Published in the Ejempla newspaper Paraguay for Dequení’s 30th year •
When he was is a little boy, he sold gum in the street, and today he sells investments in a bank. Derlis Cáceres is convinced that success in life depends on people of good will with whom you cross paths.
There he was drinking tereré [herbal tea] with his street companions. He wanted to quench the thirst burning his throat with a sip of this refreshing drink, but he couldn’t, because it was not about a thirst because of lack of water; but rather it was because the lack of human dignity.
This adult in the body of a child dreamed that one day, things were going to improve, that he would no longer be another one of the excluded. “Nobody cares that we are here, nobody sees us, nobody feels us,” he thought while he carried a little bit of water in that rented guampa (gourd), in the ‘Marcelina Insfrán’ square, in front of San Lorenzo Church. That day he met “El Pelado” [the bald one].
- “What are you selling?” the recent arrival asked.
- “Gum and candies,” Derlis quickly responded.
In reality the stranger had no intention of buying his products, instead he wanted to propose something. He introduced himself as Juan Oviedo from the Dequení Foundation, and Raul accompanied him, “He had hair,” he added laughing. They asked him if would like to work somewhere else, so that he would no longer be on the very dangerous street.
Four among the ten boys were incredulous; they left immediately and continued with their sales. Six of them remained out of simple curiosity, or perhaps because they felt that it was the opportunity that they were waiting/ hoping for. “It caught my attention because it was the hope that I had, I felt happy to know that it was possible. My companions and I continued to listen,” he recalled.
Juan and Raúl invited them to a place located on the Ruta Mariscal Estigarriba Km 9, in Fernando de la Mora. They told them to take their documents and to register for the course. The proposal was to work as sackers at the supermarkets that were just being established at that time. “They bid farewell, and they left; I imagine that they went to campaign with other boys,” Derlis reminisced. He has not forgotten a single detail of this day that changed his story.
How did he get to the street?
A couple of boys get on the bus. “Gum, candy…” says one, escorted by someone who seemed to be his younger brother. He was downhearted and ashamed. When they finished, they waited at the back of the bus for the bus driver to stop so that they could get off, people who were on the bus seemed to be accustomed to this. These children feel they are no longer part of society.
“I was born in Pilar, department of Ñeembucú. My father is from Ybycuí, department of Paraguari. Since he was a street vendor, he had many clients from Pilar. On one of his trips, he met my mother, there they fell in love and I was born,” he related. When he was two years old, his family migrated to the city of Capiatá, seeking better opportunities for work. It was a good decision since they had seven years of prosperity.
His father began to work in a service station, and he was promoted until he became an agent of the firm, and he came to manage ten locations. But this great salesman had a serious defect: he was addicted to gambling. He bet everything he had and ended up empty-handed. “He lost everything he had obtained on bets, and we were left with nothing, but I am talking about not even having anything to eat,” Derlis emphasized.
To give is to receive
Presently Derlis sponsors a boy for Dequení, because he is convinced that his contribution can change a life.
At that time, the couple already had four children: Derlis was 10 years old, Jorge was 8, Luis German was 6, and Magnolia, a newborn. His parents separated, and they stayed with his mother. They kept the house thanks to the it being in her name. “My mother worked Km 15 in front of the shopping area. She had a fruit stand, and with what she earned there, she began to pay for a house, she was at the point of paying it all off, when things happened.”
Derlis is grateful to his father because he always sent him to a public school, thanks to this, he met many boys who were in worse shape than he. His friends, who always went to his house for snacks, realized things were not going well. One of them named Fredy Vargas, told Derlis and Jorge to go sell sweets in San Lorenzo. “I was so ashamed to sell, at the beginning my words would break, but my brother and I got courage, the same thing happened to him. Today I am grateful to God because until now I am dedicated to sales, and it is my passion. Everything I know now, I learned in the street,” he commented.
A life changing opportunity
Derlis was one of the seventy boys who attended the two-month training to work in the supermarket. In the end, they had to pass a practical and theoretical exam, because there were only forty-five positions. “In the beginning, they were going to take only thirty of us. They explained that it was a very new business, and they had to first see how it would go for them,” he explained. In the first selection, he was the only one who remained, they told his brother he was not the age that they needed, but they were about to open another store, and they would call him to work there.
“I very well remember that on the street I would earn between 15,000 to 20,000 guaraníes per day. On my first day at the supermarket, I earned 80,000 guaraníes; it was a lot of money for me. I never imagined I would earn that amount in a single day. Then I kept an average of 50,000 guaraníes per day and nothing was lacking at home any more,” he assured.
