What CENIT Families Are Like
The families with whom CENIT works are some of the poorest in Quito and Ecuador. Many of the families are very large. Some have up to 11 or 12 living children; the majority of the families have around six children. Their average monthly income for the entire family is between $130 and $140 dollars. Their children work because often that is the only way for the family to support themselves economically. The families believe that, in order to survive, their children must work.
Many of our parents do not know how to read, and of those who can read, many struggle just to read basics, such as street signs. Since the primary goal of impoverished families is survival and in previous generations education was not a priority, the trend of putting immediate survival above future success is inherited from generation to generation. The majority of parents who have had some education have only attended a few years of grade school. Their children do not go to school regularly, because the parents believe that it is much more imperative that the children work to earn an income to help ensure survival of the family.
The majority of health problems that the CENIT community faces are easily prevented or cured with basic medical attention and relatively inexpensive medicines; however, it is very difficult for many families to receive these basic services. Often, a person cannot go to a hospital or a health center because it takes so much time away from working. For almost all public health services in Ecuador, patients must arrive by at least 6 o’clock in the morning in order to get a appointment to see the doctor or, if the hospital does not offer appointments every day, the patient will have to wait all day in the hope that they might get in to see the doctor. For some services, the patient has to get an appointment the day before. This means that one doctor visit could result in 1 to 3 days of lost income. If they do get an appointment, they then have to pay for it, which generally is between $.40 and $10, depending on the service. Many of our patients do not have an extra $5 to sacrifice for the doctor. Also, services such as sonograms for pregnant women cost around $10, meaning that many women do not receive prenatal care or comprehensive prenatal care. In general, CENIT has learned that the best way to deal with the problems of health care in Ecuador is to educate through campaigns about prevention and to provide primary care.
Most of the families we work with are extremely large. Many of the fathers do not live full-time with their children, and most of the mothers have children with a number of different men. Because of the lack of access to medical services and a dire lack of sexual education, many women do not use a method of family planning, or begin to use a method of family planning when they already have a number of children (5 or more.) The most frequently used method of family planning in Ecuador is female sterilization (or tubal ligation). Because of misconceptions, a lack of education, and machismo, the majority of men does not have vasectomies or use condoms. Also, because of the aforementioned reasons, many of the men do not want their wives or girlfriends to use a form of birth control because they believe that by using birth control the women will cheat on them and be free to sleep with as many men as possible. Also, in terms of families' reproductive health, it is important to note that the majority of the women over age 20 in Ecuador receive Sexually Transmitted Infections or Diseases from their cheating spouses or partners.
CENIT's community generally suffers from a very low level of basic hygiene. They lack knowledge about the necessary measures that need to be taken to care for themselves. They also lack access to sanitation, running water, and a way to boil water. The lack of hygiene causes more than just aesthetic problems. In Ecuador, the most common killer of children under the age of five is diarrhea: most diarrhea comes from hygiene problems that allow parasitic infestation, or from contaminated water. In addition to digestive problems, our community also suffers from skin problems, such as scabies, lice, fungus, dry skin, eczema, and infected cuts. Also, many members of the community suffer from respiratory infections because of breathing in bus fumes while working on the street, or because of using crude fuels to cook.
The majority of CENIT children are extremely malnourished. For example, in our kindergarten, over half of the children are in the bottom fifth percentile of height and weight. Diarrhea magnifies these problems, causing the children to lose much of the nutrition they have received through frequent trips to the bathroom. Malnutrition contributes to the low intellectual capacity a number of our children demonstrate. Also, all of the girls in our high school suffer from some degree of anemia.
Alcohol and Drug Use
Alcoholism is common among our parents, and worsens the problem of abuse, maltreatment, and neglect. For working children, the drug of choice tends to be inhalants, such as sniffing glue, which alleviates hunger pains and lessens the cold.
Unfortunately, we can confidently say that 100% of our children are victims of sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse at homes. We believe that the fact that the parents are subjecting the children to a life working on the street, vulnerable to the world at an extremely young age, denying them of any educational opportunity, is perhaps the most shocking form of abuse of all.