Why would an otherwise fun-loving sixteen year old boy skip school football lessons? Lily Bland, writing from El Salvador, explains...

During the past week or so, our group has made a Salvadorian friend named Angel. He is a local sixteen year old boy, who is keen to spend time with us, and has been voluntarily showing us around and even helping us paint the clinic. In return, we have given him a couple of English lessons; he’s keen to learn but it seems difficult for him, maybe due to his lack of formal education. Angel has been held back in Grade Four, when others his age are in Grade Ten. He misses a lot of school and education is not a big priority for him in comparison to working for his mother or helping out at home.

A few days ago, Angel told us he didn’t attend school because they were going to play football in his Physical Education lesson and he didn’t want to ruin his only pair of shoes. A day or so before this, Angel missed another day at school to work - selling DVDs to get some money to try and buy a new pair of shoes - but he only managed to make $3 in five hours. Understandably, he can see no real opportunity in working in this country nor does he see any point in continuing in education - for him it seems to mean less time earning money to survive.

When we asked about his plans for the future, he said he wanted to move to the United States. From those we have encountered in El Salvador it seems that at least one person per family, often the father figure, has moved to the USA, despite the dangers and cost of illegally migrating. These problems don’t seem to put Angel off however. It seems that he thinks his only opportunity for a better life is to go the States. And who can blame him when here he makes less than $1 an hour.

Despite the poverty he seems to live in, Angel is very generous; sharing his food and time with us openly. For me, the reality of the situation for young people in El Salvador really hit home when I began to get to know Angel. Although I enjoy spending time with Angel, it brings with it a difficult realisation. Other than teaching him some English phrases or maybe buying him a new pair of shoes, it’s clear that there is nothing we can really do to change his situation. It’s hard for me to accept because my situation at home is so privileged, but in the long term this is the reality for him, and we can’t change that overnight.

Photo: Angel on the community trip to a water park in San Vicente last Saturday. (Lily Bland/Progressio)