Home > Our World > News > News - More Headlines
Nicaragua ministry battles poverty one family at a time

Scavengers comb though mounds of garbage daily at the city dump
in Managua, Nicaragua, searching for food and recyclable
materials to sell. UMNS photos by Clay Kisker.

By Gwen Kisker*
August 27, 2009 | MANAGUA, Nicaragua (UMNS)

Fires fill the air with toxic fumes. Flies cover rotting hoofs of cattle. Vultures surround a pond of murky water waiting for a weak, malnourished dog to die.

For 175 families, the Chureca refuse dump is also called home.

Many of the 2,000 people who search
the dump daily in Managua,
Nicaragua, are children.

More than 2,000 people comb the garbage daily for food or recyclable materials to sell for less than a dollar a day. Each time a truck dumps fresh waste, a swarm of humanity descends with makeshift picks and aggression.

The dump is sustaining them and killing them. More than half of the children born here will die before age 6, according to some estimates.

It is into this place – named one of the 20 horrors of the modern world by the Spanish magazine “Interviu” in December 2007 – that United Methodists have come to help offer a way out.

Started six years ago by United Methodist missionary Cheryl Avery, Project Chacocente moved eight families to fertile farmland in Masaya, about 20 miles southeast of Managua.

A new life

“My corn is beautiful!”

Nelson Ortiz is proud of his crops and his new life after 25 years in the dump.

“When I was in Chureca, I was very sad because I no eat every day. My son no drink milk. Now in Chacocente, my family eating lunch, dinner, breakfast. I study. My children study. My wife, she make bracelets, hammock. I feel very, very happy,” he says.

The Ortiz family moved from the city
dump in Managua, Nicaragua, to a new
home on fertile farmland in Masaya,
about 20 miles away.


Ortiz earned his high school diploma and sold five roosters to buy the guitar he plays for visitors.

Ortiz’s brother, Jose, says moving to Chacocente saved his life, “In Chureca, every week I was sick. But now, I feel well.”

The success stories are made possible through the partnership of residents and the ministry.

At Chacocente, residents sign a contract to work for the project for five years, raising crops to support the community, building their homes, furthering their education and learning crafts and trades. Upon graduation, the families own a house, two acres of land and a self-sustaining lifestyle.

One goal is to help families open a small business before they go out on their own.

The dream is bigger.

“One of my dreams is that we could take more people out of the dump and we could disappear the people. I know we need to have a dump place, but what we need is to remove the people,” says Omar Hernandez, the international relations director for Project Chacocente. “They don’t need to be there. They don’t have to be there. They’re people, they’re human beings. They deserve to have a better life.”

A brighter future

“Que es… ‘shoes’?”

A dozen students jump up and scream the answer in Spanish. Elementary students treasure the chance to learn English, art and music at the private school on the grounds. Teenagers attend a public high school within biking distance.

Nelson Ortiz plays the guitar
at his home in Masaya.

David Arellano, 14, shares his plans to become an engineer as he irons his uniform in his two-room cinder block home illuminated by streaks of sunlight. “I feel with my family, so good.”

Also feeling good are volunteers from the United States like the youth group from Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, Pa., that visited in July. The 66 United Methodist Volunteers in Mission helped weed and plant crops, lay floors for the school kitchen and auditorium and build additions on two homes.

“It’s really interesting to work side by side with them because there’s a huge communication barrier, but with gestures, laughter and smiles, we can get the work done,” says Maeve Kirby, a youth group member.

Gregg Stierheim, the youth director at Christ United Methodist, chose Project Chacocente to support because of its goal of self-sufficiency.

“It aims to end poverty. You can give someone that’s hungry something to feed them, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Just as without education, poverty is tough to eradicate,” he says.

“Chacocente gets to the heart of that issue, one family at a time,” he says. “And given enough time, hopefully they will make a massive dent in that situation, at least in Nicaragua.”

*Kisker is a freelance writer and producer in Pittsburgh.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Story

New Life in Nicaragua

Related Video

Manila’s City of Garbage

Panama Medical Mission

Related Articles

Western PA Youth Mission Service Changes Lives

Faith brings happiness in all circumstances

Troy Conference UMVIM Team to Nicaragua

Church offers hope to Filipinos living amid garbage

The Gospel on Smokey Mountain


Project Chacocente

Mission Volunteers

Advance Projects in Nicaragua

Comments will be moderated. Please see our Comment Policy for more information.
Comment Policy

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW