This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Working for Change in Sucre

Editor's Note: I have already mentioned in the past couple blog posts that we spent a month in Sucre and that I was volunteering with an organization helping working children. A few years ago I was doing something similar for a photography project called Working for Change: Child Labor and the Fight to End It  which brought me into contact with numerous organizations around the world working to end child labor. You can see this project by clicking the link above. 
Social workers talking with a newspaper seller in Sucre
Volunteer Time

It just so happens that we arrive to Sucre around the same time that we are ready to take an extended break from traveling. Click here to read about Sucre. I see a flier from Cafe Amsterdam that they are having a pub quiz where the proceeds will be donated to an organization that is helping working children (in Spanish they use the acronym NNATs - niños, niñas y adolescentes trabajadores - which means boys, girls and adolescent workers in English). It has been my experience that every organization likes to have photos and that usually nobody has money to pay for it, so I figure that I could offer my services voluntarily.

When I first meet with Centro Educativo Ñanta  I assume that I would just spend a couple of days photographing the daily activities of the organization and seeing what type of work the children are doing around town. However, the timing of my visit to Sucre happens to coincide with school winter vacation, so several excursions are planned. Also, Ñanta's birthday is coming up. Plus this organization just seems to have a lot going on including: an education center, daily lunch program, a magazine, swimming lessons, computers, attempting to make a movie from scratch and a home for teenage boys. Then there is a new independent project (but working closely with Ñanta) that has just started a few weeks ago with two social workers doing outreach work to the NNATs all over Sucre and the outlying suburbs. So as you can see, I stay quite busy while here.

Linda from Cafe Amsterdam gives cooking lessons at the boys' home

 Centro Educativo Ñanta

I do not have the exact numbers, but I can tell you that there are a lot of children visibly working in Sucre. Many of these children come from poor migrant families that do not have the capability to provide them with the basic necessities, so family income is supplemented by child labor. Ñanta works to limit the psychological and physical effects this hard life has on the children.
Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty
Eleven years ago an organization opened a place where Sucre's working kids could come to get a nutritious meal. A few years later this organization expanded to become the Centro Educativo Ñanta. Today Ñanta is an independent NGO that is working to prevent child labor by giving kids the tools necessary to escape from extreme poverty with the main emphasis being on education. Ñanta receives financial support from Oxfam Canada, donations gathered through Cafe Amsterdam in Sucre and they publish and sell a quarterly magazine. They also welcome assistance from foreign volunteers and have a god-parent program between individual children and families abroad.

Every weekday the kids of all ages can get tutoring help for their homework
One of their main goals is to give basic services to the children like education, health care, nutrition, social and recreational activities. They also provide a safe, caring environment where the children have the opportunity to grow naturally outside of the pressures of their daily lives.

A volunteer nurse treating an injury
Studying English from one of the books in the library

Lunch at Ñanta. They charge 1 Boliviano (US $0.14) so that
 the children will not get accustomed to handouts

Happy Birthday Ñanta

In July 2000 the organization that would eventually become Ñanta began. This year they are having their birthday party at an open play area in town. The kids from Ñanta will be putting on a talent show, but this party is open to everyone. Many working kids who do not normally go to Ñanta also come in off the streets to share in the festivities.
Doing a miners dance and the talent show winners
Everyone gets a gift on Ñanta's birthday
The kitchen staff and volunteers work hard to provide lunch for everybody
Amateur Photographer: The kids love borrowing cameras and snapping photos. Though having almost just lost my camera at Machu Picchu mine stayed safely around my neck.

Besides the party mentioned above, there is another disco party later at Ñanta. All the girls wear fancy dresses and the boys try to look their best too. This party is a very serious operation with DJ, lights, smoke machine and obnoxiously loud speakers. Though anywhere in Latin America you really couldn't call it a "party" without obnoxiously loud speakers.

Now one thing I do learn is that Bolivians cannot dance, well salsa dance anyway. Shame on me for stereotyping all Latinos. I assumed that they would all be little salsa maniacs. I remember going to family parties in Central America where eight year olds were dancing salsa better than I could ever dare. The Bolivian kids, however, really need to be egged on to step on the dance floor though this is mostly due to shyness.

Once they are finally coaxed onto the dance floor (sometimes by playful force) the kids stand in two horizontal lines facing eachother and moving to the beats. This organized line dancing lasts throughout the party.
It took a lot of coaxing to get the kids out on the dance floor
(notice the stick) 
Bolivian line dancing?
By the time I leave the dance party is in full swing.
No grown-ups necessary. 

