Rosa was born into the most difficult of circumstances, like so many other children in Guatemala. As soon as she had entered into this world, her father had already made up his mind that he would abandon Rosa and her mother, choosing not to provide for the gift of a new baby girl that entered into his life. He walked out on his family, leaving only Rosa’s mother, an alcoholic and drug addict, to nurture and care for her.
Rosa has now been part of Asociación Nuestros Ahijados for nine years, but 14-year-old Rosa’s life could have been way different if not for the good heart of a police officer. She started with the program in the year 2012, when she enrolled in our Dreamer Center school. Things were okay then. Rosa was going to school every day and her mother was taking care of her. However, in 2014 Rosa’s mother started to drink and do drugs again. At first it was not much, but little by little her addiction consumed her, she lost her job, stopped looking after her daughter, and became desperate to feed her substance abuse. So, Rosa’s mother took her to Guatemala City in an attempt to sell her for money so she could buy more drugs. A police officer saw then 7-year-old Rosa walking around by herself in dangerous Guatemala City – she was too young to explain where she lived or how to get home or what had happened, so he took young Rosa into his family’s home and care while figuring out the next course of action. After some time, a missing child’s poster for Rosa appeared online and he was able to safely return Rosa back to other family members.
Since then, Asociación Nuestros Ahijados has committed to always looking after Rosa. Without the good hearts of the people of Asociación Nuestros Ahijados and that police officer who happened to see a scared and alone little girl in danger that day, Rosa may very well have become a victim of human trafficking and child prostitution. Instead, last year in 2020, Rosa started middle school in our Scheel Center school. Although the school work can be challenging for her sometimes, Rosa loves learning and has big goals for her future.
The last time we wrote about Sandra, she was recuperating with us in our Casa Jackson Hospital for Malnourished Children from a life of neglect and modern-day slavery. She came to us just under a year ago, referred by Guatemala Social Services. She was scared, timid, and without a shred of confidence, scarred by horrible mistreatment. Though 18 years old, she had the height, weight, and appearance of a little girl due to chronic malnutrition and neglect.
The daughter of a father who passed away too soon and an alcoholic mother not fit to take care of her, Sandra was sent to live with a family who the mother trusted. This family treated Sandra like a servant, expecting her to clean and take care of the house without including her in meals. Most of the time, Sandra would not be given anything to eat at all until late at night, and even when she was, it was nothing more than a couple of tortillas. Sandra was also the victim of physical abuse, sometimes being hit when she asked for food. Even when she wanted to leave to go search for her own food, the family did not let her leave.
One day a few weeks back, two of Sandra’s relatives knocked on our doors inquiring about her well-being. She had been with us for just about a year, yet this was the first time since Sandra entered Casa Jackson that anyone came looking for her. We found this to be strange, so we verified the identity of the relatives and then asked them what is was they wanted. They arrived hoping to take Sandra back to live with them. So, then we brought Sandra over to meet them. Her eyes moved in many directions upon seeing them, bringing back a flood of painful memories. After that, we spoke with Sandra in private and asked if she wanted to live with them or go her own way now that she was an adult. She told us that she never wanted to go back to that place.
From that point on, we worked with PGN and found a suitable foster parent for Sandra. We have been in communication with her foster family and they intend to enroll Sandra in school so she can catch up to her peers educationally. Sandra is also receiving firefighter training, as her foster guardian is one in Antigua. She is learning quickly and enjoying the training very much.
In a short time, Sandra has undergone tremendous changes; not only physically but emotionally as well. Her self-confidence has grown by leaps and bounds once she finally started to receive the love and care a young girl deserves. We are forever grateful that she found her way to us and did not end up in the streets in a very vulnerable situation. Her future looks bright, and she is forging her own path to get there.
At the GOD’S CHILD Project, a primary way we combat slavery and human trafficking is by preventing it. Prevention comes in many forms: education, housing, home visits, food distribution, and healthcare to name a few.
When a child can receive an education, he/she is in a classroom with other students instead of potentially out in the streets alone selling candy to adult strangers. When a new home is built, a child may go from a house with three walls and no lock on the door to a four-walled, secure place to do homework and sleep. Our social workers regularly visit the homes of children in our programs to make sure everything is alright and they are not in the way of danger. We talk to the parents and the kids about their every day life and what they do to keep busy. If we find out a little boy or girl is out in the streets unsupervised, selling items or shining shoes, we take it upon ourselves to talk sternly with the parents about the dangers of such things. Our weekly distribution of vegetables, fruit, and grains ensures there will be food in the house for the families to eat, and that the children won’t have to be exposed in the streets begging or selling items to buy their next meal.
Providing accessibility to health care, clinics, and medicine is another way we try to take our children out of harm’s way. Children with disabilities, impairments, and chronic conditions can be very vulnerable to becoming a victim of modern-day slavery or human trafficking.
Dina is a bright, young 11-year-old girl who suffers from epilepsy. On any given day, Dina suffers through several seizures and convulsions in her house and out in public. These episodes are debilitating for her and cause her to completely lose her sense of awareness. Sometimes they last for several minutes. Even worse, her family does not have the money to afford the medication to treat her condition. Imagine if one day Dina’s mother asked her to pick something up at the little store down the street, and on the way there she has a seizure. A stranger stops to see if she is okay, but actually has ulterior motives of selling her to human traffickers.
