WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Finding the reign of God in a Peruvian rubbish tip

Mary-Ann Greaney

‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” These words from 1 John 3:17 are strong and certainly very challenging to those of us living comfortably in New Zealand.

One of the difficulties when trying to grapple with injustice is that the problem can just seem too big. People may feel the little they could do would be insignificant.

The following paragraphs tell the story of a small group of courageous women in Peru and their determination to create a life for themselves and their children in spite of overwhelming hardship and injustice. We will discover how easy it is for us in New Zealand to stand in solidarity with them.

The women live on an old rubbish dump in the capital city, Lima. Over the past three decades families have been forced from their villages in the mountains by the Shining Path Guerrillas. Every family squatting on the dump has lost family members to guerrilla warfare.

A thin layer of rubble has been laid over the rubbish that continues to decompose giving off gases that make the people sick. Their small shacks are built out of little more than reinforced cardboard. The sewer outlet for the city is a short distance away and, depending on the direction of the wind, the smell is overpowering.

There are many abuses of basic human rights including lack of adequate shelter, food, healthcare, education and employment. Many of the women are solo mothers who have to leave small children unattended for long hours while they work as poorly paid domestics on the other side of town.

In 1994 two Presentation Sisters moved onto the dump as neighbours. Responding to the call for all Christians to reclaim the reign of God they made a preferential option for the poor.

They chose to stand alongside the people and work with them to improve their situation by lobbying the government, raising awareness of the plight of the poor within Peru and internationally, soliciting overseas aid for special projects, forming a collective of women to make crafts that enable them to earn a just wage and care for their children, and sourcing markets for the craft overseas.

There are around 28 women who are members of the collective making a wide variety of brightly coloured and intricately detailed craft. They hope to be able to earn enough money to enable them to stay at home and care for their children.

The crafts are available in New Zealand and selling or purchasing items is an easy way for us to support these women who do not ask for charity but a fair price for their labour.

All of the money is returned, via the Presentation Sisters, to the women who manufacture the goods. A small margin is added to each item to reimburse the costs sustained in sending the goods to New Zealand.

Imagine for a moment what the impact may be if everyone did their little bit. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it well,

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

If you would like to help change their world perhaps you could set up a sales table after mass on Sunday.

Another option may be offering the goods for sale in your workplace or an organisation you belong to.

People in rest homes often have difficulty getting out to buy gifts for family and friends – if you have contact with a rest home how about offering to sell some items?

Dorothy Day described this way of working as the pebble effect,

What we would like to do is change the world – to make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do.

And we can change the world … We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.

If you, or you parish social justice group, would like to witness gospel values in this way please contact Mary-Ann Greaney (04) 526 8368 or greaneycomp@xtra.co.nz.