From La Chureca to College: Mery, Sophia and Cristina’s Stories

Mery, Sophia and Cristina all used to work in La Chureca, Central America’s largest trash dump, on the outskirts of Managua. They spent long hours in the heat, collecting recyclables for which they might have earned $2 a day. The fumes from the burning trash often made them sick. Sophia was almost killed by a dump truck, whose drivers often cannot see trashpickers amid the mountains of waste.

(See Anthony Bourdain’s visit to La Chureca, here. )

Cristina, Sophia and Mery (L-R) making jewelry at the Nica Hope jewelry cooperative.

A few years ago, they found their way to NicaHOPE, a small jewelry cooperative right outside the chureca. An initiative started by the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, Nica Hope trains and employs women from the dump in jewelry-making. In just a few half-days per week, each woman earns more than she’d earn in a week at the dump. More than that, they work inside, free from the heat, fumes and dangerous conditions of the dump. They have free time to go to school and take care of their families.

Mery, Sophia and Cristina excelled at jewelry-making, and eventually became teachers at Nica Hope. Then, they did the unthinkable — they became the first three people from the dump to graduate from high school. Now, Mery and Cristina are in their second year at the University of Managua, studying special education. Only 20% of students even pass the entry exam. Sophia will take her university exam next year.

It wasn’t easy. Because she was working in the chureca, Sophia didn’t start elementary school until she was 10 years old. She was so behind that she had to repeat a year. Mery had to repeat a term as well, after missing several weeks of high school with an illness she contracted working in the dump.

It’s a point of pride in the community that they have finished school, and other children look up to them and ask them for tutoring help. “I never thought I would get here,” Mery said. “I feel a great responsibility to set a good example for the other girls from the chureca.”

Mery, Sophia and Cristina all contributed delicious recipes to the Leaders From The Kitchen cookbook. Any proceeds from cookbook sales will go to help expand Nica Hope. To check out Nica Hope’s jewelry, visit their website.

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