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Where We Work  >  International  >  Guatemala

YAP in Guatemala

For 25 years, YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer has dedicated time and personal funds to address human rights abuses in Central America. Informed and impressed by his mentor Bill Wipfler’s liberation theology work in El Salvador, Jeff volunteered in Mexico and Guatemala. Through both accompaniment and advocacy, Jeff assisted in drawing the international community’s attention to the horrendous human rights abuses taking place in Guatemala and, in particular, youth living on the streets of Guatemala City. Viewed as pests by government and some business owners, murder of youth living on the street was viewed as a public service rather than a crime.

Championed by Jeff, COO Dorienne Silva and other YAP staff moved from informal support of advocacy for and outreach to young people living in street situations to conceive the idea of a dynamic new concept to show solidarity and support: a sister agency. With the support of the YAP Board of Directors and leadership, the sister agency idea was augmented further by the dedication of YAP staff when employees committed to going “The Extra Mile." Going “The Extra Mile” meant YAP employees made weekly contributions to support Guatemalan youth in street situations with a fixed amount automatically drawn from their paychecks each week. In addition, fundraisers were held by YAP programs across the US and Ireland. YAP leadership and staff hosted delegates from Guatemala on Human Rights and Fundraising Campaigns.

Beyond street outreach, a shelter and legal aid to youth living on the streets, services were extended to include schools for working children. That is, kids in Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala who lived at home but were obligated to work and contribute economically to the household were able to able to attend schools with a modified schedule for academic instruction and vocational training and still work. YAP’s sister agency teams were sporadically permitted by the government to enter detention centers and work on rehabilitation services and provide an alternative to returning to a gang lifestyle upon discharge from detention.

Siembra Bien

SB

The support of our sister agency in Guatemala continues to evolve. Since 2012, a dedicated group of community activists have collaborated to form the organization “Siembra Bien” (Sowing Well). Siembra Bien works with a variety of local partners to strengthen communities, prevent violence and develop youth leaders. One example is Siembra Bien’s collaboration with the University de Valle Guatemala and the Ministry of Education to develop in-school programs that support students, teachers and parents to prevent youth from becoming gang-affiliated, reach graduation and have meaningful activities during school breaks. “School for Parents” provides tools for improved communication and support of youth and how to talk about intrafamilial violence, gang recruitment and substance abuse. The Siembra Bien team expanded this work in collaboration with the “Executive Secretary of the Commission against Addictions and Illicit drug trafficking” and the Ministry of Education and Vice-Ministry of Violence Prevention to train community leaders in a drug prevention curriculum that is implemented in schools and community settings.

Siembra Bien focuses its work in the Zona 18 neighborhood of Guatemala City. Zona 18 is the epicenter of drug and gang activity where the death toll is 4 people per day. Siembra Bien staff are known and accepted in the Zona 18 community. In 2018 Siembra Bien organized the first Violence Prevention Festival, where 550 youth participated. One of Siembra Bien’s main activities is street soccer where youth develop peace-making skills as they uphold the street soccer values of collaboration, respect and solidarity. Working with “ex-pandilleros” (gang members), the Siembra Bien team creates programming that addresses the root of the problem. This unique collaboration with ex-pandilleros and the testimonies they share with the Siembra Bien youth has been one of the most effective deterrents to becoming affiliated with a gang. Siembra Bien is dedicated to strengthening communities, decreasing violence and developing opportunities for young people as an alternative to forced migration to escape violence. Siembra Bien is “sowing well” and cultivating positive change in Guatemala.

Read more Siembra Bien stories at https://www.facebook.com/SiembraBien.

Watch "Compartiendo con Pasión, la Compasión," a YouTube video showing youth trained by Siembra Bien to work in the community and their holiday basket project in Zona 18.