An abusive home life
19 year old Linda ran away from an abusive home life when she was just 8 years old. As a young child, her mother would regularly tie her up against a tree and beat her with barbed wire. Sadly, the abuse did not stop there; Linda was also often starved of food and water. With no one to turn to for help, Linda fled from her home in the countryside and ended up on the streets of Guatemala City.
Building a friendship
It was at this point that a colleague from our partner organisation first met her and began building a friendship with her; “We first met Linda in an area of the city where large numbers of street children congregate. She was earning some money by working as a car park attendant. Drivers would pay her a small amount of money to watch over their cars for them.”
Experiences that no young child should ever have to face
Although Linda had managed to escape from the abuse and violence that she had been subjected to at home, her new life on the streets continued to expose her to countless experiences that no young child should ever have to face. Like so many street children who turn to drugs as a way to escape the painful experiences and memories that have led them to a long life on the streets, Linda soon became involved in sniffing glue and using other drugs.
Children living on the streets of Guatemala City are some of the most vulnerable to the daily onslaught of the brutality that gangs impose - many are targeted by gang members who recruit them to traffic drugs or carry out violent crimes. When Linda was 16 years old, she was raped by gang members as she could not afford to pay them the ‘protection’ fine of Q10 (the equivalent of approximately £1), that they had demanded and she fell pregnant from the attack.
With the support of our partner, who was by then in regular contact with Linda, she came to the difficult decision that she would not be able to care for her baby in the way that she wanted to while she was still living on the streets. Sadly Linda's baby girl passed away when she was 2 months old from respiratory problems.
A noticeable change in Linda’s behaviour
It was from this point that our partners witnessed a noticeable change in Linda’s behaviour and demeanour as the impact of all that she had been through in her short life began to surface. She was terrified that she would be raped again so she cut her hair short and started to dress in clothing that completely covered and disguised her figure so that she would no longer be recognised as a girl.
A new confidence that her life can be different
It has been over 10 years since our partner in Guatemala City first came into contact with Linda. They continue to regularly offer her support, guidance and encouragement to help her in her own personal journey towards leaving the streets. “We have seen a real change in Linda – she has a desire to live, which is huge, as she wanted to take her own life. She used to cry all the time, but this has completely changed. She smiles a lot despite the situation in which she lives. Before, she was very distracted and couldn’t concentrate when we used to talk to her, but she is now more attentive and engaged.” Linda is currently attending one of the project’s street outreach activities; a weekly performance workshop, where she and other street children have the opportunity to learn new skills that help build their self -esteem and give them a way to earn an income.
Early last year, we supported Linda through the official process to get her birth certificate and identification documents. Being officially registered has given Linda a new confidence that her life can be different and she has recently started a new job as a cleaner, which has meant that she no longer has to steal to be able to buy food. She now has dreams to fully leave the streets and wants to counsel other children on the streets to help them realise that they can begin to turn their lives around too.