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Polly and Bengt Ohman of Lake Clear, NY
February 21, 2003:
3 Million Residents, 10 Thousand Shoeshine Boys

The guide books say the population here is 1.6 million, but Madre Cindy knows better. This sprawling city has another 1.4 million unofficial residents.

Their shanties cover the mountainsides surrounding Quito. "Invasions" bring people in by night from rurual areas. Trees are cut and one-room shacks are hastily assembled. Danger of mudslides becomes extreme—to say nothing of volcanoes and earthquakes. In 1999 near-by Ruca Pichincha (over 14,000 feet) rumbled into serious actiion though major lava flows have not yet occurred. In November of this past year Volcano Redentador, about one hour from here, covered the city with 4-5 cm. of ash.

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As you can see (above), I got one heck of a professional shoeshine. Four hundred boys head out three mornings a week, after showers and breakfast, to join about 10,000 shoeshine boys working the city. Work is one of the values agreed to for new members, and the right of children to be contributing members of their familes is defended. Each boy is required to save a certain amount each week.

The directors of the Center are at their desks by 5 a.m. each day, leaving at 8 p.m. Princessa the cat, defender of the laundry room against rats, greets Madre Cindy. Carlos Gomez is a director, one of the original shoeshine boys taken in by Padre Juan in the 1960’s. Many Center graduates are among the employed here, staying at reduced salaries because of devotion to this place.

Everyone at the Center was busy last week entertaining a group of about 20 on pilgrimage and tour from Milwaukee. All visitors get special treatment, including a fantastic program by the choir which has cut two CDs. Visitors from around the world are welcome. Rosalind Carter and Madeleine Albright have been among them. Sr. Ann Credidio, who works with the increasing population of persons with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), visited this week from Guayaquyil on the coast. All visitors must expect many hugs from many children—Madre Miguel says, "Our children are not shy." Miguel Conway, BVM, arrived in the 1960s to help Padre John and never looked back.

Bengt and Polly Ohman

More information about about The Working Boys Center

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2003 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475