I have only traveled to a few Latin American countries prior to arriving in Guatemala twenty-one days ago. In 2003 I spent ten days in Costa Rica, in 2004 seventeen days in Ecuador (my country of origin), in 2008 eight days in Dominican Republic and in March of this year Jason and I spent six days on the Argentina/Brazil border for a visit to Iguazu Falls.
Although those trips were relatively short and touristy, I feel as though I did get a glimpse, as small as it was, of the culture, people, and economic situation of those countries. One notable and emotionally memorable observation for me was seeing children begging in the streets. After spending twenty years living in the United States this is not something we are accustomed to seeing, or at least we can agree that it’s an extremely rare occurrence.
After visiting six towns in twenty-one days, I have yet to see one child begging in the streets of Guatemala. I have only seen them working and they are all working very hard. To clarify, when I say children I mean children of all ages from 4 and 5 year olds to pre-teens and up, all working. They are selling everything from hand made bracelets, to hair products, to food; they are offering services from shoe shining to hair braiding. With or without the help of an adult, these children are able to create honorable work out of the few resources they have. I find that extremely impressive.
At such a tender age they have mastered the art of negotiating, up selling, customer service and can even calculate complex equations in their head. One little girl offered me coconut macaroons at 5 Quetzales (about .61 cents) each but I only had a 10 Q bill. She quickly told me to take two. Another little boy was selling lychee at 12 for 10Q. I asked how much he would give me for 5Q. He put 6 in a bag and one in my hand. “For the road,” he said. He didn’t miss count; he was providing me good customer service.
Just out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research on per capital GDP (a debatable indicator but we won’t get into that right now) of the countries I mentioned to see how they ranked. The results are illustrated in the table below.
|2007 Per Capital GDP||Country|
Guatemala actually has the lowest GDP of them all and it’s the country where I have not seen a single child begging. I am not implying any economic trends of any sort, nor am I claiming to know all of the poverty issues of Guatemala or any country, because I don’t. Most importantly, I don’t mean to offend any child, man or woman that does or has begged. All I want to do is give credit to the hardworking children of Guatemala. You might have seen children begging in the streets, but I haven’t; I have only seen them working very hard.