Meanwhile his brother continued selling gum on the street. Now it was not necessarily because of need thanks to the older brother’s help, the mother established a small business at home that helped to cover expenses. The reason that was I was an addict of video games and after working on the outside, I had more freedom. I admit that I also have that vice. In one-way or another, everyone who is on the street has this addiction. If you know how to control it, it is positive, because it gave me a lot of logic, and even now I continue to play. The bad thing is that they use all their money on video games, on slot machines, and on bets,” Derlis explained.
A year later, the Foundation fulfilled its promise, and Jorge began to work in the other supermarket. In the end, he earned more than his brother. He maintained an average of 80,000 per day. Since I was embarrassed, I told him the only reason for this was because it had opened recently. It was then that I applied a philosophy that I maintain today, “Here I am not earning what I should earn. I am going to look for work there,” he admitted.
People of goodwill are those who help to carry out campaigns that help children to be happy in a worthy manner.”
— Derlis Cáceres
So he went to the office to speak with Horacio Rey, who was the manager at that time. He told him that he wanted to work with them because he could earn more there. Mr. Rey did not take it very seriously, and he told him that he had to give someone else the opportunity. Finally after considerable insistence, he told him to bring his resume. “It was evident that he was not going to listen to me, the following day I took my mother. I told her that everything was already arranged. Mr. Rey said that I had some nerve, and he spoke with my mother for a while, then he came out and he told me that I would start the following day at two in the afternoon. I remained there until I was 18 years old.”
During all this time, he continued studying at the Colegio Nacional Carmen de Peña [National School of Carmen de Peña] of Capiata. He never has forgotten the three good friends who helped him to complete all the homework: Katya Guerrero, Andrea López and Richard Ocampos. “I always went to classes after recreation. During the siesta, I would go to eat with Richard, who taught me what was presented in Mathematics, and when I had homework for English, I would eat at Katya’s house. During exams, I would ask for permission at work, and we would meet to study.”
He lacked his youth
Derlis had advantages over his companions: he was independent, he disposed of his time, and he could buy whatever he wanted because he earned his own money. The conversations of the other students seemed very simple to him, he felt that this was not where he belonged. But in reality, he felt envy; he envied the free time that they had. “I died for Fridays to arrive, because it was my day off from the supermarket, and I would stay late at school playing volleyball,” he related.
During his last course at school, his father returned, and they decided to gather money to establish a meat market with the condition that it was to be run by the mother and the brothers. This business covered all the expenses of the home without having to work on the outside. Then Derlis and Jorge took the maximum advantage that year. “From that time I remember another one of my idols, Mujica, who always mentioned Seneca’s phrase. He said that, “Poverty wants some, luxury many, and avarice all things.” I did not need money, I needed to be happy.”
The third brother followed the example of the older ones, and he also worked at the supermarket. But they convinced him not to concentrate his attention only work; but instead, to study at the Colegio Técnico Nacional [National Technical School] at the same time. This is how he received a technical diploma in industrial mechanics.
In 2003, he finished, and Derlis realized that the business was not enough. He tried to contact Horacio Rey once again, but he was already general manager of the chain; it was impossible to speak with him. Then he decided to go to the supermarket where he had worked when the foundation took him off the street. There he met Fredy Cabrera, who was sales manager at the time. “It was very nice to meet him again. I asked him where I could find work, and he gave me the contact person in charge of Human Resources, so that I could take my resume. Two months later they called me,” he related.
Years later, he obtained a job with a collection agency, where he remained for almost ten years, and he went through several departments. Then he was a part of a multi-national project to bring games of chance to the country until he applied for a vacancy at Visión Banco [Vision Bank in the area of sales], where he works presently.
Do not give children coins
From his personal experience, he affirms that children should not be given coins, because that makes them comfortable, and what they sell is not a service; it is pity. “I was already ashamed to get on the buses, bothering people so that they would buy from me, to me it seemed like a form of pressure. The first day I tried cleaning windshields, it was worse, because what you sell there is not a service; it is pity. Pity is not an investment, it is free.”
He advises those who are interested in helping to insure their investment and that they donate to trustworthy foundations. “Be sure that the money is used for something positive, do not give it to someone so that they will drink beer. I am convinced and I have faith that if you channel your contributions to foundations that are trustworthy like Dequení, you are making an investment for life. And if you want to take someone off the street, give them the opportunity to continue studying, because education is foundational for a child to find his happiness with dignity,” he insisted.
Although two of the centers are dedicated to taking care of children in the street situation, at present Dequení focuses more on the prevention of child labor. For this they work with children from infancy. According to the Director, Andreza Ortigoza, today more than 7,000 children and adolescents benefit from the different programs that they carry out. During the thirty years of existence, approximately 25,000 people have passed through this Foundation.
Original: Spanish – Translation: Celina M. Garza, San Antonio, TX USA