2. Winnie Giesbrecht
Founder, Families at the Dump, Mexico
When Winnie Giesbrecht and her husband vacationed at Paradise Village in Puerto Vallarta 17 years ago, they asked the resort’s Italian-Canadian owner to take them where North American tourists rarely go.
What they saw is hard to imagine: Mexican men, women and children living at a nearby garbage dump, scavenging for food and bits of plastic to sell. These people were born and raised at the dump – the fifth generation of Mexicans to be brought up here. They knew no other life and had no way out.
The 75-year-old Giesbrecht knows what it’s like to be needy. She’s a First Nations person who grew up poor in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, so seeing children eating off garbage hit close to home. “I couldn’t not help them,” she says.
The couple began by bringing the families water, food and clothing. Now, their mission, Families at the Dump, includes a preschool, daycare, food programs, adult classes and medical assistance. The foundation also built a 70-unit housing and learning centre at the base of the dump, which families began moving into in early 2014.
Many men and women still work among the garbage, but they now have proper identification cards and they get paid. One young woman has graduated from nursing school, and a young man is in culinary school and more children can expect post-secondary education too.
The mission brings tourists from Puerto Vallarta to the dump to educate and inspire action. Many end up donating money or clothing, and they volunteer with the families. At the very least, they get a glimpse into the real Mexico. “It’s seen as a vacation spot, but Mexico is a third-world country,” says Giesbrecht. “There’s a lot who are suffering.” – C.G.