Garrett Kenyon with Children International wrote to make me aware of a situation that could use some love. I want to let this speak for itself:
César’s story began like millions of others – just another poor kid from the slums, struggling to survive. When he was 3, César and his brothers left an unstable home to live with their grandmother, Elsa, a little woman with a huge heart who’d do anything for “her boys.” The move was good for the brothers. On society’s ragged edge, love shields the young like nothing else can.
As soon as they were old enough, Elsa enrolled the boys in the sponsorship program. Life began to improve gradually. They were even able to attend school, something Elsa couldn’t have afforded without sponsorship. “The program helped a lot,” César remembers, “especially when we started school.”
They needed all the help they could get. Elsa was nearly 60 when she took on the responsibility of raising the three boys. But age wasn’t her only disadvantage. Years earlier, Elsa had lost a leg in a tragic accident. In a country where the disabled are openly shunned and even the healthy struggle to find work, the handicap made finding a job impossible.
So Elsa improvised. She staked out a busy spot in the financial district and began “watching cars.” When people parked in her area, Elsa protected their cars from vandals and thieves. When the drivers returned to find their vehicle unharmed, she hoped they’d give her a small courtesy tip.
But courtesy can be hard to come by when you’re invisible.
For Cesar, things could have been better, but his situation went from bad to worse.
That’s when César made a brave decision. Like most teenagers, he dreamt of making a better life. Sponsorship had taught him that the key to success was education, so he studied hard. However, with one brother injured and the other in trade school, César chose to sacrifice his own dreams for his family’s survival. His decision wasn’t uncommon. Millions of reluctant children make the same choice every year.
Eventually, César found work as a bus driver’s assistant. Guatemala City is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and of all the places to work there, a bus is, by far, one of the most hazardous. The gangs that terrorize the city regularly target bus drivers. When a bus enters a gang’s “turf,” a toll is demanded for safe passage. Some drivers refuse to pay, but the consequences are dire. In 2009 alone, 170 bus drivers were murdered. It’s become an all-too-common tragedy in a city gripped by violence.
But César had no other options. “It was the only job I could get,” he says. Luckily, his driver “always paid.”
An average workday for César started at 4 a.m., washing the bus. An hour later, the bus rolled out of the station, to which it would not return until 10:00 at night. César worked throughout the entire period. “My job was to charge the toll, get change, and ‘pull’ more passengers onto the bus.” He worked the 18-hour days with no complaints, never losing the warm, enthusiastic smile he was known for.
By the end of the day, his voice was hoarse from all the yelling. “Sometimes I’d get sleepy. While the driver ate dinner, I had to keep pulling passengers to fill the bus.” But despite the long hours, César “really liked that job.” He was helping the people he loved, finally pulling his own weight. It was a great feeling.
In the end, it wasn’t a gangster’s bullet that brought César down, but an improbable accident. One morning, while “pulling” last-minute passengers, the bus pulled away from the curb. Normally, César would simply hop in the door before the bus picked up speed. But this time, for some unfathomable reason, his pant-leg got stuck in the bus’ wheel spokes. When the bus pulled away, it dragged him, rolling over his foot and crushing it instantly. Though César was rushed to a hospital, doctors were unable to save his foot. By the time he awoke from the sedatives, they had removed it.
The sudden loss was nearly too much for César. His ubiquitous smile and happy disposition faded. He avoided his friends, sitting at home alone, listlessly staring at a small black and white television and trying to come to grips with how drastically his life had been altered. César had grown up watching his grandmother struggle because of her handicap – had seen the way people treated her. He knew that now he, too, would become invisible.
Through the work of CI, Cesar now has a prosthetic leg but still needs help with physical therapy. Go to the CI website and this link to learn more about where Cesar and his grandmother are now and how we can help.