Children in Public Spaces
by Susana Raymundo
The first day of October is usually celebrated as the “Day of the Child” – to celebrate children growing up within large families or within families where they are the only child.
However, not all children in Guatemala just grow up within the enclaves of their families. Throughout Guatemala, children can be found in parks, markets and houses offering their services of polishing and cleaning the shoes of people who want their boots to shine like the sun. Some spend all day working, whilst others divide their time between work and school, receiving their lessons in public schools where the roof leaks during heavy rain. These are the hungry children who make their living on the street. They not only work to polish shoes, but also sell flowers, candy, cotton and candy in public places; sell vegetables at the markets; work as gardeners at peoples’ homes, as assistants in minibuses or jugglers in the streets, where you fill find them painted with clown faces at traffic lights, mounted on another partner and throwing two, three or more balls up into the air. These children also play instruments and sing on buses or in the parks and clean the windshields of cars for a quetzal.
Children with disabilities are often taken into public places in order to beg for money for treatment. They are often found on the back of someone yelling “help please, they have assaulted me, my son has not eaten, my child is sick, a little help please” and most innocent people are more than willing to help out. After obtaining a quantity of money, they change of place and start again but the treatment they talk of never reaches the child (although there are certainly exceptions to this and some do take advantage of this help and use it for their child’s treatment).
Also there are the children of the mountains who run up to the visitors of their homes, their faces smeared with food and dirt, their clothes torn and dirty, with no shoes or perhaps just some slippers, enthusiastically saying “give me a quetzal”, “Give me a biscuit”, “a fruit” or some “candy.” If you give anything to one of them, you’ll soon find you are required to give something to all. Many of these children do not know that there is a “children’s day” and spend the day just as any other, so it’s better give them a hug, a kiss and / or food instead of just giving them a quetzal.