Lerdo de Tejada is a small community near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is surrounded by beautiful green fields planted with sugarcane. But the reality of the people who work the sugarcane fields is far from beautiful.
Lerdo has two large sugar mills. Trucks loaded with sugarcane come from the plantations to feed the mills of this large industry. The industry employs many, but only a few are paid fairly. The better jobs go to those with higher education. Those who cut the cane only make $2.50 per ton of cane cut.
The people who work the fields live in the heart of the sugar plantations in places called galeras. They are large structures built by the plantation owners to house the labourers. Entire families move to the fields, coming in search of opportunities. Each family lives in a 4×4-metre room.
The homes are in long rows, one stacked after the other. Workers who don’t bring their families live in rooms containing six cement bunk beds. The galeras have no basic services and are known as dangerous places, with a high rate of violence, drugs and alcohol.
Because the rate for cutting cane is so low, many children drop out of school to help their parents cut the cane. This is one of the reasons only 60 percent of the children in Mexico complete elementary school.
Petra and José are two teenagers living in the galera. They are among the 3 million children under age 15 working throughout Mexico. They live with their mom and dad in a room provided by the landowners. Their father has been dedicated to the fields of this area for almost 20 years. During the cropping season, they cut sugarcane. When there is no more cane to cut, they go to a nearby dump and sort trash, finding cardboard or plastics to sell.
The two teens spend most of their little income on alcohol and drugs to escape their reality. Petra and Jose are still young, but they don’t have many expectations in life, or many choices. Both of them dropped out of school, and they don’t have much opportunity to get any other kind of employment.
Next to this family’s building, there is another galera with two girls who have a very different perspective on their futures.
Sugey and Lizbeth live here, 10- and 7-year-old girls who are a part of Compassion’s program. They live with their mom and dad who both work in the fields. Their parents work together to cut two to three tons of sugarcane a day, working from early morning until the daylight is gone.
Even with both of them working, they are unable to save the 400 pesos it would take to buy school uniforms and pay school fees for Sugey and Lizbeth. But both girls are in school, thanks to Compassion’s program.
As part of the program, the girls are encouraged to attend school. Although they say school isn’t always fun, they have the support of their parents to study every afternoon.
“Sometimes, my girls do not want to study, but I send them to school anyway,” their mom, Elsa, said. “I have to insist, because I know it is good for them and it is important.”
Elsa tells her girls that if they study, they will not have to work hard under the hot sun. Sugey and Lizbeth will be able to do something different.
The church has also developed parent education sessions, in which testimonies are shared about the importance of loving and educating children, as well as the importance of attending school. They talk about the difference education can make in the lives of their children and in their future.
Church representatives visit the families at home and bring clothes, groceries, toys and other goods they’ve gathered with the help of the church members and other local aid organizations.
They also are bringing to the families the hope and peace that they can find in Christ. Children and parents are beginning to see beyond their daily struggles, realizing that they can find comfort in Christ and can also change their circumstances. There are still many children in this community, like Petra and Jose, who are stuck in the cycle of poverty. But one by one, sponsors are helping children like Sugey and Lizbeth have a different future.
By Cesiah Magaña, Compassion Mexico