Caring for another
child in the city

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From 51% to 20%

the decline of the rural population of Latin America over the past 60 years.

19.5% of the population

remain in the Colombian countryside according to World Bank statistics. 60 years ago, it was 55%.

90% of their income

Women spend up to 90% of their income on family, while men spend up to 40% of theirs.

International Livestock Research Institute

6,400 pesos = €1.80

The going rate for a kilo of coffee charged by Colombian labourers today.


The price of a kilo of Colombian coffee in Barcelona.



La Sierra (Colombia)


Cali (Colombia)

199 km

Trayectoria desde La Sierra a El Cali


“Life in the countryside is beautiful. It's tough, but it's beautiful.”.

Lucelly Canchala identifies as rural, even though she has lived in the city of Cali for many years. "My childhood was very beautiful because I lived in the countryside, with my parents and my siblings, four sisters and two brothers". All seven grew up in Los Robles, a "vereda" –rural settlement– belonging to the town of La Sierra, with 10,000 inhabitants, located in the south of the department of Cauca, which remains one of the most rural regions of Colombia.

Of the seven siblings, only one still lives in the countryside with their parents: the rest have migrated to urban areas.

The first time Lucelly had to leave Los Robles, like all her siblings, was to attend high school, as the school in her area only teaches up to primary level. When she was about to finish high school, "[I] went to Popayán, the capital of the Caucasus, where I lived with relatives and started working taking care of children”. She later moved to Cali, Colombia's third largest city with two and a half million inhabitants, where her sister, Consuelo Canchala, who had already migrated there, knew of a job opportunity with an upper class woman, Dr. Maria Isabel Pava.

"She needed someone to take care of her young daughter. I didn’t have a job but I had kids, and I needed to work, so I talked to her, she told me what she needed, and I came here and here I am: I’m Salomé's babysitter

Lucelly works from the time Salomé gets up until she falls asleep. She does this from Monday to Sunday for two weeks in a row. "I'm a live-in worker. I get a day off every fortnight and with that free time I go to my sister's house in Cali, I catch up with my daughter and, when I can, I travel to La Sierra to see my family”. Lucelly is the mother and head of the family; her youngest son, Julián David, has lived in La Sierra since he was born, and her daughter Mishell also lived there until recently, before moving in with her aunt Consuelo in Cali to continue her studies.

Lucelly's parents, Cecilia Cruz and Marco Alirio Canchala, live and work in Los Robles. Their livelihood depends in large part on their food sovereignty: they grow many of the goods they consume such as corn, beans, bananas or cassava. The income they use to buy the rest of the things they need come mainly from growing coffee. Today, they are paid 80,000 pesos, or roughly €23 euros, for an "arroba" of coffee (twelve and a half kilograms): €1.80 per kilogram.

María fa una videotrucada a la seva germana Alejandra, a Bogotà, on també treballa al sector domèstic.

Lucelly Canchala has been Salomé's nanny since she was born. She lives and works in the same Cali apartment where the girl's family lives, and has only one day off every two weeks.

Marco Alirio explains that "workers are paid 300 pesos per kilo" –less than ten cents. It may not seem like much at all, and in a way it is one of the sacrifices involved in obtaining the end result: “If you start thinking about how much you spend to get a kilo of coffee, throughout the whole process, it's better to forget about it, because you know that you're doing it at a loss. But since there's no other option, you content yourself with what you can get. I owe my livelihood to coffee”, says the farmer.

In a shop in Barcelona, a kilogram of Colombian coffee costs €19, about ten times more than what Alirio and Cecilia make.

Indeed, having an arroba of coffee in the bag means having fertilized and weeded it for a year, harvested it, shelled it using a manual mill, cleaned it and dried it in the sun, and transported it to the village where it's bought and sold. "I don't think it's far," says Marco Alirio. "It's about 25 or 30 minutes on horseback”. Ultimately, this coffee ends up being enjoyed far from La Sierra. "They sell it elsewhere, it doesn't stay in Colombia", says the farmer. On the other side of the Atlantic, in a shop in Barcelona, a kilogram of Colombian coffee costs €19, about ten times more than what Alirio and Cecilia make. In addition to coffee, the Canchala Cruz family supplement their income through selling milk from a handful of cows they have, and the remittances sent by their daughters, each from a different city in the country. "They help us a lot", confesses Cecilia.

 Marco Alirio descansa.

Marco Alirio rests with one of his grandchildren and the day labourers who work on the Canchala family's small coffee plantation.

