Escaping The Cane
Roberto Useda quit school when he was 14 to work in the sugarcane fields, for the typical reasons. His single mother needed help making ends meet. He’s the youngest of a few brothers and sisters, but his older sisters were expected to do housework, and his older brothers had become fathers young and had to worry about feeding their own children.
Harvesting sugar cane means back-bent days, doing literally some of the hardest manual labor in the world in over 100-degree temperatures.
Nicaraguans talk about working in “the cane” as both a lifeline and a death sentence. On the one hand, it is one of a few stable sources of work for the under-educated. On the other hand, for the last few decades, sugar cane workers have been dying at an alarming rate from a mysterious form of kidney failure. The issue is hotly debated, but experts believe it's linked to recurring dehydration from hard labor in hot conditions coupled with other forms of contamination.
So again, Roberto quit school when he was 14 to work in “the cane.” Imagine that for a minute.
He’s a typical teenager from El Limonal. He does his homework but doesn’t find it especially compelling. Education didn’t take his brothers anywhere. None of them finished high school. Of the thirty or so kids he started first grade with, half will have dropped out already. Maybe one of them will spend some time in college. He’s responsible, has a serious girlfriend, and it would be the most natural thing in the world to follow the normal path: have kids, get a steady job in the cane fields, and––as a manual laborer without a diploma or job options––work there until his body wears out.
But Roberto is not going down that path, at least not this year. He’s been back in our program since last year. He's 16 now and starting his second year of high school. His last goal was to be a mechanic, but now he’s thinking architect. And the turnaround is due in large part to his SuNica sponsorship.
The solution to avoiding a life in the cane fields––potentially a shortened life––isn’t complicated: stay in school. And keeping Roberto in school isn’t complicated either: he just needed a different example––a mentor––someone to tell him that a new life is possible and to give some encouragement when the homework gets hard or taking the normal path seems inevitable.
That’s what it takes to escape “the cane.” And if you’re sponsoring a SuNica kid, you make freedom stories like this possible every month.