Twelve-year-old Josefina - whose name has been changed to protect her safety - lives in Guatemala City, Guatemala in what is known as the “Red Zone,” a dangerous area that is notorious for drugs, gangs and violence.
“Young people in the Red Zone are easy prey,” says Josefina, explaining that she wants to help people make good choices and to “steer them away from the wrong path.”
“Young people in the Red Zone are easy prey.”
Native Guatemalan relief worker Brenda Gordiano, who works in the Red Zone on behalf of Children International, a non-profit that assists children in poverty in 11 countries around the world, explains the problems that are faced by youth in the area.
“There is a lot of pressure on children in the Red Zone to become involved in gangs and drugs,” she says. “Part of the challenge is that a lot of the time it’s older people who are pressuring them, including their own parents who may be involved in gangs and pull them into the drug world.”
A glimmer of hope
While most kids would be intimidated to live in such a troubled neighborhood, Josefina is hopeful because she knows there is another way. A sponsorship by Children International has paved a path out of poverty for her and her siblings. While the program provides Josefina with clothing, school supplies, and free medical and dental care, it also provides a social structure very different from the one in her dangerous neighborhood.
Josefina now understands how it feels to be in a safe place with nurturing adults and constructive activities. This place is the Children International Community Center, and she is part of this community– a safe haven in stark contrast to the Red Zone where she lives. In the community center, Josefina has access to empowering programs, computers, libraries and other educational tools.
“If I wasn’t in the program, I would have a lot less help,” she says, noting how “being with other young people trying to do the right thing” helps her to stay motivated and on the right track. At the center, Josefina is among peers who are overcoming similar obstacles and is offered a unique support system that provides her with skill and leadership training, college preparation and the confidence building that will guarantee her success.
“My dream when I grow up is to be a lawyer. I want to defend the rights of women and children.”
“I really enjoy the youth activities at the center,” she says. “They help to orient us so we can be more productive and more wholesome.”
“Proud and Grateful”
Without sponsorship that opens the door to the community center, children like Josefina would struggle to stay in school and to stay out of trouble.
Just ask Josefina’s mother. “I feel very proud and grateful also that my children have this opportunity because I am a humble person of scarce resources,” she says. “If it weren’t for this program, my children wouldn’t be able to study.”
While Josefina’s mother is hopeful that her daughter can graduate from school and care for herself, the girl has even bigger goals. “My dream when I grow up is to be a lawyer,” she says. “I want to defend the rights of women and children."
BY: Kristen Castillo
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