Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoe Shine Boys

Kids in Panajachel go to school half days, either in the morning or afternoon, with many of them working when they aren't in school. They'll help their parents at home or with their businesses, or they might even have their own little enterprise.

One of these is shining shoes. I've never seen girls with shoe shine kits, only boys, around the ages of 7 to 14. They do an amazing job of it, too. Sometimes several work together, one doing the shining while the others seek out customers.

My husband has always shined his shoes every week for Sunday and taught our boys how to do it as well, but now he's happy to pay a little kid to do it for him. The charge is about five quetzales, or 75 cents U.S, but they do such a good job cleaning and polishing, most people will give them more. Bruce usually pays 10 or 20 quetzales for a shine.

One afternoon when we were relaxing at an outdoor table eating lunch, this shoe shine boy came and asked Bruce if he needed a shine. He didn't, but the kid looked so forlorn and hungry, I offered him a sandwich and the rest of our big bag of Cheetos. He ate the Cheetos and half the sandwich, wrapping up the rest for later, or maybe for a little brother at home, then he just sat there quietly on his little shoeshine box keeping us company.

He showed us his shoes, how they were coming apart at the soles, and I saw they were too large for him besides. But you can see how nicely shined they are! I gave him 20 quetzales for a photo, figuring this could take care of my S post. He's putting his shoe on his kit to demonstrate how he gives a shine to a customer.

Many of the children who work in town don't get a lot to eat. This little boy is 14 but looks a lot younger. I was glad he came around while we were eating so I could share our lunch with him. There are many hungry people in this area, and although we can't feed everyone, I decided early on that when I had an opportunity I'd share what I could.

If you come to Panajachel, you'll be approached numerous times by shoe shine boys. They'll polish and shine a leather purse for the ladies, too. It can be a nuisance how they always come up to you on the street, but just remember, they're working for a living, not begging, and the little they ask for the job they do goes a long way in helping out them and their families.


  1. This touched my heart. My father was seven years old when his father died. He left school and shined shoes to bring in money for the family. He never went back to school.

    Despite a second grade education, he worked hard all his life. All six of his children graduated from college. You can't leave a better legacy than that.

    PS Even in old age, he kept a shoe shine box. When he died, that was the only possession of his I wanted. It was to remind me how much a person can accomplish even when he has nothing.

    Thank you for this post.

    1. Maria, Your father with his hard work and willingness to support his family must have been a wonderful example for his children. I'll bet he was so proud of all you college graduates!

  2. I love this post!! I remember those little boys coming up to me with my tennis shoes asking me if I wanted a shine. If I had anything leather then I definitely would of from time to time.

    He looks like nice kid. I like your goal to feed someone when you get the chance. I'm sure the people really appreciate it. You are amazing Karen. Thank you for sharing. :)

    1. Jessica, I remember one who offered to shine my leather purse. "It's dirty," he said. I was in a hurry and declined but I'm thinking now and then I may carry leather purses on the street just to get them a thorough cleaning. Usually I only take a backpack anymore when I go out.

  3. What a lovely post! We could all use some reminding from time to time about how cushy our lives are - and if a little shoe shine boy is the one to remind us - well, how good is that!

    1. Jan, Living in a third world country I get reminded all the time in many subtle ways. It's something I really appreciate and need, too.

  4. Hello greetings and good wishes.

    Very touching story. Children who should be in school working to earn a lively hood. Lost childhood.The fun and games, the laughter and carefree days. They will never have them. Very sad indeed.

    The young boy in the photo looks so innocent and angel like.

    There is so much poverty in this world. Recently I read in the newspaper that a man sold his infant baby to buy medicines for his sick wife.

    We are all blessed. We have so many things.

    The society and the government should make concerted efforts to eliminate poverty in this world. Can the government not open up centers for giving free food for these children? Or is this asking too much from the government?

    Best wishes

  5. It is nice to see that he has pride in his workmanship. It is so sad to hear that he is hungry.

  6. This is so sweet. This boy looks so appreciative and he is probably proud of what he does. When I think of the kids here who have everything they want but still complain if they don't have the most up to date Wi-Fi or whatever. I have had parents tell me their 18 year old can't work because he is too young!

  7. We have fond memories of a little boy who all but adopted us when we lived in Nicaragua. He showed up at our door every day and did errands for us. He bought his very first pair of shoes with the money he earned doing chores for us. He was so proud of those shoes.

  8. Hi Karen - yes it's the little things that help others so much .. and I'm sure your shoe shine boy was/is hugely appreciative .. thanks for sharing with us .. cheers Hilary