PARAGUAY, Dequeni, by Clara Paez, in the magazine “Ejempla” •
This is the story of a father who prevented his two sons from succumbing to child labor. It is an example of responsible paternity to celebrate this Father’s Day.
At the beginning they were a happy family
Dionisio Valdez had finished the 4th grade when he decided to drop out of school to begin to work. Like many, he was ‘abuela memby’ (a grandmother’s son), although he knew his parents, the relationship with them was never close and much less with his father. “I did not know what paternal love was,” he said when he began to relate his life’s-story.
He met her when he worked distributing dairy products. Over time they fell in love, and they decided to establish a relationship that lasted seven years. Everything was going well; he began to pay for a house, he had a steady salary and enough so that nothing was lacking in the home. When the children began to arrive, she decided to quit working to take care of them. There were two boys, who are now 11 and 9 and a girl now 7, arrived to complete the family.
But it did not take long for economic problems to arise. He fell into the trap of overusing his credit card, the bills accumulated, and he could not pay the mortgage on the house. They began to experience necessities, and there were conflicts between the couple. It was useless; the relationship was broken, and they decided to separate.
At the beginning, the children went to live with their mother; they were with her for 7 months. He lived close by, and he visited them every weekend until he found out that his children were not being looked after properly. “They told me they were in the street, that they were about to be reported to Codeni (state youth office), and if this continued they would be taken from them,” he relates.
It was time for him to take charge
As soon as he confirmed this situation, he decided to assume his responsibility and to take charge of the three despite not having a secure job or a good housing condition. One day he went to speak with the mother and he told her: “I see that you want to work, and you can’t because you are in charge of the children. Let them live with me; I will take care of them. My family is going to help me.” She accepted.
“I cried a lot. During the first month that they were with me, when I arrived home from work and found them dirty, going to sleep without a bath; I could no longer work.”
— Dionisio Valdez
And this is when the struggle to save my children from the street began. It was much more difficult because he did not find the help he expected. I cried a lot. During the first month that they were with me, when I arrived from work and found them dirty, going to sleep without a bath; I could no longer work,” he recalls. They lived in a house that only had electricity. There were times when his children did not have running water to bathe. They did not lack food, because I paid their mother and grandmother to cook for them everyday.
Since he only had one bed, the three children slept together barely covered with some blankets, while Dionisio slept on the floor with the few coats he had. This is only so you realize how important the campaign for coats [Spanish link] is.
Dionisio was extremely thin, and he looked bad when he spoke with a neighbor who told him about Dequení. He had neighbors whose children went to the Foundation every day, so their parents could work without worrying. Therefore this was the hope for his children so they would not stop studying, because that was his greatest goal that they would not drop out of school.
The beginning a new life
He went with his children to Dequení’s venue. He spoke to the doorman; he told him his case ,and he told him who was in charge of the program, Protection of Children At Risk for Child Labor.
Ángel Jara, the person who would take care of his case, was at the door waiting for all the children to arrive when Dionisio approached him to speak with him. At that moment, there was no room to take his children, but soon two boys would be old enough to go to another program, and this would be the opportunity for the Valdez. Only the boys would attend the Foundation, because the girl was well cared for by her godmother, who still takes her to school, where she stays for the entire session.
The wait was approximately fifteen days. During this time, they called Dionisio, and they gave him some instructions that are part of the admissions process. “They called me on a Friday to tell me that my sons would begin on Monday. It was like a new life for me, I could return to work without worry,” he says.
“They called me on a Friday to tell me that my sons would begin on Monday. It was like a new life for me, I could return to work without worry.”
At that time, he had begun to work as a vendor, and he was paid on commission. He had a motorbike with which he traveled. He encountered a new challenge, he had to take his sons with him everyday, because they were still too young at only ages 5 and 7. “They entered at 8:00 a.m., I was supposed to be at work at 7:00 a.m. I had to leave and go out on the street as a street vendor,” he explained.
He does not forget the support he received from his companions. Several times they organized raffles and polladas [chicken parties] to give him a little money because his salary was never enough.
The first weeks at the Foundation were difficult, his sons had become anti-social, and Dionisio received calls from the boys’ teachers everyday. “One of them climbed on a pillar and threatened to jump, because he wanted to be the center of attention. He did not understand that he should wait for his turn. In order to get him down, we had to find something that would interest him,” Ángel interjected.
But today, after four years, they are healthy, and they look good. They know how to read and write correctly. They do not forget to excuse themselves when they pass or to smile everyday. For them, the sun is shining again.
These little ones are much more mature than the rest of their companions. They know their father’s sacrifice, and they know how much effort he made so that they could live better.
When they go home, they clean up or prepare dinner if their father arrives late. “I do not have a schedule; the oldest is my right hand. When I am not home and when he arrives, he goes to the cupboard and he prepares his snack. But if I arrive early, I prepare dinner for them,” Dionisio added.
“Sometimes I play bingo, and they tell me: Father, if we win, we are going to buy our house,” the father confesses. Their greatest desire is to have their own house in order not to move every once in a while, and to have a job with IPS insurance, since now he only earns 350 guaraníes weekly.
The people around him admire his strength. He is an example for many parents who do not fulfill their obligations. “There is no better experience than to see your children grow and to have a close relationship with them,” the super hero father concludes.
More information also on how to donate to Dequeni at: http://www.dequeni.org.py (English)