By Cesiah Magaña
Carlos is two years old. He lives with his family in a small town on the banks of the Usumacinta River, nature’s border between Mexico and Guatemala. The region is a mosaic of cultures, the primary being the Ch’ol, an indigenous people descended from the Mayans. Like many rural towns in Mexico, the residents of Frontera Corozal lack employment, education and opportunities.
But Carlos doesn’t know that. He has a fun big sister, a loving mom, two grandparents, a cat and a chicken. He also has a piggy bank.
Carlos loves the rattling sound the handful of pesos makes inside the black and white ceramic pig. He’s too young to know much about money, or that those pesos don’t add up to much. He doesn’t know what his mom goes through every day to save those coins for her children.
Helda and her children live in a tiny room in her parents’ house. Her husband lives and works for minimum wage in a town six hours away, sending his earnings back home as often as he’s able. His meagre income is never quite enough to feed two growing children.
But Carlos is registered in Compassion’s Child Survival Program. Twice a month, the program implementor visits Helda and her family, teaching her how to care for her little ones and improve their health, nutrition and cognitive development. Carlos and Helda love to be part of the church activities. “We sing, we pray and we participate in the teachings,” says Helda. Shy and soft-spoken, Helda has now made several friends through the program, and her young son reminds the family to pray at home.
“I always like to participate and learn as much as possible,” says Helda. She applies that philosophy to every area of the program—especially the income generation workshops.
Although hesitant at first, Helda took part in a crochet class for several months. To her surprise, she discovered she not only enjoyed crocheting, but she also developed a keen eye for detail and began experimenting with different styles and designs. It wasn’t until she worked up the courage to sell her creations that Helda realized the potential of her new skill.
“My boy said he was hungry. He asked me to give him something to eat, and I had nothing to give him,” she says. Desperate, Helda looked around for anything she could sell—and her eyes fell on a newly finished purse. “Please God, help me sell this bag,” she prayed as she began knocking on doors in her neighbourhood. A couple hours later, the bag was sold. Helda had enough to feed her children that day.
From then on, Helda started using all her spare time to embellish her handbags. She even receives special orders from people in her community. Besides her bags, Helda now knits belts, does embroidery and sews basic blouses. She works three to four hours per day, whenever she has free time or when the children are asleep. The cost of the material for a single bag is about $3 US. She is usually able to sell them for as much as $8 and sells one to two bags per week, allowing her to buy food for her children, material to make more bags—and sometimes enough for her son to save a peso or two in his piggy bank.
It’s not easy to save those coins, but Helda knows that over time her savings will grow—just like her children will, physically and spiritually, thanks to the help of the local church and the Child Survival Program.