Lucelly, for example, sends a part of her salary to La Sierra every month. There, her parents and her sister Nohemi Canchala take care of Julián David. "He more or less lives in both houses because they are right next to each other", explains Lucelly, who says that her sister "helps me with my son more than she should". "She feeds him, she practically plays the role of a mother, something I can't do, she goes to school meetings, to medical appointments...” she recognizes, overcome by emotion. According to Lucelly, her sister “is blessed, because she hasn't had to go out and fight, to wrestle with a different life the way we've had to. My parents have also come to rely on her because she's there”.

In La Sierra, Nohemi is clear that "it would be very hard to leave my father and mother practically alone" and says that Julián David "is like another son to me, he is not a nephew but a son", just like Mishell, who "until she also left for Cali, was at home, slept here, ate here, got up to no good here, I've always had to take care of them”. Nohemi has not had to "go out and fight" in the city, but she fights every day to keep things going in the countryside, taking care of her parents, and often her little brother, her husband, her children, her sister's children, animals, the house, the orchard, and so on. "My husband has never been a selfish person" she ends up saying while, getting emotional as she goes on, she goes through the list of care tasks she carries on her shoulders.

According to Marco Alirio, in the countryside, "a woman's work is the hardest". "She is the first to get up and the last to go to bed", says Cecilia.

To continue with Lucelly's story, we might turn briefly to the inner workings of the global and local transfers of care charted by the Colombian researcher Camila Esguerra. Esguerra explains that, "in the countries of the so-called first world, there is a care deficit that has been met, not by national welfare state provision, but by the migration of women from southern countries”. She adds that, “when they migrate from their countries, there is a deficit of care in what we might term these donor countries", due in part to the entry of women into the workforce, as is the case of Dr. Maria Isabel, "which is in turn met by other women, be they migrants, nationals, or women from within the family. They do this with even less job security than migrant women from the global South, or even as unpaid care work”.

In this story, Cecília, Consuelo and Nohemi are the women who, out of love, make up for the care deficit that Lucelly inevitably leaves behind while she, taking care of Salomé, makes up for the deficit left by Dr. Maria Isabel Pava. As Esguerra goes on to explain, “it is a highly complex flow of relations” in which stock must be taken of "the stories of these migrant women, all the blood, sweat and tears behind the tales of migration and care work”: the hidden and underappreciated work of balancing emotions, feelings, bonds and distances taken on by these women.

 Marco Alirio descansa.

Nohemí Canchala, sister of Lucelly and Consuelo, takes care of the housework and works the land in La Sierra. She has been caring for her nephew, Julián David, since he was a baby.

The very possibility of living on, from and in harmony with the land is in danger of becoming extinct.

Esguerra stresses that these transfers must be seen as “a kind of conspiracy of racist, ableist, misogynist, colonial and ageist systems, which serves to bind migrant women to an urbanized and globalized care system which, it should go without saying, is to the detriment of all things rural”. Indeed, as we can see in the case of the Canchala family, what is in danger of disappearing is the possibility of living on, from, and in harmony with the land. That six of Cecilia and Marco Alirio's seven children have had to go to work in the cities represents an attack on their lifestyle and, ultimately, on their existence.

Leaving the countryside in La Sierra not only means distancing yourself from the family, but also saying goodbye to contact with nature, the closeness of the community, and the freedom the area provides. According to Lucelly, this is the main difference between the countryside and the city: freedom. "Here in Cali, you always have to be discreet about a lot of things, but there you go outside and you have no problems: you ride a horse, you go to the river... (...) in my vereda, everyone knows each other, but here you'd struggle to get a 'good morning' out of people. (...) There, if something happens to a family, everyone is ready to help, and for me that's the beauty, there's a real togetherness", Lucelly proudly declares. "The tradition of my land is very distinct”.

María xerrant

Cecilia explains that, in rural areas, women are the first to get up and the last to go to sleep. On top of all the work they do outdoors, care tasks also fall to the women.

"Women in the countryside have no choice. You do the housework and you don't get paid, but the men go over to the neighbour's house to work.”

"I wish there were more things to do. Women in the countryside don't have much choice. You do the housework and you don't get paid, but the men go over to the neighbour's house to work", Lucelly Canchala complains. According to Esguerra, generally "women who do care work in the city are from rural backgrounds, many of them Black or indigenous”. It's worth mentioning that for some the experience brings a certain relief, allowing them to escape the violence of their family home, or take a step forward in terms of self-sufficiency: they go to the city to do the same tasks they did at home, but this time on a paid basis. For others, it is simply the path they are forced to go down due to the poverty in their local area.

