To establish a context for the humanitarian efforts of Los Andes Mission, one only has to visit a large garbage heap in El Milagro, outside Trujillo, where garbage provides the main income for the people of this extremely poor community! The garbage covers literally acres and acres, leaving even a casual observer with an indelible memory. Hundreds and hundreds of poor people-- men, women and children--scour the garbage for remnants to gather and sell in order to eke out a basic existence.
Each scavenger in this surreal environment “specializes” in one particular product. For example, the 5-year-old boy we saw gathering cardboard, can trade in a kilo of his find for one tenth of one sol (equivalent to U.S. 3 cents), sufficient to buy one piece of bread. Others hunt out aluminum cans to sell to recyclers for a similar pittance. Any edible remnants of garbage provide the basis of meals for these impoverished people. Then, at the end of each hot dusty day, thousands of hogs are released on the same site for their main feed of the day where they forage the remnants!
To call these conditions sub-human is an understatement. While some of these folks, freshly down from the mountains of Peru, actually live right in the garbage heap, thankfully others have a relatively better existence, having claimed a plot of land in the nearby settlement El Milagro. Once their plot is registered, these families set aside precious savings in order to purchase adobe bricks, a few at a time, while meanwhile living in makeshift dwellings built literally from plastic and sticks and stones.
Each block of houses shares one water spigot, and water must be hauled by hand. To make matters worse, water only comes in every second day, and that for merely 20 minutes! The fact that these people can eke out an existence at all is certainly a testimony to their fortitude.