Page 10


Alan Pogue Elote, trucks drive them at dawn from the camps where they sleep to the fields where they will work for more than eight hours without resting, carrying loads that often weigh more then they do. Many children are anemic and all are frequently exposed to herbicides and pesticides, sprayed on them from the air while they are working. For a maximum weekly wage of twenty dollars, they fill a thirty-kilo container seventy times a week and carry it to the waiting trucks. If they fall short of the seventy loads, they earn less. Contracted with their parents, they come every year from the indigenous communities of Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacan, far from where the pedagogos are discussing TQM in primary schools this evening. During the season, many die of dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory illness. Others suffer from dermatitis and skin diseases because of exposure to poisonous agrochemicals. It is hard to develop the values and attitudes consistent with a society that desires a quality life for all of its members, when you are over your head in toxic tomatoes. The working conditions of these chil dren are like a twentieth-century rural version of the urban scenes described by Dickens 150 years ago. Maria Teresa Guerra, Secretary of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Sinaloa, confirmed that children younger than eight years of age are working “…without having finished their primary school education, without knowing how to read and write. At a minimum, they work eight and a half hours per day, with no rest periods, on jobs that require strength beyond endurance. They are not given time off to go to school, and they work at extremely dangerous tasks with no days off and no vacations.” Back at the Secretariat, Ms. Schmelkes is enumerating the themes that parents should be aware of, in order to promote the optimal learning conditions for their children. Among these are considerations of nutrition, hygiene, health, and knowledge of a child’s stages of development. She emphasizes the importance of parents’ reading aloud to their children, singing with them, and really being interested in their schoolwork. But over the mountains in Sinaloa, the heat during the day rises to over 100 degrees. There is no storytelling and no schoolwork to be interested in. Nor is there clean water to drink, nor shade. Maria Teresa Guerra says that the conditions are especially difficult for children: “Because of their resistance, the children are used for the most onerous and dangerous tasks, in direct contact with toxins. In general, the fumigators are children who have absolutely no protection.” Ms. Schmelkes, too, believes that these things are bad for children, and that teachers should take time out to address such issues “briefly and simply,” encouraging parents to improve the family environment in order to promote learning. She recommends that teachers spend an hour a month discussing the problem with parents. It might take a little more than that. Ms. Guerra explains the plight of the children in terms of the plight of their parents: the parents put their children to work in order to help alleviate the extreme poverty of their families. She attributes the situation to the indifference, complacency, and complicity of the authorities, who make little or no effort to enforce existing education or labor legislation. DECEMBER 4, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21