Walton Scholar Alumnae Returns to Guatemala to Empower Young People

Marroquin Mentors, Encourages Dump Scavengers

By Aliya Kuykendall
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Article Photo

The Guatemala City garbage dump is the size of 20 American football fields and is home to 11,000 people, 6,400 of whom are children. These people, called guajeros, which is loosely translated “scavengers,” search the garbage for reusable items to make a living.

Here, people as young as 15 can get a permit to work in the dump. They follow behind garbage trucks that drop off trash at the dump and dig through the waste, searching for recyclable items like tires, glass, or plastics. At the end of the day, they will sell their items and receive a few dollars for their finds. Many live in the dump in a home of dirt floors, a tarp roof, and corrugated-steel walls. They may know no other life; many were born there.

JBU alumna Andrea Marroquin works with these guajeros on a daily basis. She is the director of projects and implementation at Potter’s House Association (PHA), an organization that has been fighting poverty and serving at-risk children in Guatemala for over 29 years. PHA works primarily to aid the residential communities in the Guatemala City garbage dump.

Marroquin explained that in a place where people are hungry, uneducated and surrounded by the trash they live off of, many have come to consider themselves worthless, a part of the dump. To affirm their value, PHA calls dump residents tesoros, or “treasures,” instead of the more common label, guajeros.

“We call people ‘Treasures’ because we want to remind them that they were made in God’s image and that they are valuable to Him,” said Marroquin.

PHA provides tesoros with education support, health services, community development projects and micro-enterprise opportunities to help them lift themselves out of poverty.

Marroquin has been working alongside PHA co-founder Gladys Guitz since April 2014 and oversees fundraising projects, vacation bible schools, mission trips, and the education-mentoring program.

One of Marroquin’s favorite projects is education mentoring. She helps students find scholarships to attend college and guides them through their education.

“When they think they can’t do it and when they think it’s hard, I just share my story,” Marroquin said. “I never want to look back and regret that I didn’t share what God did in my life, because hearing that could change somebody else’s life.”

Marroquin’s grandfather, who was illiterate and had no education, encouraged her father to be better. When Marroquin’s father got an education, he brought her family out of poverty, engraining in Marroquin from an early age the power of learning. Marroquin worked hard through high school and applied to the Walton International Scholarship Program, which provides full educational scholarships to Mexican and Central American students to study at a faith-based university in Arkansas. Her first application was denied, but she applied again the following year and was accepted to JBU where she majored in marketing and international business.

Through PHA, Marroquin can now identify students to mentor and connect them with donors to sponsor their high school or college educations. She also helps students with their applications to Guatemalan colleges and the Walton International Scholarship Program.

“I get to share with them how valuable they are,” Marroquin said. “That’s why I love my job – sharing my experiences can encourage others to work hard and achieve their dreams.”

Five students from the Guatemala City Dump have been awarded the Walton International Scholarship since PHA’s inception. Two of these five Walton scholars are current undergraduate students at Harding University and the University of the Ozarks and are mentored by Marroquin.

“There were people that walked alongside me during college who made me the person I am right now. God put those people in my path to counsel me and encourage me to succeed, and that’s what I see myself doing with these students,” Marroquin said. “I know that if you show that you care, you can change lives.”

 

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