Top Bar Menu

Hard Working Children of Guatemala

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.

Shoe Shining Boy

Shoe Shining Boy

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.

Girl Selling Candy

Girl Selling Candy

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
$6,636 Argentina
$5,801 Costa Rica
$4,202 Dominican Republic
$3,328 Ecuador
$2,503 Guatemala

Source: http://data.un.org/

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.

, , ,

Bob Howitt says:

When I was in India, staying with a local family in their extremely modest apartment, I was advised NOT to respond to beggars because they were simply part of what you might call “a corporate gang,” i.e. they were organized, sent out by the boss to raise money, very little of which the beggars got to keep. The begging, in tourist areas, by women carrying truly young babies was incessant. Finally, I bought a small sweater, fit for the baby being brandished like a weapon by the mother, and gave it to her. As I walked away, I looked back and saw the mother handing the sweater back to the merchant and splitting the money I had paid the merchant. The baby got nothing and who cares about the {affluent} tourist. Most importantly, to me anyway–this incident does not change anything with respect to the way I look at the world; it is simply a puzzle piece in the complexity that is life, which is what you are seeing in Guatemala. Bob

mina says:

I too find this quite disturbing. I understand that the dynamic of some of these countries’ economies are such that they rely on tourist dollars, but it is a shame that children learn that they can make more money haggling with foreigners than going to school.

Jason says:

It is sad, but we also must understand why it occurs. I won’t criticize all families for having their children work. It is survival for most of them. I would criticize the system, the government and the existence of corruption. If my family was struggling to survive, it would mean that everyone contributes. And unfortunately, it would mean my children would have to contribute by working instead of attending school. I wish all children could attend school and that the families in Guatemala and other less developed countries had adequate employment opportunities available to them. But, unfortunately they don’t. Currently, the best way to improve this is through financial support. Some organizations exist where they provide the family food or possibly income in order to have the family send their child to school. If you can’t rid the world of corruption, you can only try to continue to help the less fortunate. I wish all children could receive a decent education, but I do understand why it exists and I won’t condemn all families for their unfortunate situation. I consider myself lucky.

Vince Scordo says:

Good stuff, guys! All the best on your adventure!

Vince

Aracely says:

Thanks Vince! I’m glad you’re readying our posts.

tanya says:

People I have asked about this here in guatemala have told me two things that makes me find this less impressive and more disturbing.
1) Many of these children are corporally punished quite severely if they don’t sell enough.
2) Many of these children are actually slaves – meaning they are orphans, and some criminal organization has them on the streets selling.

Aracely says:

Tanya, that would be disturbing to hear I agree. I must say, in other countries, I have seen children being pushed by an adult into my path to beg for money. I have not seen anything like that here in Guatemala. Not saying it does not exist, just that the time I have been here i have not seen any such type of treatment.

Audrey says:

Interesting observations comparing the situation of kids on the street Guatemala with other, comparatively wealthier countries. I also agree that it is better to see a child working hard than one begging. However, sometimes parents choose not to send their children to school because they are so successful (i.e., bring in money) at their work. It’s not a clear – or easy – situation.

Aracely says:

Yes Audrey, their situation is much more complex than what we can imagine. And I agree, they are likly not attending school if they are working all day long. I was just amazed at the maturity of the children. I do try to ask them questions on where they learn to speak certain english words and one girl told me “tourist school.” That was interesting to hear.

Castellani Media LLC.