“You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.” ― Craig Greenfield
The life expectancy is 40 years.
The lucky live on $2 a day.
The hope is one meal a day.
The dirt is their floor and the stars their roof.
The smell of methane fills their lungs.
The lack of choices interrupts their dreams.
They live 10 minutes from the richest country in the world.
These are the lives and challenges of the children and families in the closed garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico known as “The Canyon”.
As an American, many things are confusing and unsettling in “The Canyon.”
1. The Mexican government closed the dump, covered it with a couple feet of soil, marked off lots and sold this land back to its poorest citizens knowing that the health risks are devastating.
2. The desperateness of the situation attracts drugs and gangs leading to some very dangerous neighborhoods.
3. The lack of education(most have at best a 7th grade education) drives families to collect trash, burn it and take from it the few precious metals it leaves behind and sell it to the local multi-million dollar recycling company.
4. Children get caught in a vicious cycle where education becomes more difficult to continue as they grow older due to the cost and the need for a birth certificate by the 6th grade, while at the same time, parents need their kids to burn trash to look for income generating metals or watch over their younger siblings while they go off to work somewhere else. These are all obstacles to a higher education.
All of this is the definition of injustice. The first time an American takes a tour of “The Canyon” numbness, sadness, anger and guilt are the emotions that come flooding forth.
But the longer an American hangs out in “The Canyon”, other emotions and observations come forward.
1. There are heroic organizations, private schools and churches that have dedicated their resources and purpose to serve this forgotten community.
2. David Lynch started a school on a blue tarp and 20 years later, almost 100 children, ages 3-5 are getting an education, in a beautiful facility, learning English and computer skills, the two things that will eventually get them out of the canyon creating more options of making and living a decent life.
3. Dave Hessler, a retired American, has an office at the Blue Tarp school and is the unofficial community leader and connector of resources to needs. He meets with families and connects them to food, medical help and better home construction, while advocating for school child sponsorship and newer and bigger computer labs. Dave is a connector but most of all he is a conduit of hope as he listens and prays with each family, and though he can’t meet all the needs, people know he cares and that they are not alone.
4. One of the residents of “The Canyon”, Javier, a father of 6, with his 7th on the way, who lives in a 10 x 20 home, a large home for the canyon, advocates for the less fortunate in his community, having families stay with him while their smaller homes are getting first time roofs or dirt floors are being replaced by cement or walls are being expanded. Javier has so little yet his smile and gratitude is very humbling. Surprisingly Javier’s attitude is representative of many of the residents in “The Canyon”.
With all the injustice and heroism you see in “The Canyon”, as an American, the biggest thing I took away from “The Canyon” was a sense of my own poverty. My life lacks so much.
My lack of gratitude.
My lack of contentment.
My lack of caring for my neighbor.
My greed, ignorance and self-focused priorities exposed my poverty.
As I think of ways to help fight poverty in “The Canyon” I am also thankful for how they are helping me with my own poverty.
This is the way God works. He confounds the seemingly strong and successful by teaching us through the seemingly weak and forgotten.
John Steinbeck in the “Grapes of Wrath” wrote, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”
The times I have spent over the years in the canyons of Tijuana, Mexico to the valleys of La Mission and Guadalupe, Mexico, Mr. Steinbeck is exactly right.
The generosity of a meal given by a single mom who has nothing, the working along side a father who is struggling to make ends meet, who is helping his homeless neighbor build his house, to a young child wanting to give back to me a portion of the candy I had just handed him is counter-intuitive and mind sheering to an American who never has enough, is constantly worried about the future and holds on to things way to tightly.
As you decide to fight injustice and care for the poor, AND YOU MUST, it is God’s mandate, brace yourself for the lessons you will learn and the freedom you will experience and the strength you will discover through “the least of these.”