Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bulging classrooms, Canadian jobs, and a $17 watch on the installment plan: Honduras by the newspapers

I'm reading the Honduran newspapers every day - either El Tiempo or La Prensa - to work on my Spanish and learn about the country. Some days, I'm not sure how well either effort is going.
It's tough to read when at least one word per paragraph sends me to the Spanish-English dictionary, which often doesn't really help.
And understanding the country is a work in progress. El Tiempo had a story today about parents in San Pedro Sula protesting because there were 93 kids in a Grade 2 class.
That's extreme, even by Honduran standards, although in rural schools wild overcrowding is the norm. In conversations, teachers and parents have described schools in pueblitas with 70 students in four or five grades, one teacher who may or may not show up and few supplies.
But San Pedro Sula is the big city, and the parents were mad.
But the story still left me baffled, even after my fallback of finding it online and running it through Google Translate.
The reason there are 93 children in the class is that two teachers haven't shown up for work since school resumed last month, so classes are doubled up. One has "personal problems," the story quoted a parent. The other one, a vice-principal, is inexplicably absent. The principal said the teacher had said "not even Porfiro Lobo (the Honduran president) could make me go there." (My translation.)
The principal wants another teacher assigned to the school. But the story was unclear on why the Grade 2 teacher wouldn't go to work, or whether she was getting paid or what the heck was going on. (I have been wondering whether Canadian news stories would be equally baffling if I didn't have my own knowledge to fill in the blanks in reporting.)
The teachers' unions, with 60,000 members, are a big political force. (And the BCTF is a strong supporter.)
I don't know enough yet to have any informed judgments. I do know that parents I've spoken to are fed up with job actions that have meant students have missed more than half the promised 200 instructional days some years, that anyone who can choses a private school and that the public system is poorly managed.
And I expect to find out more in the months and weeks ahead.
Canada also made today's El Tiempo, one of a few references since I've been reading. (One was an entertainment brief on a plan by one of the Falling Wallenda family to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. The other was an advance on the Canada-Hondura World Cup qualifier in June; if Canada wins (unlikely) I'll be staying off the streets for a few days.)
Today the story is about the lineup of Hondurans applying for jobs in Maple Leaf meat-packing plants in Canada. The jobs are part of the rapidly expanding temporary working program that lets companies bring in foreign workers to do jobs Canadians won't, or at least won't for the salaries the companies want to pay. (It has always seemed a contradiction. Business groups argue the market should set wage rates, except when they would have to pay more. Then they want to bring in desperate workers from low-wage countries.)
But it's important here. There are up to 200 jobs for people willing to cut up hogs and cattle. If you're under 35, have a secondary education - roughly our high school - some English, three years of physical work, good physical condition and no criminal record or past illegal immigration, then you can apply and Maple Leaf's representatives will make the selections. If you're good in the first year, you might be able to bring your family for the second.
The newspaper quoted two applicants. A 25-year-old single mom is ready to leave her daughter behind after two years of unemployment. A 27-year-old chartered accountant who has been looking for work for a year figures processing meat might offer a good chance to work in Canada. The newspaper photo, at the top of the post, showed a long line of the first of nine days of receiving applications.
The pay is good by Honduran standards - $1,921 a month, $443 a week. Live frugally, and you can send a lot of money home to help family here.
Which people do. About 19 per cent of Hondura's GDP is remittances from people working abroad, legally or illegally. Without that money, the GDP per capita would drop from $4,200 to $3,400 - a huge blow. The U.S. anti-immigrant rhetoric could mean economic disaster here.
Finally, I was amazed by 14 pages of ads from Key Mart, a big and opportunistically named retailer. Most stores sell on time here. When we bought our $125 dresser, we had the chance to make two or three payments, for a price.
But KM, as its logo reads, takes the idea to a new level. It advertised, for example, a backpack for $10.75, and offered to let you make 12 payments of 90 cents each. A $17 Casio watch could be yours today for the promise to make 12 payments of 96 cents. (The store sells much expensive stuff too.)
What was striking is that these were offers for people considered good credit risks. You can imagine how poor people are who don't qualify and can only dream of being able to afford a new Sarten frying pan that would cost 68 cents a month.
I won't buy a paper tomorrow. I've too much still to figure out from today's edition.

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