Friday, February 28, 2014

The Addiction

 We are fortunate to have such intelligent board members in our organization, and some of them enjoy reading The New York Times. This nationally renowned newspaper does an excellent job of showcasing world events and stories.
The link (below) to their recent story about sugar addiction hit home with a few of us. For me in particular.
According to this report, Americans consume on average, 150 lbs of sugar annually. Our palates are "trained" over time to enjoy the overly sweet taste of food items that are made with sugar. As with many things, we often enjoy what we consume, food or otherwise, without thinking of the "cost" of having that item. 

Here is the article.

Eduardo (L) two years ago in former house.
Eduardo knows how much sugar cost, but not in the way you might think. For this fourteen year old, sugar means work. Guatemala is now the third largest sugar producer in Latin America, and three quarters of production is exported. Mills are largely controlled by elite landowning families, who together account for over 75 per cent of the country's sugar milling. And for over 60,000 men that means work, even if it is seasonal. 

In Guatemala, children grow up quickly. At fourteen, Eduardo is the man of the household and his mother did what she thought was necessary; she contracted him as a laborer to the owner of a sugar cane plantation 100 miles from home. When her alcoholic husband left the family, Lucia had five children to feed and no income, house, utilities or school fee money. 

Here is where the story gets tricky.

 Finding Freedom has donated all of the above to Lucia for the last three years. The hut you see (above) was replaced by our organization by a concrete block home with an intact roof, running water and a toilet (one of few in the entire village). The family eats one meal a day thanks to our donors. The children are in school and we purchase their school supplies. We arranged and paid for treatment for Lucia's four year old who has arthritis. We thought we were doing enough, and we knew we were doing more for this family than for hundreds of thousands of abandoned women 
in Guatemala. 

Eduardo, putting ink on Lucia's thumb to sign contract

It wasn't enough for Lucia, and instead of asking us for more food for her children, she arranged to send her son to the sugar cane fields. Entering 7th grade meant that Eduardo's school fees and supplies would now cost over $250 per year, which was more than Lucia's annual income.  Her children needed more than one meal a day. Lucia did what millions of mother's worldwide do when they are financially desperate: she contracted out her child for labor.

I have visited these fields. Sugar grows best in the lowlands of Guatemala, which means the temperatures are usually in the high 90's. The fields are infested with snakes, causing fatal bites annually. Worse than the snakes are the red flies, which inject a bacteria into the skin of their victim and cause tissue decay. The bites I got while walking in the fields left scars. The smoke from burning the fields (to rid the fields of snakes) causes respiratory infections. Kidney disease from chronic dehydration kills some of the workers. Harvesting sugar is one of the most physically brutal jobs in Guatemala. 

Fortunately, our FFF facilitator who is in charge of this family did his monthly home visit the day before Eduardo's scheduled departure. When Lucia shared her plan with Rolando, he notified me.
 "Please help", he wrote, "Eduardo desperately wants to continue in school."
We are still working on funding, but meanwhile, Eduardo has his school supplies. He can return to being a student. There are no more worries, at least for this year,  of becoming  a contract farm hand, far from home and at risk for abuse. 

Eduardo with new school supplies
During my visits to Eduardo's home, he hovers close to his mother, quietly watching over her needs. It was a very sweet moment when he helped his mother ink her thumb (above) so she could "sign" the FFF contract holding her accountable for our donations. It would be hard to imagine the family without him. 

Unfortunate circumstances have caused him to grow up faster than he would have liked to. We are glad we can help him be a child for one more year. And when I have my morning coffee, sugar included, I'll think of Eduardo, with gratitude that we had one tiny victory in a world where consumer consumption and poverty creates a need for children to leave their mothers.