THE HARDWORKING POOR in this Central American nation receive food, funds and faith from a Christian ministry TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras —
You smell it before you see it.
The scent of rotting garbage wafts down from a hilltop dump in this Central American capital.
On a Wednesday morning, Marc Tindall and a small group of Christians from the U.S. walk the winding path that leads to the landfill, past tiny, clapboard homes infiltrated by the odor. The people who live here don’t seem to mind.
Neither does Tindall, a retired executive for the U.S. snack giant Nabisco. He and his wife, Terri, moved to Honduras about five years ago to oversee a children’s home and serve as missionaries to those in need.
Now, he’s a regular at the dump. Shouts of “Marco! Marco!” greet him as he passes.
As the U.S. Christians crest the hill and arrive at the landfill, at least 70 Hondurans are here already — clad head to toe in hoodies, gloves and stocking caps, driven by need to sort through other people’s garbage.
They work side by side with vultures. As the birds circle overhead, diving for scraps of rotting food, the Hondurans search for scraps of metal, cardboard, plastic bottles — anything they can sell to recyclers to support their families.
One woman, spotting a pair of toddler-sized blue jeans, carefully folds them and places them in a bag, separate from the green bottles she’s collecting.
Many of the women here are single mothers, explains Melissa Rivera, a 22-year-old Honduran Christian who works with Tindall. Born into poverty, they are forced from their homes as teens when their mothers can’t afford to feed them.
On the streets, they meet men who promise them money and security. They know it’s probably a lie, but “when you have nothing, you go,” Rivera says. Within a year, they are pregnant and abandoned.
The Tindalls do what they can to help the people at the dump, providing meals, showers and education through their ministry, Honduras Hope.
Christians in the U.S. are involved, including Trey Morgan, minister for the Childress Church of Christ in Texas. Morgan sponsors an online “Dump Day” fundraiser. The latest one yielded more than $40,000, with help from Bread for a Hungry World, a church-supported nonprofit.
Though he’s been here many times — handing out food and setting up chairs for a “Jesus Banquet” at Christmastime — Morgan has never experienced the day-to-day life of the people who work at the dump.
So, on this Wednesday morning, Morgan and his fellow U.S. Christians pull on work gloves and join the line of Hondurans — waiting for the next garbage truck. DUMP CULTURE
A few Hondurans grin at the sight of the tall gringos picking through the trash but gladly accept the help. They caution the newcomers to stand back as the massive dump trucks empty their contents.
They are professionals, and they have a system. When a garbage truck arrives, two or three scamper to the top and throw the largest pieces of cardboard to their compatriots below. As the truck ejects its cargo, one Honduran “surfs” the wave of trash as it slides to the ground.
The workers then take their places around the pile, tossing their finds into old dog food bags or garbage sacks. When the bulldozer arrives to shovel the pile into the back of the landfill, they retreat to their “stations” near the dump’s entrance, sorting their wares until the next truck arrives.
Nearby, small trucks wait to receive the recyclables. Their drivers give the hardworking poor a few lempiras, Honduran currency, in return.
There’s civility — even camaraderie — among the Hondurans. When the Hoduras Hope food truck arrives, they form two orderly lines as the Tindalls’ coworkers shovel out bowls of steaming beans, rice and tortillas.
It wasn’t always this way, says Terri Tindall, who first visited the dump with her husband on their daughter’s birthday — Feb. 19, 2008. The Tindalls, who oversee Casa de Esperanza in nearby Santa Ana, were doing relief work near the dump and asked about the mass of people they saw headed up the hill toward the landfill.
Don’t go up there, the Honduran Christians advised. It’s dangerous.
They went anyway.
“We were just shocked at what we saw,” Terri Tindall says. They returned a few days later with beans and bread.
“I was scared to death,” she recalls. “I just sat and prayed all the way. And they just swarmed the truck, and there was fighting and pushing. It was very chaotic.
“It was hard being able to look in their eyes,” she adds, “seeing the hopelessness and despair.”
Despite the negative experience, the Tindalls didn’t quit.
They returned with more food. Now their ministry makes twice-weekly visits to feed the workers.
The Tindalls also got to know the people. They help with childcare and baby formula for the single mothers who work here. Marc Tindall tells them he doesn’t want to see children at the dump.
When the bulldozer accidentally ran over a young boy collecting trash, Honduras Hope paid for the surgery that kept the boy from losing his leg.
Recently, the ministry completed a bathroom and shower facility next to the dump for the workers to use, free of charge.
As a result, the culture here has changed, Terri Tindall says. Now her husband “can call them by name, and they can call him by name.”
The Tindalls’ daughter, Nicole Fitzgerald, and her husband, Matt, also work with the ministry. The couple plans to open a new children’s home, similar to Casa de Esperanza, in the next year.
Meanwhile, they help with the feeding program at the dump.
“I’m to the point where I don’t see the dump or notice the smell,” Matt Fitzgerald says as he drives the food truck between two feeding sites.
“I see the people.” BIG DREAMS AND BIBLE STUDIES
Among the hardest-working souls in the dump is an 11-year-old boy named Christian.
He started coming to here about a month ago to help feed his 10-member family. He says he doesn’t mind sorting through the trash, but he dreams of someday becoming a bricklayer.
Julio Lobo also is here, but he’s not working. He’s on a break from school and came to the dump to say hi to his U.S. friends.
Lobo, 15, left the dump and enrolled in school, thanks to a scholarship program provided by Honduras Hope.
Crouching on a trash pile, careful not to get his jeans dirty, Julio talks about his plans to finish school — and become a lawyer.
Marc Tindall wants more Honduran children to have big dreams for their lives — on earth and in the hereafter. The ministry has opened doors for the Gospel, he says.
When workers express an interest, local preachers journey to the dump and conduct Bible studies. In the small community below the dump, Honduras Hope plans to construct a feeding center and church building. ONE MOTHER’S FIGHT TO SURVIVE
On a break between trash trucks, Marc Tindall finds Lourdes Alvarez, a 22-year-old single mother. She has set up a broken car bumper as a makeshift sorting station.
Morgan and the other U.S. Christians help her separate clear plastic bottles from green, and metal from cardboard.
On a good day, she can earn 200 to 250 lempiras ($10 to $13) for her work. She’s here as often as six days a week, walking two hours each way, to support her 18-month old daughter, Meilyn, her handicapped sister and her mother. Honduras Hope provides formula for the baby.
Despite her severe need, Alvarez spends part of her time at the dump helping others. When another trash truck arrives, she stops scavenging to help a fellow Honduran pull a splinter from his hand. She has worked at the annual Jesus Banquet, Morgan says.
After serving the Hondurans lunch, Morgan and the other U.S. Christians change clothes, discarding the ones they wore at the dump, and eat lunch at Marc Tindall’s favorite restaurant in Tegucigalpa — the same one that provides food for the Jesus Banquet.
“We’re officially done with our day at the dump, but not Lourdes,” Morgan says. Sometime later today she’ll walk two miles back to her home and change her clothes. In the morning she’ll put those same nasty, stinking, filthy clothes back on and go do it all again.
“That breaks my heart.” TO SUPPORT MINISTRIES
that serve people at the Honduran dump, see www.givebread.org