At only 15 years old, Thelma Ordoñez risks her life each day sifting through garbage for recyclables and food for her family to eat. Her mother, Victoria, was diagnosed with cancer last summer. With no father present, Thelma and her siblings do what they can to survive.

Thelma lives in severe poverty with her mother, two sisters and five brothers in the garbage dump community of Guatemala City. She is also one of International Samaritan’s Paso a Paso scholarship recipients. These vital scholarships allow the children of Guatemala City garbage dump workers to attend high school. Paso a Paso graduates will typically go on to further training or even college.

Many of the Paso a Paso students have to work in the garbage dump or help tend to younger siblings while their parents work. Since her mother’s diagnosis, Thelma’s responsibilities at home have become overwhelming. She reports having trouble sleeping and often has to stay up late into the morning hours to study. “It is hard because there are many dangers, but we must do it,” said Thelma. “The dump is well known for taking the life of a lot of people.”

At the dump, Thelma is exposed to fires, toxic fumes, wild animals, gang violence, rape, and other dangers. In 2008, a garbage landslide killed four people. Three years prior, the dump was engulfed by a massive fire, the result of a methane gas explosion.

Thelma’s mother breaks down when she speaks about her daughters working at the dump. “I have been living here for about 40 years and all this time I worked at the sanitary filling, but now I have to depend on my kids,” she said. “They bring in what’s necessary to eat.” Thelma makes approximately $2 per day. “I only pray God to help us move on and for my kids to continue being good people, as it has been until now.” Victoria says she is very grateful for the scholarship and International Samaritan.

“I will keep on fighting,” Thelma said, adding that she hopes to one day become a teacher.

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