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'Gringos in the Garbage' offer tours

February 15, 2016 9:56 A.M.

A screening of the film Gringos in the Garbage at Harper’s Trail Winery on the weekend was followed by an unusual offer from the filmmakers.

The newly released 90-minute documentary is a firsthand account of hardship, courage and resilience among a community of 2,000 people displaced by Hurricane Mitch a decade ago.

Two years ago, Jess Rothenburger and Warren FitzGerald went to live with the people of El Limona, Nicaragua, where about 300 families eke out an existence by recycling waste from a landfill next to the village. 

Actually, the site is more of a garbage dump since there is no recycling in the country. Conditions are appalling. Recyclables mix with medical waste. Children work alongside adults. The garbage burns continuously and untreated sewage runs through the dump. 

To outsiders, this might be a vision of a living hell. Through the filmmaker’s journey of compassion and active engagement with their subject, the audience develops a closer understanding of the people of El Limona, their hopes and dreams. This is down-and-dirty activist filmmaking at its finest.

The filmmakers remain active observers throughout their stay, supportive of the villagers’ efforts to survive. Though their surrounding environment poses a variety of immediate and long-term health threats, the villagers maintain that mining the dump of recyclables has been their key to survival. It’s a paradox that speaks to the chronic and extreme poverty that exists in poor, under-developed nations around the world.

In 2010, the pair was part of a Kamloops group that established a charity, Global Solidarity Group, with the aim of continued support for the villagers through online fundraising and housing construction.

Although the Nicaraguan government has plans to close the dump, it has extended a housing program, offering subsidies toward the cost of building modest housing. There are plans to build 25 more homes.

“Who knows where this will go?” Rothenburger said after the film.

Since the film’s completion, the pair went back and showed it to the villagers.

“They loved it. They were so overwhelmed,” Rothenburger said, calling it one of the most emotional experiences of his life. He’s worked in the past on international assistance projects, including in Rwanda.

They are returning to El Limona this spring to continue their work and invite others to join them in their efforts. Yes, they do tours.

The film’s official premiere is set for Wednesday, March 23, at TRU.

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