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Johny & Marco

Street Outreach • Guatemala • 2022
“In our community, there’s lots of violence. There are gangs who do bad things and people who extort from others.” Johny

For brothers, Marco, 11, and Johny, 17, home is a small concrete house off a winding street in one of Guatemala City’s red zones. There, they live with their parents, Nery and Sandra, and four other siblings. Family is very important to the boys. Everyone looks out for one another and makes sure that everyone stays safe. The family recently suffered a sad turn of events when their grandmother, Cielo, passed away. Everyone was heartbroken by her death, but Marco in particular, as the youngest in the family, still feels her absence intensely. “My nan was such a good person and so caring. I want to be just like her when I’m older. I miss her so much.” Cielo always protected her grandchildren fiercely and did what she could to ensure they were able to stay safe.

Home in a hard place

A childhood in their community is hard. With gang violence and threats a regular occurrence, both boys have grown up preferring to stay at home, and thus out of trouble, as much as possible. “When I’m at home, I feel safe,” shares Johny. “We have a family who can look after us here – and it’s scary how easy it would be for someone to hurt us when we go out in the street. In our community, there’s lots of violence. There are gangs who do bad things and people who extort from others. Some people rape little girls or kidnap them if they’re out on the streets alone.” The boys rarely left home when they didn’t have somewhere to go. Even going to school was hard because the family couldn’t always afford everything the children needed for class.

“There are gangs who do bad things and people who extort from others. Some people rape little girls or kidnap them if they’re out on the streets alone.” Johny, 17

Hope in a hard place

Five years ago however, Marco started attending CONACMI’s project when he was looking for a way to get out of the house without being on the streets. “I could make new friends and be in the safe place that is the project. I’ve received bags of food and basic necessities, including cleaning kits – and I’ve attended different workshops,” says Marco. “I’ve also learned to respect my mum and treat my whole family with love. I’ve got lots of new friends who I can play with. Some of them are even older than me, so I don’t just have friends my own age now.”

Seeing Marco’s growth and hearing his stories about the project encourage Johny to go along one day. Before long, he too could see the benefits of attending the activities. “At first, I just started going because my siblings went and the things they were doing caught my attention, so I decided to go along one day just out of interest. As soon as I arrive though, I could see that the activities were helping children to stay away from bad paths. I’ve loved meeting new people – this is big for me because before, I didn’t speak a lot and I wasn’t willing to open up to people. The activities have helped me with that and now I can share more with people and talk to them. I’ve also learned a lot – I’ve taken part in trainings which have taught about how to prevent pregnancy and avoid violence, as well as a workshop about entrepreneurship.”

“The project is a safe place where I can see my friends. Before, I didn’t know how to read or write but now I do. Because school is online at the minute, I haven’t met all my new friends in real life, but I know I will soon.” Marco, 11

A future from a hard place

Since attending activities with CONACMI, the boys have also enrolled in school. Although the pandemic means all their learning has been virtual and on a smaller scale than normal, they’re learning and enjoying the knowledge that comes with each class and every bit of homework. For Marco, school is an opportunity. “Now I feel happy because I’m learning. With my education, I’ll be able to be a fireman like I’ve always dreamed!”

Johny sees school as an opportunity to move forward. “Before, I didn’t know how to change my life, but now I can because I am going to study. The thing I like most about school is knowing that I can succeed now. I can become a better person. I want to be a chef and I feel confident that I can learn everything I need to now.”

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