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In Quito, Ecuador, thousands of families earn their livelihoods by working long hours in various markets. With limited options, parents are left with no other choice but to take their kids along with them where they often work alongside their parents. These children are referred to as market children since the markets become their homes.
While Quito’s market children are exposed, with minimal protection, to the harshest elements of physical, social, and economic environments, they are able escape their difficult lives and, for a moment are given the opportunity to play, laugh, run and learn as every child should. This is thanks to the non-government and non-profit organization located in Quito, UBECI (United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children, International). I have recently traveled to Quito where I was one of the many volunteers given the pleasurable task of teaching and playing with the many kids who attend the daily workshops offered by UBECI.
When arriving to each of the different markets we traveled to daily, we were greeted by large groups of children eagerly anticipating our arrival. Their joy and excitement was overwhelming and immediately brought a smile to my lips. Each day begins with a mandatory face and hand washing which for some, is the rare time water is used in this way. The first portion of the day is filled with free time where the kids can choose to occupy themselves with various activities.
Initially, I was a little intimidated by the large amount of kids hovering over the various toys we had for them to enjoy. The kids eagerly engaged with the other volunteers to play jump rope, read books, play ‘football’ or simply to be held and feel the comforting touch of another human. Observing this for the first time, I had assumed that the volunteers had already met these kids, however I was told that for most of these kids, this was the rare occasion where they got to act as children.
While the kids were playing, I noticed a little boy, no older than 8 years old carrying a smaller boy which seemed to be about 3 or 4 years old. I smiled at the older boy then he walked over to me and asked me if I could take care of his little brother so that he could join the ongoing football game. I immediately agreed and the older boy’s face broke into a gleeful smile before running off. For most of the older kids, this is one of the only opportunities where they can leave their younger siblings in safe hands while they go off playing with other children their own age.
Once free time is over, the children were divided into age groups so that they could partake in age appropriate lessons in reading, writing, self-esteem and respect. The week I was with UBECI happened to be exam week. All the children filled out an exam sheet completed with their full name, age and the name of the market. The staff ensured that this information was gathered to keep track of the children’s attendance and their monthly progression. For most of the market kids, attending UBECI’s workshops is the closest they get to a school like setting.
The afternoon followed the same schedule as in the morning since most children are only given permission to play for half the day then need to resume working.
During free time, a mother approached me and handed me her two daughters of 3 and 5 years old. They were both eating popsicles and had other sugary treats in their pockets. Looking around the group of children, I noticed that most of them were eating sugar in some form. One of the staff explained that the kids eat so much sugar that by the time they are in their early twenties, most of their teeth’s will be rotten. To address this issue, UBECI organizes a dental campaign where a free teeth cleaning is offered. Due to limited funds, only a small amount of the children can receive this treatment and it can only occur when enough resources are available.
I was able to witness first hand the poverty in which these children are raised and the tremendous positive impact UBECI has on market children who can be as young as three years old and must work long hours (either in the markets or taking care of their siblings), forego the opportunity of going school and live through harsh conditions.
UBECI strives to reduce working hours for many impoverished market children while also encouraging an interest in academics to address the larger issue of child poverty in Quito. Unfortunately, since the Ecuadorian government is unable to support UBECI, they rely entirely on external support. With the large number of children who participate in their workshops and the limited resources, it is a “struggle to keep the lights on”. UBECI offers so much more to these kids than what I was able to cover here in one post. If you would like more information on the positive impact UBECI has or would like to support this great organisation, please click on this link: goto.gg/26415
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