Monday, June 23, 2008

Child Labor

Quito seems fairly well developed with widespread plumbing, well-paved streets, lots of small and large businesses, and a good public transportation system (observe in the photograph to the left the clean, shiny appearance of the public bus which costs $0.25). There are little to no beggers on the streets, police are widespread, waste is controlled, and everyone is dressed in warm clothing. You can almost convince yourself that you are in America. However, the children and senior citizens working in the streets rudely awakens you to the inequality between economic classes.

Before I go further, I want to mention that I am not presenting the full picture. There is a lot I do not know about the economic status of Quito and Ecuador as a whole. I only know the little I have studied and the even less that I have seen. There is also the large issue of things are not as they appear. In addition, I have been exploring the tourist traps (such as El Museo Casa de Sucre in the photo to the right - Antonio Jose of Sucre's house turned museum - a Venezuelan general that was key in Ecuador's independence) which of course will be more developed, safer, and cleaner than other areas (it is highly recommended that I not go out after nightfall and avoid many places due to the increase in danger - though both Jess and I have felt fairly safe).

Going back to development, it was really the children on the streets alone or in groups selling candy or polishing shoes instead of being in school or being at home with their families that got to me. Jess and I were walking through a park and heard a chorus singing. We followed our ears to a Christian young adult chorus wearing bright orange shirts, singing songs of worship in Spanish. Their bright shirts attracted our attention and we were listening to the music when we noticed a group of small Ecuadorian children sitting politely on the curb looking up at the primarily caucasian students singing praises of worship. As the choir looked out at the audience in front of them and towards the heavens, they did not seem to notice these children looking up towards them. As I took photographs of the children, their attention turned towards me and they headed over with their small toolboxes of shoe polishing materials. First, they asked for $1 for me taking a photograph of them. Then they tried to polish my sneakers. I gave them each a quarter for letting me take pictures of them and chatted with them a bit about the chorus. They told me the chorus was from America and they were singing about God. They loved the songs and were listening to them. The next day (today), I went to Old Quito and ran into many more children polishing shoes and selling candy. One little girl that I was not able to get a picture of to my regret (I am still getting reacclimated to feeling comfortable taking pictures of strangers in disadvantaged states and asking them questions about their lives - it is necessary for journalism and great for insight and development, but some associate it rude probing and that is a whole different topic altogether), tried to sell me candy. She said it was $1 (though I realized later that she must have only known how to say $1 in English), and the candy was well packaged, so I decided to give it a try. I gave her a $1 coin (the $1 gold coins are extremely popular), and she started giving me handfuls of the candy. I was surprised at how much I was getting and told her I did not need as much. She continued to give it to me, so I just asked what her favorite was and asked for that and then gave her some of it in return. Families must often send out their kids because they know how hard it is for people, especially foreigners that are not used to seeing children work on the streets, to turn down children. However, by buying things from these kids, am I only encouraging for them to continue working versus going to school? Or if I were not to contribute, would they starve? When you don't know, how can you make the best decision?

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