Woke up this morning at 5:45AM to meet the street educator with Early Encounter Cochabamba. We met just a few blocks from where I am staying. I met up with him a little after 6AM. In getting to where he and the boys were, I walked through the market area where hundreds of children work each Saturday. All of the stalls and booths were mostly up. The street educator and a group of boys were already playing “futbol” by the time I arrived. Several other boys were leaning over a fire to stay warm. I joined the game and was quickly reminded that futbol at 9,000 feet is not the same as 3,500 feet in San Jose. I was panting up and down the field. As the game progressed I got to know a few of the boys. Most of them had arrived very early in order to be the first to get a wheelbarrow in order to help carry groceries for those who would later be coming to buy their items. Some of the boys arrived at 3AM in order to get the best pick of wheelbarrows. After the game we sat around and chatted with a few of the representatives of the project that is working with the children in the market. The project is not related to Viva or Early Encounter but is an associate organization that EE is working with in order to gain access to preventing some of the children who work in the market from turning to a street lifestyle. EE has identified the area as an entry point for children who end up living on the street and are closely watching the children in order to ensure that their needs are being cared for. After some sitting around the boys made a line (starting with those who had arrived earliest) in order to get their wheelbarrows. The boys then sat around and talked with the volunteers and staff of the organization that is helping to organize them. I took some time to ask some questions from those in charge of the organization working with the boys. It turns out that children such as those found at this market are formed into several organized unions throughout the country. There are actually 19 unions of child and adolescent workers (NATS – Niñ@s y Adolescentes Trabajadores) in Cochabamba that are active politically. I specifically had the opportunity to speak with the president of the all the Cochabamba unions. While I did not get the chance to ask him his age, he looked to be about 12. He had been democratically elected to represent the unions on the national level.
The sponsoring organization has identified 250 children working in the market we were visiting, but works with a registered 154 of them. Today there were close to 60 children (all boys) who we were with. A volunteer brought breakfast for the boys. After spending some time talking with the them they headed out to work and we moved onto several other markets throughout Cochabamba. At each of the markets the sponsors met with the children, gave them bread and juice and invited them to a march that will be taking place tomorrow in support of the new constitution (along with a an upcoming referendum for general approval) that has been written by Evo Morales and his party. Apparently the new constitution that is being promoted identifies the rights of children workers. I too was invited to attend tomorrow and join the children in the march. I plan to attend but not necessarily in support of the new constitution, but rather as an observer of child protagonism in action.