Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reflecting on Cultural Constructs of Childhood

We have now spent our first week in Guatemala. I am not sure what I expected my experience to be like, but being exposed to some of the effects of extreme poverty has greatly impacted me. Throughout the spring semester, we Visage students studied the history and culture of Guatemala, however no readings in the classroom can make quite the same impact as observing the consequences of centuries of oppression and racism in the field. As we have traveled further from Guatemala City, the quality of life has become lesser and lesser as the population become increasingly Mayan.

What has been most shocking to me thus far is the number of seemingly young children that work. The other day I was approached in a restaurant by 3 children, ages 7, 9, and 12, selling bracelets – “2 para 5 quetzales.” The young girls were dressed in traditional traje, and their youngest brother wore blue jeans and a t-shirt. The three had traveled to Panajachel from a neighboring community with their father to sell their goods. These three are just a few of the many children that I have observed working. At the market in Sololá, many young girls sit with their mothers selling fruits, fabrics, an assortment of consumer goods, etc. Adolescent boys serve as ayudantes on the chicken buses and microbuses, calling out stops, packing people into vehicles, and collecting travel fare. In Chaquiyá, I observed young boys assisting adult men in building projects and on milpa plots.

Although children in Guatemala are required to attend school through the 6th grade, many do not complete their primary education. Additionally, children are released from school midday, giving them the opportunity to work in the afternoons. The number of children that I have seen working in Guatemala has made such an impression on me because it is so different from what one sees in America. While children in America are generally not expected to work, children in Guatemala, it seems, work out of necessity. All of the children I have encountered thus far, even those who are working, have been truly special. Each of communities we have visited have been so colorful and so many of the people we have had the pleasure of speaking with have had such a light. I cannot wait to continue to learn about the culture of this beautiful country and hopefully make a positive and lasting impact on the communities in which I will serve.

Our new friends were full of smiles and laughter 
- Becca, Visage Student

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