children far away from the dump – and also far away from many other bad influences that the city offers to the little ones.
*It’s important to note that not all parents of the children enrolled at the Projeto Crescendo em Sabedoria go to the city dump. And since going to the city dump is considered taboo, people of the community avoid talking about it.