Cleaning Cachinches to prevent flooding
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Some low-lying areas of San Miguel are subject to flooding during prolonged, heavy rains, such as those that fell in October 1998 and in February 2010. These flooding problems have several origins, one of which is the buildup of weeds, trash and dirt in the Cachinches stream that prevents water from flowing freely. The Civil Protection and Social Development Departments are now working to clean up the stream with the help of 65 workers who live in extreme poverty. According to their leader, Juanita Ramírez, president of Colonia Cuevitas, the workers are doing an excellent job. They work well together and are mutually supportive. Some of them talked to Atención about the work they are doing.
The cleanup program
Ramiro Arroyo, head of Civil Protection, said that every rainy season workers are sent to clean up the Arroyo de las Cachinches. However, according to Ramírez, this is the first time that so many laborers are working to clean up the stream. Even though it is cleaned up to some extent every year, she said that in the past the work was not done correctly. “We are doing excellent work,” she commented. Arroyo said the work is needed because vegetation, trash and dirt build up and impede the flow of water, causing the stream to overflow its banks in heavy rains. Aside from the flooding problem, the waterway is a refuge for vermin, and unfortunately people also use it as a place to dump trash.
Miguel Gil, coordinator of the Social Development Department, said that the cleanup is part of a federal program of the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), which is funding the operation for the first time in San Miguel. The program has two main objectives: to clean up the stream and to provide employment for people who live in extreme poverty. The regulations of the program state that at least 50 percent of the workers must be single mothers.
Every peso helps
Señora Ramírez said that in April she asked the local government to clean up the stream, and also requested nearby residents be hired to do the work. “We never had so large a group available to clean the stream,” said Gil, and for that reason, when the funding was authorized by CONAGUA “we decided that residents from Cuevitas should perform the work. It is an area with high unemployment, and there are many single mothers.” According to Gil, the group of 65 workers was assembled in less than two weeks.
Ramírez commented that the cleaning began at el Puente de Guanajuato and will end at Río Nilo. She also said that they are pulling out the weeds and trees by the roots, so the stream will stay clean longer. Ramírez, who owns a beauty salon, volunteers as the coordinator of the large group. Workers receive a salary of 59 pesos per day for four hours of cleaning.
Ramírez said, “Even though the pay is low, at least the people can buy something to eat such as a pasta, beans and tortillas.” She added that many people have approached her asking for a job, and she has helped all those she can because they are hard-working, honest and responsible.
Workers talk about their task
Over the past seven weeks, the 65 laborers from Las Cuevitas have been cleaning up the stream, performing a job that “is difficult and disgusting, but the need to earn money outweighs that,” as one worker said. Recently, some of the workers cleaning the stream near la Aurora and el Obraje spoke to Atención during their morning break.
Doña María Gonzalez wakes up every day at 5:30am; she makes handmade tortillas, prepares breakfast for her seven children, then goes to work. “Normally I support my husband making bricks in San Miguel Viejo, but nowadays due to the rainy season there is not enough work there,” she said. She remarked that it is better to have this part-time job because it is money she can count on, even if it is not much. She was not wearing protective gear, and we asked her whether she was not afraid of being infected by the contaminated material and water. She responded, “We all are afraid, but we need the money. This area is cleaner than the lower part of the stream. There, the accumulated trash was almost falling on us, but we were wearing our equipment.” She said she is careful to disinfect her hands before cooking lunch for her children. Not surprisingly, she said she wished that people would not throw trash into the stream.
Margarita Ramírez is married and has five children, two of them in high school. Another is “mentally retarded due to drugs problems,” she said, and her husband is handicapped and cannot work anymore, so she must support the family. “I also sell raspados (snow cones) outside Bodega Aurrerá, but I come here because I can fit it into my schedule and the income is stable. Selling raspados, sometimes I have good days, but others are very bad.”
Don Juan Alejandro, 37, works washing cars in the afternoon. He has seven children, and even if the salary is low, he said, “we can buy the basics. For that reason I have a second job in the afternoon.” He commented that these kind of part-time jobs are important and necessary because they help keep young sanmiguelenses away from addictive drugs and teach them the value of work.
Within the stream the stories are many: Single mothers, students, even whole families work side by side to feed their families another day.