Not long after I met Osmar on the work site back in 2007 I discovered that he often walked long distances to coffee plantations where he would stay for weeks and pick coffee beans to earn a few cherished cordobas. In fact, he left Las Trojas by himself just two weeks before we broke ground on the school and walked two and a half hours to catch a ride on the back of a truck that carried him up into the rainforest. Once there, he would wake every morning before sunrise, walk into the jungle and pick coffee for ten to twelve hours. He was able to pick sixty pounds of beans per day and would dump them into a large sac before he carried them out of the jungle on his back.
When he arrived back at the plantation cooperative in the evening, he would drop off his sac of coffee, eat some rice and beans and then go to sleep on a small wooden bunk with no mattress. The next day he would get up before sunrise and do it all over again. Osmar was twelve years old when I met him but he had been making these trips on his own since he was ten.
He earned the equivalent of one dollar a day.
Osmar told me that when he heard about the upcoming ground break on a new school in Las Trojas he could hardly believe it. He and all of the children of his village would finally have a real school! He decided to leave the jungle early and walk home in time to help us begin building the school. He arrived the day we broke ground.
When I learned about his work, I asked Osmar if he would take me up to the plantation so I could see it for myself. He agreed and when I saw the extreme conditions and how hard this twelve-year-old boy was working, I understood why his family and community were relentless and driven to build that school. Education would change the lives of children for generations to come, and they knew it.
One night after a dinner of rice and beans, I asked Osmar what he did with the money he earned on that trip up to the coffee plantation. The answer brought tears to my eyes. He earned fourteen dollars for two weeks of unbelievably hard work, and he used it all to buy school supplies for his younger brother and sister. He wanted things to be different for them.
When I was with him last week, Osmar couldn’t find words to describe the pride he felt when he attended the sixth grade in their new school. Then he told me his dream is to get a degree and become a teacher in the very same school he helped to build.