Marlon begins his workday on the water truck at 7 a.m.
Marlon, 12, grabs the door handle of the truck as it swerves through the crowded streets of Bella Vista, a suburb of Santo Domingo. The heavy water truck sways as it turns a sharp corner, and Marlon can hear the water slosh in the tank behind his head.
Every few blocks the truck stops, and Marlon jumps out and runs to the back. He twists the spigot, and the water splashes around his feet as he carefully fills the heavy plastic jugs. He must work quickly, because the sooner the water tank is empty, the sooner he can finish his workday.
SUPPORT FROM ALL SIDES
By noon, Marlon has already worked five hours on the water truck. He barely has time to go home and change before he heads to his sixth-grade class. Like more than 350,000 other 5- to 14-year-olds in the Dominican Republic, Marlon must work outside of the home. Like Marlon, many are orphans being raised by relatives whose resources are already stretched to the breaking point. Like Marlon, many of them have no options. Work means food and clothes.
But unlike many of those children, Marlon has a whole team of people in his life that won't let him give up on school or on preparing for his future. His sister, Katty, who took over raising Marlon when their parents died, rushes him out of the door for school every day, making sure he has his homework. The staff at the Rey de Reyes Student Center (DR-453) encourages him when he's tired from his early morning job. And his sponsor tells him over and over in her letters to him, "You can do this."
"I have to work," says Marlon. "When I get paid, I can buy food and school supplies. I can give money to my sister, who is raising me. My family needs me to work. But I will never quit school. I have too many dreams for that."
The Last Resort
Katty says she tried to keep her brother from working. But her husband's weekly salary at a local factory wasn't enough to feed her family for even two days. Marlon has always been a hard worker, she says. Even when he was small he would offer to do odd jobs for the neighbors.
"I know Marlon will be prosperous, and he will go far in this world because he is such a responsible boy," Katty says. "And I will do everything I can to make sure that this job does not take over that he can still go to school and to the Compassion center."
Katty says her family has been blessed by benefits from Marlon's sponsorship in the year that he has been registered at the student center. Marlon's school fees are provided for, and the tutoring he receives at the center has improved his grades.
"I find a great value in the program, and I give so much thanks to Marlon's sponsors for the help that they've given to Marlon," Katty says. "Marlon is privileged. He has a lot of opportunities other children here don't have. I know he will not get mixed up with gangs or drugs now. At the center, he is educated and he learns God's Word. I am very happy for him."
Never Give Up
Marlon is learning daily the adult lesson of juggling priorities. He knows if he oversleeps he won't finish his water route in time to go to school. School is his top priority.
"There's a better future for me and my
family if I finish school," Marlon says. "There are people in my neighborhood who don't have a job because they didn't go to school, and they have to be in the streets mixing concrete or working at the cemetery and things like that."
Marlon would rather be a policeman or a mechanic when he grows up. And with such a powerful team behind him, that dream is within his reach.
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