I have written and re-written this entry at least 5 times each time trying not to sound like Sally Struthers or that guy that looks like Trapper John (maybe he is Trapper John) on late night TV info-mercials. Here goes number six and I don’t think I’ve made any progress, but maybe it is not necessary.
Today I met Claudia (11) and her sisters, Carmen (10) and Mercedes (7). They live in a small 3 building rental made of scrap steel and wood with a communal courtyard and dirt floors and a surprisingly beautiful view of Ciudad Vieja and the volcanos that surround. Their brothers and other small children living with them seem happy and playful albeit a bit dirty but what can really be expected from small boys playing outside.
One of the women in the small group washed dishes at the sink while Claudia and her mother grabbed a ride from us to the local dump. Once there, they toiled mercilessly under the hot sun sifting burning trash to find plastic, aluminum and other scrap metals as well as games, toys and clothing. The girls have been in and out of school for the past several years but their parents need the income they make collecting trash so school has never been a priority.
Claudia, the oldest, seems to really take her job seriously but seemed to make an effort to collect toys and other things her sisters might enjoy. Carmen just seemed angry and pissed off (and who could blame her). Her entire childhood thus far has been stolen from her. Her voice sounds like a women many years older most likely caused by constantly breathing in the acrid black smoke of burning crap all around her.
I was visiting the girls at their home and the dump with members of the God’s Child Project’s Institute for Trafficked, Exploited and Missing Persons. They are concerned that the girls have had very little formal education and that the next logical step in their development will to become prostitutes at one of the local brothels. Charles Moore, who heads the institute, says, “It is usually just a matter of time until they become abused.” And he adds that they may already have had some physical or sexual abuse.
Their small group working in the dump in Alotenango, just a short drive from one of the mosted touristed cities in all of Central America– La Antigua, earns a scant $20 per week which is split between three families. Their rent alone costs them $250 per month and they are behind at least 2 months with a mounting debt of more than $1500. It is easy to do the math here.
I realize we have all heard this story before and I further realize that times are tough all over. The World economic crisis has cut their income from the trash they collect in half. With the help of the God’s Child Project and the incredible people that work with them these girls might have the smallest glimmer of hope…but if we do the math–their time is short and their lives may be shorter.