Meet Elizabeth from San Martin

The hot, dusty community of San Martin feels empty and forgotten and a million miles away from anything (in fact it is only a four-hour drive from Trini but somehow feels even more remote than our other communities). When we arrived we saw no one. I managed to get sick last night so I am feeling drained. As soon as we arrived we were fed the standard huge special lunch. I wandered into the classroom and two things knocked me out of my stupor: a mangy dog (there are many in every community) trotted in, came directly to me and lied down under my chair and then I noticed a young girl sitting at a table looking over at me with beautiful bright eyes. I eventually sat down with her and asked her about herself.

Her name is Elizabeth Tapia Mole but people call her “Choca” which means “whitey” They call her that because her skin is slightly lighter than most indigenous kids and because her eyes are green (“ojos claros”) not brown like everyone else.

Elizabeth is 12 years old. She lives here with her very old grandfather (I met him later, he looks 90) and her 14-year-old brother. Her mother and two other sisters live in Trinidad. Her Mom works as a maid there. She is apparently here because the government gave the grandfather a house (one room shack) to live in but only under the condition that a family of minimum three live in it. Thus Elizabeth and her brother are here. Her father works somewhere else on a ranch (estancia) and comes once or twice a year to visit. She says that her mother never visits but that she goes sometimes to Trinidad to visit her Mom. I asked her how she gets there and she explained the arduous route of getting a ride with someone in the community with a motorcycle to the next community then a bus to the highway then a bus to Trinidad. I must admit, the thought of this little girl doing that trip on her own scares me.

Elizabeth’s favourite game is skipping rope and her favourite meal is “picante de pollo”. She explained that this dish is chicken with peppers in a sauce and rice.

She is clearly smart and has enough confidence to speak openly with me. She has a sing-song voice and ends many sentences with “no ves” as in “you know?”. I watched her work on the computer and she seems really interested in the school work. I think that she is happy.

Elizabeth says that she may move to Trinidad to live with her Mom when she is of secondary school age – next year. I can’t possibly say whether this would be a good or bad thing but I do feel like we have many bright lights like Elizabeth and I hope so much that we can help give them the educational tools they need to navigate the challenges they face here and wherever their lives take them.