Unseen Faces El Salvador
Most tourism articles on El Salvador describe it as a place of beautiful beaches, wonderful scenery, and friendly people. While this is most true of El Salvador, it is also marred with poverty and suffering. Child labor is prevalent, as many young children need to go to work in order to survive, and often provide for their families.
If, you have ever bought a soft drink of Coca Cola or Pepsi have you ever wondered where the sugar in that soft drink might come from or are you like most of us who take this sweet tasting beverage for granted? I bet it’s the second that is true. So let’s focus there for just a moment. El Salvador is one of the biggest exporters of sugar cane to the United States. A lot of young children in this country as young as 9 years old has been known to work in the sugar cane fields. They are provided little to no money to help support their growing families. These children are given a large machete to cut this sugar cane with, and injuries are not unheard of. Sometimes even life threatening. Other children labor in sweatshops making garments for western countries, children climb landfills in order to collect recycling to sell, and young girls risk physical and sexual abuse by working in the domestic sector.
Although, sugar cane fields and waste dumps are not the only place that children are working. Another, more viable face of el Salvador is in the marketplaces. Children here are recruited by their parents or strangers, to peddle goods and services in the streets, and local hang outs of tourist. The work includes carrying heavy goods, working in extreme heat and the possibilities of abuse. Education is expensive, and many poorer families are not able to afford to send their children to school. Instead, they are instructed in the ways of hard work and have their childhoods stripped from them in order to survive.
When you go to the country of El Salvador weather if your hiking through on a trip through Latin America or just surfing the waves. Watch these children when you are traveling in El Salvador, it will give you an incredibly different perspective on child poverty and labor. When some faceless child comes to you to try and buy whatever trinket he happens to be pushing, remember that he is not able to enjoy his own childhood. But, know that you don’t have to turn away you can help make things better by telling us your story.By writing to CISPIS and the USDAID programs that fund those programs to take these children off the streets and help provide them a better education and better future.
I remember, when I was staying in El Salvador for the first time, and I saw some of these street children. Being from Upstate New York , and seeing something like it on TV it certainly does unnerve you to know that places like this really exist in the world. Even right there in your own back yard in the US. There was about 10 children all ranging in ages from 4 or 5 to their early teens. I was walking out of the hotel on my way to get lunch and I was overcome with all these children asking for money. Not, far away I noticed a man and a woman looking over from the other side of the road. The adults were encouraging the children to run up to the gringo and look sad to get as much money as they can. Instead, I noticed they all looked famished. The adults across the street were probably starving them to death, so I made my way through the barrage and entered the mc Donald’s across the street. I asked the woman behind the counter about the children, and she said, “That they live up near the dump”. Their parents come to peddle them, and have them beg for money, so they can support their drug habit. So, instead I bought 20 cheeseburgers and about 10 drinks. I walked outside, and again here come the children to see the gringo. But, instead of getting money as they expected I gave them food.
They seemed more pleased with that than anything. The parents were hopping mad, came running down the street, to see what the matter was. Started yelling, about how I dare give their children food. So, instead of continuing to be there I gave the children the rest of the food and left. I watched them scatter like the wind with food, to hide it from their parents. Thinking I might have caused more trouble than good, I left feeling somber that day but, remember the smile on the children’s faces seemed to make it a little brighter. Later on that same week, I looked out my hotel window to see the police there loading the parents into a police truck handcuffed. I asked the concierge at the hotel later on and he said that the parents were arrested for selling drugs. The children were now under the care of the social services division of El Salvador.
I can’t imagine it being an enjoyable place, but at least now those 10 children may have a chance at a new life. A new sense of freedom free from the oppression of the streets they have grown up on. I will probably never know what has become of them. I can only pray, and do my part and let people know that there is this happening in the world and we need to do our part to help stop it