The Nine-Year-Old Who Didn’t Know the Alphabet
Joel Loja’s parents spend much of their lives in the garbage digging out recyclables in order to eke out a living. It’s a tough life that requires families to focus on surviving each day.
Joel was one of the first babies to enter the Quito Dump Daycare, now called the Child Development Center (CDC), where he received nutritious meals, snacks and love. But when it came time for him to leave the CDC and go to school, it became clear Joel was very behind educationally. So when we opened the after-school program to help kids, Joel’s parents asked for help.
Joel’s challenges are typical for the children of Dump families. He had psychological problems in addition to being behind in school. When he got home from school, there was no one there to help him with his homework or encourage him.
“Joel’s grades were very low when we took him into the after-school program,” said Jose Jimenez, who along with his wife Teresa oversee ER’s Quito programming. “At that time Joel couldn’t write and it was very difficult for him to learn. He was about nine years old and did not even know his alphabet. So we started working with him.”
ER’s After-School Program Comes to the Rescue
Joel was one of the first kids to receive help at the Quito Family Resource Center (QFRC), which opened to serve Dump Community families. The Center focuses on education and nutrition.
“His mother shared what was going on with Joel,” Teresa Jimenez said. “She told us she just wanted help to get him through grade school because the family would not be able to help him attend school after that. Her goal was for Joel to work with her in the garbage after he got through grade school. She did not think there was any value to study further.”
There were 10 students enrolled when the QFRC first opened. Jose worked with nine of them. Teresa worked just with Joel because he was so far behind. She started by helping him to just write his letters. After about two months, they were able to integrate him in with the other kids. He learned how to write by copying verses from the Bible.
“We worked with him to read, write and learn the alphabet,” Teresa said. “Now he is one of the best students. His handwriting is very good. He is reading very well. And his self-esteem is very high. His desire is to finish grade school and go into high school. His dream is to be someone important in life.
“When he came into Family Center, he would go into a corner to read,” Teresa said “After a while he would say, ‘I can read’. One day he said his teacher told him, ‘You are improving so much’. He was very proud of that.
“Joel realizes that his parents have endured a very hard life by working in the dump, Teresa added. “His father has osteoporosis and can no longer work. His mother has to work in the garbage to get food and meet the needs of the family.”
Joel’s family is suffering a lot and his desire is to learn and be able to work in a healthy environment so his parents will not have to work in the garbage.
“The desire of his heart is to help his parents,” Jose said. “Our work at the QFRC is to help him to realize his goals. Every day we have been motivating him to keep going.”
Today Joel is 12 and is doing well physically and emotionally. Joel has several years to go before he will graduate high school, so his continued involvement in the after-school program is crucial if he is to accomplish his goals.
Tim Fausch manages communications for Extreme Response.