Dumpster/Housing Contrast

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

July 27, 2005


            Our parish recently built a new dumpster enclosure. It cost $18,000.

            It is a very nice dumpster enclosure. It had a concrete floor and cinderblock walls faced in red brick. It has metal gates on huge hinges. The gates have vinyl slats to hide the unsightly dumpster. Inside there are huge steel posts filled with concrete to keep the dumpster from hitting the wall when the trash truck sets it down.

            A dumpster enclosure is hardly a frivolous item. I don’t feel bad about spending the money.

            But for the cost of our dumpster enclosure, we could have built ten homes in Nicaragua. Ten homes that would have changed the lives of ten families for the better.

            What a study in contrasts between the standards of the rich developed world and the poor underdeveloped. Here we spend more money housing our trash than it costs to house people in other countries.

            Last year, our parish built a new house in Nicaragua. We built it through an ecumenical program based in Baltimore called the “Limay Project.” (Limay is the name of the town in Nicaragua.)

            Actually we did not build the house. All we did was pay for the materials.

            The people in the little village in Nicaragua actually built the house. They donated all the necessary tools and labor to their neighbors.

            For $1,750 our parish bought the cinderblocks, concrete, roofing materials and doors and windows for a little two room house. We also bought material for an outhouse.

            There is no electricity or running water, but the house is infinitely better than the dirt floor shack the family had previously been living in. One of my parishioners took a look at the photo of their old house and said in a typically Southern Maryland way, “That shack ain’t fit to dry tobacco in.”

            The family our parish helped in Nicaragua has three persons; an elderly man, his blind daughter, and her little son.

            Before their new sturdy cinderblock house, they had lived in a house made of sticks that did not protect them from the wind, the rain or sun. Now they can at least stay dry in the tropical downpours of Nicaragua and be safe at night behind strong walls.

             This year through the generosity of a parishioner, we hope to build five more houses in Nicaragua. Maybe five more houses the year after that.

            I think it is what the Lord expects of his followers.

            Sometimes we forget how rich we are in the developed world. We routinely expect all our public buildings to be air conditioned. We expect that every church and school will have unlimited cold water, ice and every other comfort. Those are all good things.

            But we also complain a lot. When the temperature is two degrees too cold or too hot, I hear about it from parishioners. Sometimes after a beautiful liturgy, the only comment I get from some folks is, “The air conditioning was too cold.”

            In the U.S. $18,000 can buy a very nice dumpster enclosure. In Nicaragua $18,000 can house ten families.

            I don’t think we should stop providing the best for our parish. But I do think the Lord will deal with us very harshly if we have forgotten the poor here at home and around the world.

            This coming year our parish will be remembering the homeless.

            I don’t want to meet my maker and have to say that we housed our trash better than we housed our brothers and sisters in Christ.