Bariloche, Argentina (CNN) — During a visit to Argentina 11 years ago, Elena Durón Miranda was horrified to see children as young as 3 years old rummaging through a trash dump for food and valuable materials.
“I saw children collect green sausages, a bag of potato chip crumbs, a bag of noodles with cream, and recovered leftover yogurt next to a diaper,” said Durón Miranda, a Mexican psychologist who was visiting Bariloche to do research. “The children began to gently clean the food — wiping each little noodle, each potato and peeling the sausage skin so methodically and accurately. It was as if they had done this same activity many times.”
Durón Miranda said there were maybe 200 children at the dump collecting things to eat and sell.
“At that moment in time, my son was the same age as many of them,” said Durón Miranda, now 41. “So that struck me as horrific.”
Durón Miranda learned that many children in Bariloche, a popular city for skiers and tourists in southern Argentina, drop out of school and spend their lives working at the dump.
Determined to restore their dignity, Durón Miranda decided to stay in the country and start a nonprofit called PETISOS, which stands for Prevención y Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil SOS (Prevention and Eradication of Child Labor SOS). The organization aims to provide children with free education and extracurricular programs so they have an alternative to working.
Today, approximately 200 boys and girls in Bariloche benefit from PETISOS.
“We carry out very personalized tracking of all the boys and girls we work with,” Durón Miranda said. “We work with the families, we work with the schools, we work with the medical or health centers in order to … get them out of the labor situation.”