Transposing emblem by Andrea da Silva Escandell

I live in one of the smallest countries in Latin America: Uruguay. My country is inhabited by only around 3 million people who share many traits, preferences, and traditions: drinking mate, playing football, practicing traditional candombe, going camping in autumn and enjoying the beach in summer. Most of us are peaceful, quiet, polite and educated. We are very proud of our famous soccer players like Suarez, Cavani and Forlán and many others. We are all fans of our musicians and bands like La vela puerca, No te va a gustar, or El cuarteto de nos. We have renowned writers like Galeano or Benedetti and dancers, too, like Maria Noel Riccetto. Many of us love dancing tango or candombe, as well.

Not long ago, we had one of the highest levels of education on the continent, and the crime rate was very low. Around 2000, however, things changed dramatically. The region (mainly our big neighbors Brazil and Argentina) underwent big economic crises that affected us tremendously in many different ways. The government also didn’t work intelligently. Poverty spread throughout society, leaving half our kids born poor and many of the elderly suffering from hunger; employment fell dramatically; banks closed; investors decided to depart; owners lost their properties, and those who had taken out loans suffered complete losses. This was a real moment of uncertainty. The first I experienced in my life. 

Uncertainty: no matter how much you had worked, no matter how much you had studied, no matter how high your qualifications were – you could be fired from your job; you could lose all your life’s savings if a bank closed; your debts could rise by a factor of 4 or 5 as the value of our currency dropped overnight.

Uncertainty: your family could split up, as many people decided to leave the country and start a new life in Europe or the US. Even your spouse or your children would emigrate if they had the chance.

Uncertainty: the reality of being controlled by outside forces, where your life is at the mercy of decisions made by others, where you cannot control your own destiny or even foresee your own future because it totally depends on external facts.

Some years later, there was a change in government. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Small things started to happen, and we could sense some hope again. Some important measures were taken, especially in regard to health and salaries, and the poorest people started to receive economic aid as well as educational programs aimed at preparing them for work.

Unfortunately, it was already too late; the damage had been done. Those receiving economic support were the same ones who had suffered from hunger and extreme poverty when they were kids. They were the “kids who ate grass” literally when they were children. That experience could not be forgotten. They had been rejected and left out for so long that they felt angry at the rest.

The result: our peaceful society changed forever. Violence sprouted everywhere; there was no way back.

Those same people receiving government aid are the ones facing the worst acts of violence, in the streets with robbery, at home with kids and domestic violence, at football matches in the form of fights, etc. Furthermore, most of the drug dealers live in their areas and earn their income from that business. So, why would they even think about working when they can earn much more with their illicit activities?

Moreover, the more kids you have, the more social benefits you receive. So the poorest mothers want to have many kids. Kids who are brought up in this environment, learning that you can live well without working, without making any effort or devoting time to studying or productive labor. What is worse, many of these parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many mothers take drugs during pregnancy. So, the kids are affected by narcotics and alcohol while growing in the womb. Later in life, these children will certainly show different types of learning disorders, behavioral problems at school and so on.

As a result, this part of the population is growing up without any human values, work habits and with tons of violence. Many of them suffer sexual abuse from their own parents, older siblings or neighbors in addition to these hardships. They also learn from these experiences.

Uncertainty again. This feeling of being unable to find a way out. Society starts breaking up into two groups. Can we blame the unfortunate? They are a product of our own culture; it isn’t really their fault.

Another consequence is that hard working people, the other group, who devote their lives to studying and working, trying to teach their kids morals and ethics, find themselves discriminating, sometimes aggressively, against those who live on government aid, as they find these people responsible for our society’s decay.

As far as I can see, this very tangled situation brings us that same sense of uncertainty. Everything seems to be entirely out of control. No simple solution appears to help.

Perhaps, this multifaceted social problem we are all living through needs a complex solution that can be summarized in one word: compromise. Compromise by society as a whole.

Compromise by individuals who should stop pointing and blaming others and try to assume their role of protecting children and helping them whenever they have the chance: in the street, on the bus, at school, in the park, every day, everywhere, all the time.

Compromise by teachers who are in touch with children and teens who need support from adults and cannot count on their parents, so they can picture a better life for themselves.

Compromise by the government: feeding those kids, giving them a good education at school, but mainly drafting laws that protect their human rights, returning their right to dream, to have hope in the future and to plan their destiny on their own. Uncertainty will be the state of mind in my country as long as things remain unchanged. And since we are all part of society, we are all part of the problem, but we should also be able to see that each of us plays an essential role in finding the solution.