Hilda is a child whose family works in the gravel mines of Guatemala. This is one of the most grueling jobs I’ve seen – using a sledgehammer from dawn to dusk to break rocks into gravel. It is also a dangerous and very low-paid job. Several years ago, the Guatemalan government passed laws making it illegal for women and children to work in the mines, but the pay is so low that families have great difficulty surviving if mothers and children don’t also work. As dangerous as the mines are, it is even more dangerous to leave young children unattended with both parents working outside the home, so mothers and children often work surreptitiously in the mines with the fathers. The government regularly sends people to monitor the mines, and if a woman is caught working, the husband is sent to jail. It is therefore difficult, as you can imagine, to win the trust of these people who treat everyone as a potential spy for the government.
If the government provides the “stick” to keep children out of the mines, we provide the “carrot”. If children want to attend school, we provide the required uniforms, shoes, and textbooks which are beyond the reach of these mining families. The few, brave children who joined our Estudia Con Amor program the first year jointly wrote us a letter that said, “We were forgotten children, but now we feel important… and loved.” Those children broke the ice, and all the mining families now trust us. Hilda is one of the initial students in the program, and she currently is 10 years old.
Unfortunately, last May the police discovered two children (not in our program) working in the mines. They shut the mines down and gave the other families 3 days to evacuate or face arrest. Our mining families scattered. Hilda’s family fled with the others, and they struggled to survive on temporary jobs harvesting the crops in fields that belong to other farmers. Working in the mines they were able to eat 3 modest meals a day of beans and tortillas, but during the 6 months away from the mines they were only able to eat 1 meal each day. Hilda’s family could no longer afford to pay rent on a dilapidated room which served as their home, so they made a makeshift shelter out of cardboard and rusted, corrugated tin. Hilda and the other mining families suffered terribly during those six months.
Finally, the government reopened the mines and allowed families to come back, so Hilda is once again in our program. She received a warm parka for the upcoming cold, winter months and is anxious to return to school. She and the other children in the program were excited to be back and showered us with warm embraces. Hilda summed up their feelings well when she said, “My heart is grateful to have your love and your financial help. We feel protected with you. We love you.” For children who are constantly hiding and afraid, distrustful of most everyone, that is the highest of compliments! And we feel so grateful to have them back![/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]