Dina Ruiz Gonzalez, is an official of the Ministry of Health of the RACS, who participated in the process of creating Regional Childhood Policy.©UNICEF/Nicaragua-2014/M. Laakso
5 de April de 2015

An experience of empathy of a public official in the process of creating the Regional Policy and Strategy for Children of RACS.

Por Dina Ruiz González, Bluefields.-It was 5am when I decided to observe the experiences of the children who carry bags and cases for passengers catching pangas to the city of El Rama. From Rama many of those passengers then continue towards Managua by bus.

The first thing I observed was the arrival of the children. By the time children started to turn up the adult luggage carriers were already at the wharf. The children started to mix with their bigger counterparts. Their diminutive figures were hard to make out among the tall, dark-skinned, brawny ones.

The passengers started to form long queues to get on the pangas, and the children were offering their services in the throng: “Can I help you misses … I’ll take your case, mister … I’ll grab you a seat in the boat, mister…” That was invariably followed by “Give me whatever you can spare…”

I decided to continue observing the people’s behaviour and saw that some were using the children’s services after hearing them say, “Give me whatever you can spare.” After taking the cases the kids received five or ten córdobas (approximately 0.20-0.40 cents of US dolar), depending on the baggage they carried.

It seemed to me that the passengers preferred to have children carry their luggage, because they can be paid less than an adult. The children don’t complain and satisfy with whatever they are being paid for their services.
I saw one boy fall into the water while trying to carry a load that was too heavy for him. The adult luggage carriers fished him out, making fun of him while doing so. Very embarrassed, he just hunched his body and went to sit down, very shaken up.

Carefully and surreptitiously I moved over to sit next to that boy worker and talk to him. -What time do you come here?
“I’m here from 5:30am,” he told me. “I don’t eat breakfast at home, because my mum and little brothers and sisters are still in bed at that time. I’m the oldest child.”

-How old are you, are you studying? I asked to Payito.
“I’m 10 and I don’t go to school,” he replied. “I don’t have enough time. I have to help my mum. We’re five brothers and sisters in all.”

I asked him how much money he made and he said, “I don’t leave until the last panga from El Rama comes in. By that time I’ve made 80 córdobas [just over US$3.00] if I’ve had a good day. The problem is that there are a lot of luggage carriers here and sometimes they take my clients off me, because I’m small and I can’t defend myself against the big guys.”

-And where do you eat? I asked him out of curiosity.
“I buy some tamarind juice and a pastry and that keeps me going until I get home. Then my mum cooks using whatever I take home with me and we can all eat.”

-Weren’t you scared when you fell in the water? I wondered.
“Yes, I was scared, but it’s part of the job,” he told me, smiling.

-So you go home at 5pm when the last panga comes in?
“Yeah, I almost always arrive home at 6pm,” the boy explained, “because I walk back to my house at Masaya Point, in front of the airport. The last panga almost always gets here at 5:30pm, not 5pm. But if they come earlier, then I leave earlier.”

-Would you like to go to school? I asked, looking at his bright but tired eyes.
“I’d like to, but there’s no work for my mum and I’m the one who helps out with the food for my brothers, sisters and mum. My dad walked out on us, who knows where he is”, Payito answered very sadly.

By then it was almost 9am and more children were joining in carrying the luggage. I noticed that the kids have a real comradeship and that they supported one another. After finishing with the passangers of the first panga they bought a juice for 3 córdobas and a pastry for 2 córdobas and shared them for breakfast. I also observed that they helped each other getting work and clients for each other and divided the work load when there were a lot of passengers.

The children told me they cover three wharfs to see where there’s more work available: the Municipal wharf, the Wendelyn, wharf for El Rama-bound pangas, and the wharf Jipe Company, which is at the municipal market. They do not go to the wharf where motor-launches arrive from and leave for El Bluff, because the adult carriers turf them out and don’t let them work there.

In 2014, UNICEF Nicaragua and USAID supported the Regional Government of Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region to apply Human Centered Design into the development of a Regional Policy for Children. One of the empathy-driven Design Research tools utilized were observation sessions carried out by public authorities in the environments and services that children and families experience in their day-to-day life. The following observation related to child labour was recorded by a public official of the Regional Government.

*Dina Ruiz González is a sociologist who works as a technician at the Health Secretariat of the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Regional Government (GRACCS).