"The foundation of freedom, justice and peace." Right.
"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." - Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) -
"If you´d have been born in a family of the market, would you be doing what you´re doing now?" Eighteen European and Northern American heads shake firmly. "How come?" Well, probably it would be hard to understand the concept "foreign country" (and the posibily to go there). And even if we would, we probably couldn´t be less interested because you don´t need "foreign country" to survive. And that is the most important daily activity here: to survive.
And there we are: eighteen gringos and gringas from the Rich World, each of us with a (pre-)academic education, with enough money to fly to the other side of the world and stay there for at least three months, and every day more aware of what we´re going to encounter when we´re going to work with the children and families of the markets of El Camal and San Roque, two of the worst neighbourhoods of Quito.
Children of parents who often can´t read or write, who sometimes live with up to ten other people (and pets) on fifteen meters square, who often can´t develop normally physically or mentally due to neglect and malnutrition, who are regularly faced with violence and abuse, and who grow up at the markets just like their parents and their parent´s parents did. Not "the market" as we know it, but a musty hall lit by low energy lamps and the streets surrounding it, where all kinds of liquid and less liquid substances blend together on the ground, where living and dead animals are sold and stroll around and where the vapour in certain parts make you long for a "normal" cloud of sooth from an accelerating bus. Where everybody made his own construction for their supply of gas, water and electicity, and where even to Quito standards the situation is "dangerous".
That´s where the children hang out all day: peeling beans, running after their brothers and sisters, and selling all kinds of things: from vegetables and fruits to underwear and drugs. And we´re going to work with these children and their families, equal as we are for the law. Right.
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." - Article 1 UDHR -
Most children are born because their mothers just give birth to a child once in a while. "There´ve been attempts to open centres for sexual education near secondary schools. But in a lot of cases there´ve been so many protests against it, that they´ve been closed. Ecuador is very catholic, you know." Even on the market you find a glass bell on every corner, with an sculpture of a saint and neon lights that would make you think of a fair if the setting wouldn´t be as desolate as it is. And where the church did participate in sexual education, obviously the information and message shared weren´t quite what the government had in mind. So now only governmental organizations are allowed to give sexual education." Eventhough CENIT´s basis is the catholic belief too, the aim is to give "real" sexual education for the boys and girls who are enrolled in the programs. Last year "only" two students (15 to 18 years old) quit school because they were pregnant. In the computer class there are two mums this year.
"Everyone has the right of integrity of his own body."
But the girls will first have to know how things work then. "Also, a lot of children are born in the families of the market, but many of them aren´t registrered. It´s probable that they die before they´re three years old."
"States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health." Article 24 Convention on the Rights of the Child
And if they die that young, then it would be a waste of time to have registred the kid. And eventhough I always try not to take anything for granted that we usually find self-evident, I never really gave it a thought:
"Every child has the right of an identity." - Article 7 Children´s Rights Unicef.
Wow. I just thought that every new-born person would be cared about at least just enough to register them, so they have a name. And a nationality. So they "excist". Because someone cares, even if they don´t get any older than three years old.
But even that is a luxury. I see a video of a father who introduces his seven (nine?) children. "He´s nine... oh, eleven. And this one," he points at a girl that stares blankly with her big black eyes at something behind the camera, "is twelve. Oh no, nine."
Right after they´re born, the children usually stay at the market with their mother, or sometimes, if she can pay for it, at the Kindergarten. The youngest children that CENIT works with are three to five years old. There´s a class-room at the market where the floor is clean, where we have toys, where songs are sung and books are read, where there´s something new to learn everyday, where hands are washed and teeth are brushed, where people say "please" and "thank you", and where there´s a piece of fruit for everyone everyday. Here they can really be children for a while, in a clean and safe environment with a clear daily structure. On wednesdays we go to the park. That´s not a park. It´s a playground with four pieces of grass and a high fence around it.
"Every child has the right to play." Children´s rights Unicef.
Often children come in with scratches and bruises on their arms, legs or face because they "fell". Because some children are physically or mentally abused at home, the CENIT class-room is a safe place where they can receive the affection that they need so much. Starting there, the organisation tries to help these children carefully and step by step, together with the social workers, the clinic and the psychologist.
"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child." Article 19 - Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Officially everybody has to go to school once they turned five, but many of the children of the market don´t go because they have to help their parents: usually half of the total income of one to three hundred dollars a month (seventy to two hundred and fifty euros) comes from the children. That makes the ¨choice¨ of attending to school or not really easy.
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." - Article 25 UDHR -
The older kids, the ones that go to school are helped with their homework. Their parents mostly don´t have the time or the knowledge to do it. After the work there´s time to play or to participate in an organised activity. Children from fifteen to eighteen can come to CENIT if they fell behind at school or if for some reason they can´t go to another school. For 25 cents there´s lunch too.
"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." - Article 26 UDHR -
And also when they are older, it´s hard for many of them to go to study, especially for the indiginous people: the government gives twice as much money to the ¨mestizo´s¨(mixed Spanish - Indigenous) as to studying Indigeno´s.
"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty." - Article 2 UDHR -
Besides all the educational and nutritional projects, there´s also the department bio-psico-social with a clinic, psychologists and social workers, and once a month there´s a session for the parents with understandable and useful topics and information about health and family matters in the context of rights. One of the goals is that people here get to know their own rights, and that they know where they can find the services that they need to satisfy their needs, whether those services are provided by CENIT or not.
"Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, though national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality." - Article 22 UDHR -
But inspite of all the effort that´s been made, still some children automatically end up just like their parents, working at the same sector of the market under the same circumstances. They give birth to children that give birth to children and they end up as sixty, seventy or eighty year olds, still working at the market. Peeling beans, hauling vegetables or selling corn. And they gently greet the gringo´s and gringa´s that try to help them improve their situation and that of their (grand-)children step by step. As equal humans according to the law. Right.
"Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people." - Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -
I´ll stay here for two months more than I planned: until christmas. There´s enough work to do. But I know I won´t be able to change everthing in four months, we´ll need years to do that. But after I´ve left, CENIT will continue working with other professionals and volunteers, organisations and institutions and with the families of the markets themselves. Because,
"Human rights are a duty of everyone: the government, individual and social organ." - Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -
If you´re interested to learn more, check out
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
of in het Nederlands: http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/Language.aspx?LangID=dut
Convention of the Rights of the Child: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
of in het Nederlands: http://www.kinderrechten.nl/images/13/194.pdf
CENIT Ecuador: http://cenitecuador.org/