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One of the things Billy and I notice in our travels is how involved children are in providing for themselves or in bringing income to the home.
Family businesses, no matter what they are, will find children right on the scene, contributing or growing up along side.
There’s no need for a baby sitter and family life goes on all around us and at every turn.
As a child gets older, more can be expected of him. Maya culture has children selling wares when they are about 7 or 8 years of age, often with the mother watching close by.
This young Maya girl sells stuffed animals in the plaza in the mountain city of San Cristobal in Mexico. Sometimes children will band together building friendships and keeping each other company while they walk the streets selling their items to tourists.
Although we might not recognize it, this child is attending a Mayan school. Carrying her sibling on her back, she brings a lone cabbage to sell at the market. What she receives from the sale of that cabbage will feed both her brother and herself for the day. If you want only half or a quarter of a cabbage, she will scramble to find someone to cut it for you. If you do not have the correct change, she will find it.
What may appear as harsh poverty to our eyes, this young girl, maybe 8 years old, is learning Mayan values: loyalty to family, determination, perseverance, ingenuity, the ability to sell product, physical strength – all necessities for survival in her world. Ten years from now she will bring value to her marriage from training such as this.
Seeing young children such as the one in the above photo always has me asking: “What is this child’s story here?” This young man sits on the steps in the market place – maybe for a rest, maybe because he hasn’t had any luck selling his plastic bags that morning, maybe because he is hungry and is discouraged.
Regardless of the fantasy I might build around him, there is no disputing that he reflects unhappiness. His canvas tote bag is filled with plastic bags that he must sell, and if his tale is like other native children’s, what he sells pays for his meals of the day.
To those of us who have had more comfort-filled lives and who have not had to worry about putting food on the table every day, seeing children in third world countries working like this might bring up uncomfortable thoughts. On the other hand, the skills they learn of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, perseverance and even connectedness to the community serve them throughout their lives.
And those skills cannot be purchased, they must be earned.