Field Trippin'

Everyone loves getting out of the city
While in Sucre I get invited to two field trips. The first one is to a recreational area in Yotala - a town outside of Sucre. This trip is for the children working around the plaza and market and for the kids working at the cemetery. For many of the working kids in Sucre this is a rare opportunity for them to get out of the city. They also get the entire day to just be a kid and not have any income generating responsibilities. Early in the morning I meet one of the buses at the central plaza along with a gaggle of shoeshine boys and a few girls. The boys, mostly aged 9-13, are a rambunctious group. Just from the number of times we have to tell them to NOT entirely stick their heads out the windows I can tell that it will be a long day. 
Ready to make mischief
We go to a place that has an open lawn, soccer field, a snack bar and two swimming pools. The trip goes well, but with only a few local staff and a couple foreign volunteers we are greatly outnumbered. It is not easy keeping the boys focused during the planned activities, and we have to break up a couple fights. Everyone just wants to head to the pool.

As part of the staff this trip was exhausting, but I think the kids had a great time. Walking in town a few days later I run into one of the shoeshine boys at the plaza. The first thing he asks me is where they are going to go next year.
The older kids do some bonding exercises
while some of the younger kids play games like this volleyball-soccer hybrid balloon game
Look at the concentration of this volley-soccer goalie
Some intense foosball matches

And let's not forget the three-legged race

Games are fun and all but everyone really just wants to get in the pool. For a group of kids that actually do not know how to swim, they sure do have a great time jumping in and out of the freezing water.

The second field trip is with the kids from Ñanta to a river surrounded by small mountains with a sandy beach and a nearby soccer field. The kids working at the airport and those washing buses outside the city are also invited to come. A good group of boys from the airport arrive, however none of the kids cleaning buses can come. They say that their mothers will beat them if they go on the excursion instead of working. This is a sad reality for many child laborers.

We meet at Ñanta and there are two truckloads full of kids and adults. I think almost every staff member and volunteer are coming so it is really well-staffed. Plus these kids have much less energy to burn-off then do the gang of shoeshine boys. This trip is pretty smooth and again everyone has a great time.
The truck ride out of town

Right away the older boys get a soccer match going
while others hit the beach and river

Playing in the sand

Playing in the sand too
Enjoying his day off from working at the airport

Swimming, Swimming in the Swimming Pool

One of the ongoing activities offered by Ñanta is swimming lessons and free swim at a public pool located near the Parque Bolivar. I am not sure of the exact schedule, but I know that it is several times a week. They offer swimming times in the mornings and afternoons depending on when the kids go to school. I also know that every other Saturday there is a free swim for the working kids. The kids who just roll in off the streets can borrow bathing suits and towels. I think it is safe to say that without this program many of these kids would almost never have the opportunity to learn how to swim or even just jump in a pool.

Swim class for a group of boys who shine shoes

A volunteer teaching the first jumps
What is not taught in swim class

Huddling around the shower after swimming. Ñanta provides soap and shampoo.
Changing area for these boys with their shoeshine boxes

Marble Madness

It is hard to believe that kids still actually play with marbles. I grew up in the USA in the 80´s and never played with marbles. I always had associated the game as something ancient from Little House on the Prairie or to be found in a Mark Twain novel. But the kids at Ñanta (and so we can safely assume children everywhere in Sucre) are gaga over marbles. Especially when the staff are handing out the marbles for free.

Very basically, the game is played by a person using their marbles to try to knock out and then keeping their opponents´ marbles. The kids who are good will have a pocket or bag full of marbles. The kids who are bad walk around like gambling addicts at the racetrack asking anyone and everyone to "borrow" some marbles which they promise to double in return. For the record, never once did a kid return to me any marbles that I loaned.
Handing out free marbles
Tossing free marbles
It is a rare occasion that I go to Ñanta´s office or event without at least one group of kids flicking about the small glass balls -- some with deadly accuracy. When there is too much action at Ñanta the matches will carry on outside onto the street. At the Ñanta birthday party they organize a marble tournament with the kids divided into about ten different groups of age and gender. To say competition is fierce would be an understatement.
Let the games begin

To visit Ñanta's website click the link

Another Editor's Note: This has gotten quite long, and there is more to tell. So for the next post I will write more in detail about child labor in Sucre and in Bolivia in general and also about my time walking around town with the social workers. So stay tuned and thanks for reading!

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