In La Sierra, Julián David demands that those who live in the city “recognize that rural women are the ones providing sustenance, food, they're the ones who grow what's consumed in the city, and who take care of nature the way we take care of it here”. In Cali, Lucelly states emotionally: "I never forget where I'm from, I love my house, my vereda, my people”..

María xerrant

Text: Berta Camprubí
Photography: Montse Giralt
Video: Núria Gebellí



Cuisnahuat (El Salvador)


San Salvador (El Salvador)

70 km

Trayectoria desde Bogotà a Tarragona


General Secretary of the El Salvador Domestic Workers' Union (SITRADOMES)

Cuisnahuat has indigenous roots. The name of this city, located in the department of Sonsonate in the northwest of El Salvador, comes from the word Kwisnawat, in the Nahuatl language. These are small reminders of the presence of indigenous communities settled on the land prior to the litany of violent acts perpetrated in the country. Now there are hardly any Nahuatl speakers left: about 200 people remember it and continue to use it.

Sofía Giménez probably has Nahua blood in her veins. Her family is from a small rural village near Cuisnahuat, part of a Nahuatl-speaking area. In her house, however, the native language is not spoken, and the traditions they carry on are stripped of their ancestral vestiges. A single mother of two children, her eldest is now a teenager. The children have been cared for by their grandmother, as Sofia had to migrate to provide for them. Although El Salvador is a small country –about 21,041 km², compared to Catalonia's 32,000 km²– access to rural areas is complicated, and requires vehicles that can handle unpaved roads. As a result, Sofía had to undertake a long commute every day to work in the capital, San Salvador.

Ana Margarita Elias, Sofía's mother, casts her mind back as she sits on the porch of the house where she's caring for one of her grandchildren: the little one is unwell, and his grandmother caresses him as she talks. To get to the house where she worked as a domestic worker, Sofía "had to catch the bus here and get as far as Sonsonate. From there she'd take another to San Salvador, then a city bus. In the end, she left her job, everything she made went on paying for transport", she explains.

Sofia and her children, Carlos and Héctor, are also on the porch. The eldest practices classical guitar, until they convince him to join the conversation. He talks about Ana Margarita with all the shyness of teenager: “I don't call her granny, I call her mum because…". His sentence trails off as he glances at his mother, who is off-camera and off-mic.

“He's been raised here by us, since she [Sofía] left for work. That’s why he calls me mum”, confirms Ana Margarita. “He doesn't call me granny, he's called me mum since he was little. Because his father left when his mother was two months pregnant, she came here to live with us. He's [Carlos] thirteen years old, we've raised him”, says the grandmother. And so too Héctor, the younger brother, his stomach exposed as his grandmother continues to caress him while she recounts the family story.

foto d'assemblea

Ana Margarita, Sofia's mother, takes care of one of her grandchildren who is ill. Granny is called "mum", because she has taken care of the children since they were babies.


It is becoming increasingly difficult to get milpa, that is, for a rural family –the backbone of this community– to meet their basic needs.

Cuisnahuat is a rural area. However, severe droughts have struck over the past few years, and a nearby landfill is polluting the water supply. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get milpa, that is, for a rural family –the backbone of this community– to meet their basic needs. Ana Margarita explains that they can often no longer harvest corn, only frijoles (a type of bean) and maicillo, or sorghum. In the past, they would sell corn at the local market to make money. Now they get by as best they can.

As a result of these changes, Sofía was forced to migrate to the capital to continue working as a domestic worker. Her mother took over caring for the children; more than a decade has gone by since then. If she had a choice, Sofia would stay in the countryside with her family. "Perhaps having a piece of land to work with animals, if there was some kind of income here for us… but we have no income. [The men] go out to work on the land, they work as day labourers, we don't figure in that”, she explains. As a result, women, and especially single mothers, are effectively cast out from the countryside.

One of the phenomena observed in El Salvador is that there are many households headed by women: in other words, they are the family breadwinners.

As Carmen Urquilla of the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) explains, “One of the phenomena observed in El Salvador is that there are many households headed by women: in other words, they are the family breadwinners. Migration is a choice that, in recent years, has been virtually forced upon women. Without any alternative, they are forced to migrate". Displacement can be national or transnational, but in both cases they almost always have to leave their sons and daughters –the reason for migrating– behind.

"In El Salvador, we've seen significant migration of women from rural areas to more urban areas to work as workers in private homes providing domestic labour and, to a large extent, care."

