October 7, 2014 by Debra Gittler


The front story on this morning’s New York Times’ website A Smuggled Girl’s Odyssey of False Promises and Fear tells 16-year-old Cecilia’s story. Cecilia, like so many students we serve in ConTextos and reached by our partners at CALee, had family members murdered by the gangs and suffered extreme poverty that limited her family’s ability to thrive. As a result, she sought refuge in a coyote who brought her to the States, and then abducted her in what is ultimately, as the article describes, a pyramid scheme to keep poor Central Americans indebted to traffickers.

And these are some of the comments from readers:

To be fair, the majority of comments were much kinder, more compassionate to the plight of migrants and Central Americans. But still, these attitudes persist. And I admit… sometimes I ask myself the same questions.

After all, I’m a foreigner in El Salvador. Why should I be doing this work if locals don’t want to do it? But then there’s the question of “don’t” versus “can’t”. Or even better: how can I not do this work if no one else is?

So for Steve’s comment… the fact that the mother doesn’t care about her child’s welfare is even more of a reason why we must. (Out of fairness to Cecilia’s mother: I don’t think she doesn’t care for her children’s welfare, but with limited resources and knowledge about the world, she’s making the best choices available to her. Or what seem to be the best choices.)

I’m no martyr, nor is the staff of ConTextos, but we have great pride in filling a gap in the system. Sure, sometimes I feel like throwing my hands in the air and screaming “somebody else do take care of this problem!” But if we don’t take care of those before us, who will?

I think of Cecilia and her mother, and can’t help picture Yency and her mom—and sister Jennifer and other siblings. The photos of Cecilia’s home look so much like Yency’s home in Ahuachapan. Her mother didn’t prioritize reading until we intervened. What if we had asked: if her parents don’t want to teach her, why should we? We didn’t ask that, though, because we knew that her parents were doing the best they could. And even if they weren’t, Yency and her siblings deserved more. Deserved better.

And then there’s the question: why care about Central America when the US is having such hard times.

And that’s a very difficult question to answer. Because it’s true: millions of people live in poverty in the States. They lack access to resources, live in violence, suffer hardship and abuse. Why should I dedicate my time helping people in El Salvador when people in my own country need so much help?

I know my own answer: there are thousands of people like me, with my profile, already working to improve education in the States. In contrast, there are only a handful here in El Salvador. Just a smattering throughout Central America. My impact here is more meaningful than what I could do in the States.

As for a wall, to separate people or block them from entry, well… I’m not quite sure that will work. But I do know that as long as people continue to be migratory, they should be able to travel safely. And as long as they will continue to come back (and forth) to the US, they should be as educated as possible: educated people make better choices and are less likely to be affected by or commit violence.

Cecilia’s story shouldn’t be anyone’s story. Stopping human trafficking from Central America involves attacking the issue from many fronts. Providing access to quality education is certainly part of the solution, both in the States and in the countries of origin.

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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