Roz Elliott, Programme Manager for Latin America, recently returned from a trip to Guatemala. Here she shares a reflection on her time visiting Toybox’s partner CONACMI and stories from some of the children whose lives are being helped to change.
I walk beside Miriam as the group of adolescents show us around their community. As we walk, the kids chat. It’s not the usual topic of conversation – instead they are debating when the last murder took place in their area, and who was the victim. This is Santa Faz, a designated ‘red zone’ in Guatemala City. A few metres away from our partner’s building where they run a range of project activities, there is a blood stain on the road. A young man was killed there just last night – he was 20 years old. They say it’s because his mother couldn’t pay a gang extortion fee. Tragically for these children, fatalities amongst people they know are common.
Toybox partner CONACMI offers a safe space to the children and young people of Santa Faz. Their building is a mass of bright colours, many of the walls painted by the children themselves. Children and young people come here for advice, to learn, and in some cases for therapy to deal with consequences of abuse. Many of these children live in unstable family environments and are often escaping violence or abuse at home.
During my trip, I hear encouraging stories of success too. I meet Eli, 22, who has been off drugs for a year now. Various factors contributed to his journey away from the street, but he talks of his personal decision and will to forge a new life for himself. This, alongside the encouragement and support of a local pastor who has given him a home, have been key to his rehabilitation. CONACMI met Eli many years ago. When his mother died, Eli ended up in a children’s home, where he suffered abuse, so escaped to a life on the streets. He talks calmly to me of these horrors, but it is clear he is still working through them. He shares how one day someone offered him water, but instead threw petrol over him and set him alight. Simply because he was a street child. Fortunately, Eli received the medical attention he needed quickly and CONACMI supported him as he recovered, however he still carries both the physical and mental scars. Now, through the help of our partner, Eli’s studying an intensive English course to help him secure a job on a cruise ship. His life is transformed and he has hope for a happier and safer future.
I was amazed by the courage of these children in the face of their daily struggles and overwhelmed by the dedication of our partner staff. Each activity may seem small but contributes to offering a different life for these children and helping them to reach their full potential. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of their journey.
Roz Elliott, Toybox Programme Manager for Latin America