Dora is an 18-year-old girl who attends our Scheel Center school. She fell behind in her education due to a hearing impairment she was born with that her family did not discover until she was three years old. For much of her early life she went without hearing aids because her family could not afford the ear pieces or batteries. Dora’s hearing condition leaves her exposed to the risk of falling into the hands of the wrong people on the street.
Thanks to the GOD’S CHILD Project, both Dina and Dora now have the support that they desperately needed. We make sure Dina has the medicine to treat her epilepsy and that Dora has batteries for her hearing aids. In this way, we are protecting the sanctity of their lives and giving them the hope for a brighter future.
Sandra came to us a scared, timid, and forgotten young woman. Though 18 years old, she had the height, weight, and appearance of a little girl due to chronic malnutrition and neglect.
She was referred to us by the PGN (Guatemalan Social Services). Sandra’s father passed away when she was younger and her mother suffered from alcoholism and was unable to care for her, and so a month before she arrived at our Casa Jackson Hospital for Malnourished Children, Sandra was sent to live with a family that the mother knew to be looked after. This is not what transpired, however. The family that Sandra stayed with consisted of a mother, father and three children. Sandra was not treated like another member of the family, though. During meal times she was told to leave the room and the family did not share any food with her. Sandra told us that she was not given any food for a month and that every time she asked to be given some she was beaten. She was also beaten at other times for no reason at all. Sandra was also not permitted to leave the house and therefore had no means to access food herself. She told us that she survived on water alone.
When Sandra arrived at Casa Jackson, we had to adjust to be able to care for her. The first thing we needed to do was find a bed for her to sleep in as we didn’t feel that it was dignified to ask her to sleep in a crib like the other children. We reached out to another non-profit called El Amor de Patricia that runs a Bunk Bed Project to ask if they would donate a bed for Sandra to sleep in while staying at Casa Jackson. They were more than happy to oblige and delivered it the next day. This was an important part of showing Sandra that we valued her as a person by making sure she would be comfortable.
Sandra has spent nearly 4 months with us in Casa Jackson and in that time has made incredible progress. She has been on a special diet to help build her strength and it has been working extremely well. Sandra told us that when she was staying with the previous family, she would dream about eating frijoles and chicken and so we make efforts to incorporate that in her diet. She has also been a huge help with the other malnourished children in our hospital by feeding and looking after them. This has given her a sense of belonging and a feeling of self-worth.
Another important part of Sandra’s recuperation has been to build her self-esteem and confidence. Sandra never had the privilege of going to school when she was younger and is unable to read or write. We organized adult learning classes three times a week to help Sandra develop her skills. Sandra has told us that even after she leaves Casa Jackson, she would like to continue to study so that one day she can become a teacher. We will ensure that we do everything we can to turn this dream into a reality. Furthermore, we have been teaching Sandra important skills that she can use in the future. Sandra worked with some volunteers to learn how to sew. She used her newfound sewing skills to make a bag.
The kind of neglect and abuse Sandra experienced is just one of the many ways slavery exists in the world today. Sandra went from a vulnerable situation living with her alcoholic mother, to a more dangerous one living with a family that outright neglected her basic needs. If not for PGN, Sandra may have fled her home to escape the horrible treatment she was subject to and found herself living in the streets, exposing herself to being victimized by human trafficking. Instead, Sandra found her way to us. We have made it our duty to nourish, educate, and counsel her, and provide the stepping stones towards a brighter future.
María José was born in a small, poor town in Chiquimula (on the eastern coast of Guatemala). Her father died in a terrible accident, leaving her fatherless at the age of 12 years old. Two years later, Maria’s mother died of womb cancer after which she was forced to live under her grandmother’s care. Without her grandmother, there is a greater than normal chance that Maria could have been picked up in the streets and sold into human trafficking. Despite these hardships, she eventually moved to Guatemala City where she could realize her desire to work and study.
It was in Guatemala City that Maria met the father of her child. She was able to find work, but the income was very low and hardly enough to support a baby. Eventually, the father was kidnapped and murdered, leaving Maria once again desperate and alone without knowing what to do. She needed to feed her child and didn’t have any money to do so; besides that, she was feeling fearful in that big city after the horror that fell upon the father of her child.
Maria decided to move again and chase a fresh start to a new life, this time to a smaller city. She landed a job in a restaurant and worked there for several years without any problems. She felt that for the first time her life was changing for the better and that she was going to be able to give her child a better future.
That is until one night, while she was working late, Maria was alone in the restaurant when a man came in, pretending to be a client. When she turned away to prepare his order, the man suddenly knocked Maria on her back and attacked her. She was subsequently raped, suffering not only physical harm but left to deal with the haunting psychological effects too. As a result, Maria got pregnant again, making her life more difficult to deal with now that a second child was on the way with no means to provide adequate care.
After being treated at the National Hospital, the Office of Violence Against Women referred her to a place to receive psychological treatment as well as education, that place being Asociación Nuestros Ahijados. When cases like Maria’s are brought to our attention, we act as quickly as possible. For Maria, we were able to provide legal support, psychological aid, and food and education for her older child. We rescued Maria from the risks she and her children faced everyday living in that area by providing a safe place to live and protecting both of her children from poverty, an unhealthy environment, and the risk of being sold into slavery.
Currently, Maria José is involved with our programs, receiving all the support she can from Asociación Nuestros Ahijados of Guatemala.
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