By MSGR. DON GORSKI
Today — Tuesday — is my day off. I went into Tumbes (a half-hour away) to the bank, the post office, and to do various chores. When I got back, a small army of young people were as usual awaiting the banana truck from Ecuador. They sometimes wait for an hour or two never knowing just when it will arrive.
When it finally arrived, the boys who carried the boxes of bananas into the rectory received 10 bananas and four rolls. Sometimes there are more boys than boxes. Today, some were so young and small that three of them carried one and of course each one got 10 bananas.
Three boys from the poorest section of our largest town, La Crux, remained waiting and hoping for more work. I asked Carlos (not his real name) how he was doing as it was obvious he was depressed.
I say it often and say it again. After living here, if I ever, ever complain about anything please give me a good kick. Anytime I think I have problems, I open my eyes and look around me and my problems fade into insignificance.
Carlos is 15 years old, and his father died when he was a baby, so the mother moved in with someone else and had five more children. The stepfather wants nothing to do with Carlos and keeps threatening to throw him out if he doesn’t bring more food into the house.
Yesterday, the stepfather — cold sober — got angry with the mother because she didn’t fix him any food. There is no food in the house, and there is no shrimp larvae which could provide work and food. The father got so upset that he beat the mother in the face leaving scars. Fortunately, she denounced him to the police and moved to another town and parish. She moved in with her sister and the five people living in their small shack taking with her the two smallest children.
Carlos is left with his stepfather and the other children in La Crux. There is no food except the daily meals of the parish soup kitchen. They pay a little over a quarter to feed a hot meal to all the children each day for a week. More than 2,000 children are in these soup kitchens.
To make matters worse, Carlos’ mother has dengue (something like malaria). With the rains and mosquitoes, dengue is widespread. Carlos feels he may have it too as he’s having dizzy spells and weakness. I suspect it’s lack of food and nervous strain. I gave him vitamins and some aspirin for his mother.
Right now we’re giving the three of them some work cleaning the highway in front of our rectory and grotto. Carlos (and each of them) will go home with their pay: three kilos of rice, a kilo of green peas, a can of sardines and cooking oil. Hopefully that will placate the stepfather, and he’ll leave Carlos alone. With good reason Carlos is afraid of him.
Carlos claims the mother wants to build a little shack next to her sister in the other parish and bring all her children there. But even if she could what would they eat with no soup kitchen, and what would provide them with a living?
I wish I could say that sad cases like this are rare, but they are all too common. Here in the parish we deal with them constantly and do what we can.
I just gave the three teen-agers fare to get home and an additional bag of bread and bananas. Carlos said as he left that he felt fine.
They are going to make our Jupaz youth retreat this weekend along with 50 other teen-agers. A team of 40 teens give the retreat. They’ll live in the same high school where they study. To make the retreat they have to sell 10 tickets for a raffle of a Wal-Mart watch and a bag of surprises. Each ticket costs just over a quarter. I supplied the prizes and just ended up buying some of their tickets. They can’t sell them in their own village as the people have no money.
A good number of teen-agers from that village are making the retreat, and their parents have to take part a little on Saturday and Sunday. I’m praying the retreat fills them with life and hope in the face of such overwhelming problems. I believe that’s what Easter is all about — life coming out of death.
Your prayers and help is making that happen, and we’re very grateful. Rarely is Mass celebrated here without praying explicitly for our benefactors. In the name of all the Carloses, you are helping, our thanks and prayers.
P.S. I set this aside without mailing it before going to the States. I returned to learn the mother of Carlos returned home with the children, but she got so upset with one of them that she injured the child. The government authorities now have her in custody. May God have mercy on Carlos and all of them.