Poverty In Oaxaca

Poverty looks different everywhere in the world. In some places, poverty is living on a few cents a day. In others, $50 a day is low enough to leave you impoverished. In Oaxaca, Mexico, 97% of citizens live on less than $1.25 a day in some municipalities. Oaxaca is unique because of its situation with street children. Street children are any children who are forced to live or work on the streets. They may shine shoes, sell trinkets and candies to tourists, or simply beg for money. Some of these children are single-handedly supporting their families. They provide the money to buy their parents and siblings food instead of going to school.

When I say ‘children,’ I do not mean teens. I mean children as young as three or four. These are toddlers, some without homes, who are wandering the streets. Toddlers, who are wearing the pants in their families.

Many families live in rural areas, but when their children begin to die of parasites and malnutrition, they often move to Oaxaca city, which is the capital. Here, they are no better off. The city provides no more work than do the rural areas to the adults. But tourists visit the city, which allows this sort of employment for the children. Without access to education and shelter, these children are unable to break the cycle of poverty. They grow up without an education or steady source of food, and have children of their own. It gets worse each year as new families join the groups on the street.

Oaxaca residents are mostly indigenous peoples, with a large part Triqui Indians. Oaxaca has the most indigenous peoples of any state, and each group speaks its own language. Many members never learn to speak Spanish, which makes it hard for them to participate in the society around them. Without the education with which to learn Spanish, they are unable to get jobs as they get older. The cycle continues.
There is no defined number of street children, although at any given point in the day there are 30-40 Triqui children in the town plaza alone. These children are often the sole support of their families. Other children can be found shining shoes, singing songs, or selling chiclets (which are a type of gum that is candy-coated.)

In 1996, Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots (OSCG) was founded by Harold and Jodi Baumen to help provide solutions to this problem. They visited Oaxaca in 1984 and were upset by the number of children in the streets. They decided to make whatever difference they could. They started by helping one Triqui Oaxacan family enroll their children in school, and then slowly spread their efforts to other families. Deciding that they could help more children from Oaxaca than from the US, they moved there. By 1996, they were supporting 70 children with the help of friends. They formally founded OSCG that year, and one full year later, almost one hundred other children had received sponsorship. Today, they have over 600 children sponsored and have sent at least 50 on to Universities. The organization holds the Mexican equivalent of a United States 501(c) (3) charitable organization status.

These children are able to go on in life with career possibilities and the training they need to achieve their goals. This is a wonderful example of how a few individuals can make a difference. The Baumens are quoted saying, “You change the world when you help educate a child.” At the very least, the world changes for that child. They now have opportunities and options they never would have had otherwise.

Each and every one of us has the choice to make a difference. A few dollars out of our pocket towards a sponsorship, a few hours spent volunteering or fundraising, or the time and dedication needed to found an organization of our own can make an unimaginable difference. The smallest contribution may allow for an advancement in the life of another.





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