Child labor is a big problem in Mexico. So common it’s almost considered normal. You see young kids working everywhere: selling sweets and trinkets at sidewalk cafes and stoplights, filling shopping bags at supermarket checkouts. The INEGI statistics institute estimates that three million children are engaged in casual work around the country. Most of these kids aren’t destitute or homeless, but simply need to bring extra change home to help cover basic household costs like food and clothing. It’s a reality for kids from poor neighborhoods all over Mexico and is a sad reminder of the income gap here.

Nine-year-old Maria Isabel and eight-year-old Maria de Los Angeles live with their mother and father and four younger sisters in Tlalnepantla, a rough neighborhood on the northern edge of Mexico City. Their father is a freelance truck driver, and when work became scarce, the girls started selling sweets at school and on the street to help out. This distracted them from their studies, and they were on their way to dropping out of school, destined to become part of a statistic: over half of children who start elementary school in Mexico don’t make it through high school.

But with help from DIF Social Services and an invitation to join Gonzo Soccer – a free soccer academy for underprivileged kids set up by former captain of the Women’s National Team Mónica González – Maria Isabel and Maria de Los Angeles managed to break out of the cycle.

"When they come they always have smile son their faces. They are very excited to train, it's like a club. It replaces what joining a gang does for girls, which is becoming a part of something. Gonzo Soccer isn't just a soccer school. We have three main pillars: One part is physical fitness and soccer training, one part is academic assistance and the other part is life skills training," González said.

Check out their story in this video.

@fusion