Another Season at the Puerto Vallarta Garbage Dump

Lyse & Phil Rioux - PVM City Paper
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March 20, 2013

Lyse and Phil Rioux

This is about Colonia Magisterio, or more commonly known as "the garbage dump" in Puerto Vallarta. In the last few years, the streets just past the school are now paved. But a bit further some are still lined with shacks made of cardboard, rags, scraps of corrugated metal, broken pallets, anything that will offer them some semblance of shelter.

When you see these houses, you wonder how much protection the residents have in the event of rain or hurricanes. Flies and rodents abound. Yet that is home for some people. They cannot afford better.

The dump was moved a few years ago because it was running out of space. In most homes or businesses in Puerto Vallarta, no separation is made of actual garbage and recyclable material, it all goes into the same container. So trucks from our beautiful city go to Magisterio to dump our refuse, then people wade through the material, sorting, trying to find articles to use, recycle or sell.

If they were paid a decent wage for this work, it would be not as bad but their income ranges between 50 to 70 pesos a day. That's $4-6 USD in North American terms.

There is money in recycling but here the workers are tightly controlled and the real income is not passed along to them. The area is also foul with dumped chemicals, and some of the sorters are pregnant women. And anyone living in the area - including children - breathe this tainted air as well as the dust from unpaved streets. After the sorting, the remaining garbage is hauled away by semi-trailer trucks to the new dump out of town.

It is a hand to mouth existence, the workers have no hope of breaking the cycle. They cannot afford to relocate and many are illiterate, limiting their ability to work elsewhere.
In beautiful Puerto Vallarta tourism is down again, it has enjoyed fewer and fewer tourists each year since the  recession in 2008. The Malecon has been redone, the new pier, the airport up-graded, the cruise ship marina improved, a new maxipista will be operational next year but fewer tourists. Tourism is the only industry here.
So fewer tourist dollars translates to fewer jobs, thus the city slum is increasing in area and population.
For the 7th consecutive year, a group of concerned tourists, Amigos del Magisterio, have organized a food drive to help this community. This year over 140,000 pesos were raised (about $11,500 USD).
Club Richelieu, Ottawa, Canada, organized an activity to raise funds, a special collection was taken from the tourist masses at Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe Church, and all Masses at the church Maria Reina de la Paz in the Marina, residents of the two trailer parks in PV, residents of Condos la Marina, residents of the Bayview Grand and Las Moras among others and friends and families of the organizers were generous with their contributions. For the first time, we even had collection from a group of Canadian Grain Commission staff members, Winnipeg office.

In all we purchased 3096 kilos of rice, 4915 kilos of beans, 1200 liters of cooking oil and 1200 kilos of sugar. With that, we packaged 1200 bags which we distributed to 6 schools in the area. In total, 1115 children had been identified as recipients of our bags. The children look good, they appear happy and mostly energetic in their worn and stained school uniforms. Some do not smile even when given a gift, theirs is an existence of resignation.
The objectives of making the donation through the schools is that they offer us a more orderly distribution and also we hope to encourage the families to "allow" the children to attend school and perhaps eventually break the cycle  of poverty.

A rule passed at the dump forbids children to work as sorters, and those 14 years of age and older may work if they also attend school. That is good but it also translates to more immediate poverty.

The cost of food staples this year has stabilized after huge hikes in the past 2 years, but they’re still hugely  expensive for the poor. Many are not buying beans anymore, historically the only source of protein for the poor. What are the poor supposed to do? Factor in that Puerto Vallarta is a more expensive city to live in because of the impact of tourism. The food banks cannot keep up. Charities are maxed out.
We distributed the remaining bags of rice, beans, oil and sugar to the shack homes. Five times we were able to drive up into the dump (a restricted area) with our donations.

The workers immediately line up to receive our goods when they see the nice tourist trucks enter the gate. And the guards are sympathetic. Many tourists also bring shoes, clothing, soap, hats, many things, anything. We are well received. What nice peaceful and shy people they are, so resigned to their lowly fate in life...

We were very happy again to have a corporate sponsor, Frigorizados La Huerta, that donated 1300 bags each containing frozen pizzas, vegetables, desserts and cheese fondues, a semitrailer truck load. For the residents of Magisterio, these goodies coming out of a clean box were a far cry from finding them in the dump after a few days in this heat.

We are told that in the evening when they get our delivery there is a fiesta!
Like many of you who are reading this, we are tourists in Puerto Vallarta. In Canada or the U.S., our recycling is sorted at home, then our garbage is trucked to a land fill and buried and that is the end of that. Not so here.
As you can see, here the garbage takes a more sinister trip. We are happy to be on holidays here, enjoying the incomparable climate, the culture, the ambiance.

The Mexican people have a way of welcoming us to their country like no other culture. The question is, what do we bring, surely money. But only a segment of the city ever touches the tourist dollars. What about the rest of the population? The forgotten who so need our help? Let us give them more than our garbage, let us go home having left a significant contribution.
In this time of Lent, we are taught to do penance and share with the less fortunate. It is difficult to do penance in beautiful PV, but the possibilities for sharing are endless. Use your imagination, ask around, there are many worthwhile organizations here who do good work. My personal favorite is the ongoing food bank working out of the Guadalupe Church basement garage. Talk about no-frills!

In closing, we would like to thank Frigorizados La Huerta, the school directors, the managers at Sam's who were our most competitive supplier this year, Walmart who donated bags, all the donors and workers, volunteers with trucks (we are 0% administration cost), Tacho's trailer park for use of their palapa for our meetings and packaging, and Father Estaban and Father Dave of Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe Church and Padre Gonzalo of Maria Reina de la Paz for their support, cooperation and encouragement.
We will be in the area for another little while now that we are on holidays. You can find us at the choir 10:00 am Mass at Guadalupe Church. You can contact Lyse & Phil by email at

  Learn about Amigos del Magisterio

  Learn about Food Bank of Puerto Vallarta

  Learn about Families at the Dump

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