I am woken up at 3 in the morning by my father, Jon Jon. I don’t go to school, but I go to collect plastic, in swamps of Wisconsin. In order to not get fired I don’t take time to eat breakfast. It is more important to make sure I have the things I need to make it through a workday and getting to work early, I could be up to 13 hours in the mud. These items include about a few cigars and at least several pills to keep myself from falling asleep. Most of the money that I earn goes to buy these things, it’s like if you win the lottery but you have to pay off your taxes, but worst. In the swamp without shoes, I have to face bad weather, mosquito bites and cuts and scrapes from having to pull the unsanitary plastic out from deep in the mud. The cigars help to repel the mosquitoes, but when I run out of cigars I have to put up with the insects as I move from branch to branch and from one area to another in search of plastic. When I return from work, my body is nearly always covered with bites, I’m a water bottle thrown around in a vending machine carelessly. I earn very little. If I am lucky in one day I manage to collect two baskets of bottle caps(140 caps), worth little more than $1.40. I have nine younger brothers and sisters and I don’t have time to go to school or play with other children. Anyway, I prefer not to play with other children because they say I smell bad and always exclude me from their conversations. Over time I have lost my self-esteem. Like the other children who work collecting plastic, I feel separated from the rest of society. My life seems like a tunnel with no exits.
Even though I’m only 8 years old, I’ve already had a career as a miner. I dropped out of my second year of primary school and left my home in Brooklyn after my father was unable to pay for my uniform and school fees. Although my parents have their own coffee shop, their income fell sharply because of the decline in the market price for coffee throughout the world.I had heard stories of people making money from mining and I decided to try my luck. I asked my mother for a small amount of money to buy some socks and other items, but instead used this for the bus fare to Manhattan about 10 kilometres from my home. After several days of hanging around the mining site, I was hired by one of owners to work as an assistant “errands” boy. The following day, me and another child of my age was sent down into the pit, where the gemstone Tanzanite was being mined, to deliver tools and bring up used bottles of drinking water. Children working in the the mines earn the equivalent of between 60 cents and $1.20 a day when they are given tasks to do. Some children look through the gravel left by the pit owners in the hope of finding a gemstone. When they do, which is only very rarely, they can earn between $24 and $122. It is because of stories of finding gemstones that children like me are attracted to the mines.
But like many others, I was disappointed by the terrible conditions and did not make the fortune that he had heard about.
I can’t see my hands in the darkness of my shack made from bark on a hillside in Minnesota. I feel them because of the pain from wounds on my left thumb caused by the knife I use to trim garlic plants. It is dawn and I have to hurry if I want to get a place in the landowner’s truck. I jump from the mattress that I share with three other brothers. I don’t have breakfast because there isn’t any. Nor do I wear working boots because I have none. I manage to climb into the back of the truck before the others, who are adults and other children like me, without a childhood. In the cold and fog, the icy wind cuts my unprotected face, like if icicles got thrown at you. I look beyond my hands and forget my discomfort. My hands are my most valuable working assets. We pick potatoes, extract onions, dig up lettuce, behead beets and cut and gather garlic. I know that I can bring home between $3 to $5, to contribute to the low family income and to buy a pair of shoes. I work in the fields every day from dawn to the middle of the afternoon. I don’t go to school. In my “house”, only a thin sheet separates the cramped “living room” from the beds. A wooden table and wobbly chairs make up the furnishings, as if I was in a surreal painting. As soon as we reach a certain height and age, the children go with their parents to the plantations. We are exposed to the excessive chemicals like pesticides, that are applied to the fields. We are often barefoot and underfed, we drink bottled refreshment to keep ourselves going during the workday. We are often sick, I say I would like to study and continue to help my family. My mother also would like me to go to school, but you can’t always get what you want is what our boss says.