Saturday, July 09, 2005

Malls and shantytowns

On our recent trip to El Salvador, a vivid image told important lessons about the gap between rich and poor in the country. We drove past the "Hipermall," a modern, enclosed luxury shopping center where most of the stores, like Benetton and the Gap, were owned by foreign retailers. In the shadow of the Hipermall was a sprawling, squalid shanty town of tin and cardboard dwellings. A naked, dirty little boy ran into the street as cars and trucks, including those from the BMW dealer nearby, drove past.

Some would argue that the Hipermall and the BMW dealer are signs of the progress being made in El Salvador. Some have pointed to the rapidly growing number of cell phones in the country (including those owned by residents of the shanty town) as indicators of growing prosperity. But until the gap between rich and poor is addressed, and the Hipermall tears down the tall brick walls with razor wire and guards which surround it, true progress has not been made.

3 comments:

Tim said...

An additional perspective from Linda...

My first reaction on seeing the little boy running in busy traffic was to stop, swoop him up, and find out where he belonged. Instead, as we progressed through traffic, some in our group tried to convince the little guy to go home to his mommy, but he continued to approach the cars on the road. He wasn't lost or wandering into the street out of curiosity, he was begging. Perhaps his mom had given him the flowered umbrella to attract attention. The image of that naked little boy, maybe 5 years old, carrying a little umbrella and running among the cars on a busy highway will stick in my mind forever. The feeling of desperation that a mother or father must have in order to send their child out into a busy street to beg will rip at my heart forever. The people who build the brick walls need to be challenged to open their eyes to see, and to open their hearts to feel, before they will share their bricks with their homeless neighbors across the street. It is our responsibility, as those who have seen and had their hearts broken, to set forth this challenge.

Boli-Nica said...

I remember Metrocentro, which back in the day (late 70's) was the largest mall in Central America. It was fully stocked with the latest foreign goods - made even more expensive by the high import taxes charged by the gov't. Even middle class Salvadorans could not afford some of the priciest things. It was where the uber-rich Salvadorans would go buy a VCR and large screen T.V. to take to their beach house that weekend, when the trip to Miami wasn't till the week after.

tony rochman said...

Remember, the rich don't care not one tiny bit about that little 5 year boy begging in the street nor their poor neighbors living in flimsy makeshift houses. As long as the rich are okay, then everything's fine. As long as they are getting paid, that is all they care about and all that matters for them. It's their agenda that counts and nothing else. It'll always be that way. Wait until that 5 year old boy grows up angry, bitter and just a little crazed from all of his life's horrible struggles and rips up one of the rich people into tiny pieces with his man sized machete. It's almost what needs to happen before there is any real change in the line of thinking with the upper class. Only when their own lives are affected first hand will they then just start to get their wake up call.