BY LIZ CROSS
Four children were playing on the streets of Guatemala City when they were approached by a man who offered them food to coax them into his house. Three of the children regularly attended workshops run by Viva’s partner network, Viva Guatemala, and knew not to trust the man. But the other boy, who had not attended the workshops, went with him.
Sadly, the boy was sexually abused.
When the community heard what had happened they tried to find the man and wanted to hang him for his actions. However, the police found and imprisoned him.
The boy and his family decided to move away to a different area of the city.
This story is full of heartbreak. And yet is one of many I heard whilst visiting Viva’s partner network in Guatemala.
There is hope though – three of the children knew how to keep themselves safe.
This happened in one of the six communities where Viva Guatemala run weekly workshops with children with the aim of keeping them off the streets, helping them stay safe and teaching them how to make good life choices. Along with sports, arts and games the children also learn about their rights, how to protect themselves and the importance of reporting abuse.
The team’s presence provides a positive influence on these children’s lives which often they would not receive elsewhere. The majority of the children in this community do not go to school but rather spend their days playing or working on the surrounding streets, increasing the risk of them getting involved with drugs or being abused.
The community is very poor and is based on the edge of a steep ravine which leads to a small rubbish dump. On one side of the narrow path zig-zagging down the ravine are houses made from corrugated iron and plastic, on the other side a sheer drop. The houses are at high risk of collapsing or disappearing in a landslide if there’s heavy rain.
From my brief time here, it is clear the care the team have for vulnerable children. In return, the children listen to and trust what the team say. And it also means that when the team notice signs that a child is at risk, they can work with the police to intervene.
After visiting this community, we went to see three children who had been rescued from a situation of abuse and are now living with their uncle and grandparents. Working as a prostitute, the children’s mother brought different men back to their home every night. The children were in the house and saw everything that went on.
Viva Guatemala worked with the police to locate the children’s extended family and is now helping them through the subsequent legal proceedings. The network conduct follow-up visits and have a social worker who provides psychological support to the children.
Emotions ran high during our visit, showing the need to be sensitive and build trust carefully. When we first arrived there was fear in both the adults and children’s faces; the youngest girl ran upstairs and didn’t stop crying throughout our time with them. She was terrified that we were there to take her away back to her mother’s house.
The team reassured the family that we were only there to visit them and to hear how Viva Guatemala had been helping. Fear was quickly replaced by relief on all their faces.
“They have been with us every step of the way,” Pedro, the children’s uncle, told us. And as he began to understand who we, these random visitors, were, he turned to us and said, “thank you.”
Pedro’s thanks is what I want to now pass on to all those who support Viva’s work.
Without people like you, our partner networks wouldn’t be able to intervene in situations like this; rescuing children and resettling them into safe and loving families.
Top photo: AmslerPIX