Often, a woman who goes to work in a sweatshop, finding she can't make ends meet, looks for work as a domestic worker. “It's not as though they have many options", and there is little job security in the work they are hired to do, argues Urquilla.

foto d'assemblea

The entrance to Cuisnahuat, a village in the interior of El Salvador with a longstanding rural history. Droughts and other issues put the continued stability of rural life at risk, with many women forced to migrate.

Sofía Giménez tells us that she feels greatly relieved to have her mother. “I am very grateful for her, because when I leave home [to work] I know I can leave my children with her, even my nephews are there. The job she does with my kids can't be underestimated. They aren't with any old person, they're with my mother. I know that she'll look after them well for me. And as far as safety goes”, she says, referring to the nation's high violent crime rate, “this is the safest place they can be".

"This is a woman who's still doing care work, because men don't pull their weight in these matters", complains Sofía.

Without Ana Margarita, she may have had to leave the children in the care of another woman, while she herself was caring for other people's children in the capital city. “I don't have the means to pay anyone, [I leave the children] with my mother because I know she won't charge me for it. This is a woman who's still doing this type of work, because men don't pull their weight in these matters”, complains Sofía: a transfer of care that does not cross state borders, but that is deeply embedded across all the rural territories of El Salvador.

foto d'assemblea

When Sofia had to migrate, her mother took care of her two children, Carlos and Héctor. On the days that Sofia returns to the family home, they both share the housework.


Sofía has cared for the elderly and for children in San Salvador, looking after them morning, noon, and night. "She had trouble sleeping properly, because she was having to take care of a small child until her employers got home after midnight. They paid her $80 [a month]”, recalls Ana Margarita. The people who hire her, Sofía argues, “do not realize that we take care of the most valuable thing there is: their children, their parents. They treat you as if you were worthless. But then they entrust you with their family. Sometimes, you end up being more attentive to them than the parents are. It takes a lot of effort, having good health and a strong heart, because caring takes a lot of energy out of you. You need to be mentally fit to put up with the abuse that occurs. This is what domestic work involves", she laments.

Caring for other people involves giving up caring for those close to you

“She said, I feel bad, taking care of a child there and leaving my children here. My daughter said she would love to look after them, but since we needed food, it was better that I took care of them and that she go [to the city] to earn a living. Besides, it's not just the food", explains Ana Margarita. Clothes, school, transport, personal hygiene products, medical visits, medication –the list seems goes on and on when your wallet can't keep up.

foto d'assemblea

The Union of Domestic Workers of El Salvador (SITRADOMES) provides a space for women to organize and stand up for their rights. It is also a space of sisterhood and care; many have had to migrate, so the union is a second family.

In the capital city, Sofia not only found casual employment: she also found a sisterhood and mutual support group. She is currently Secretary General of the Union of Domestic Workers of El Salvador (SITRADOMES). She's joined there by another Cuisnahuat native, Rosita (Rosa Cristina Elías), who followed a very similar path, and also works as a domestic worker. SITRADOMES is currently fighting on several fronts. One of the main ones is the ratification of Convention 189 of the International Labor Organization, which, if complied with, would guarantee some of the basic working rights of domestic and care workers. Provided the Salvadoran government puts resources into ensuring compliance, this would cover the right to unemployment, paid leave, maternitz leave, sick leave, and days off, among others. For now, it would seem the union has a long battle ahead, while these women take care of and protect each other, from gender-based violence, gang violence, police violence, and economic violence.

And also from migratory violence, as well. Sofía Giménez is considering making the dangerous journey across Central America to the United States: an exodus towards the north, and a lion's den in which hundreds of migrants disappear –and are disappeared– every year.

In 2018 alone, on the border between Mexico and the US, nearly 400 migrant deaths were recorded, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"I wouldn't risk doing it with my children, you never know what the journey will be like. But on my own, yes, I would. If I had the chance, I would go. But I wouldn't make them run the risk”, Sofía affirms. As Vilma Vásquez, a comrade at SITRADOMES, says, “we are between a rock and a hard place, the USA and Europe. Latin America is a land of territorial disputes, struggle and historical plunder", she decries. El Salvador's history continues to be written by foreign hands in local blood. However, there are many women undertaking a courageous fight for a better future. SITRADOMES is just one example. They may not win every battle, but they are experts in not backing down.

In memory of Emerson, fifteen-year-old son of Maria Teresa Hilario, murdered in February 2019.

Text: Anna Celma
Photography: Montse Giralt
Video: Núria Gebellí