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Advocating for Street Children in Guatemala

For 20 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 street children was viewed as a public service rather than a crime.

Championed by Jeff, Deputy CEO Dorienne Silva and other YAP staff moved from informal support of advocacy for and outreach to street children 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 street kids 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.

Individual staff support led to agency-wide advocacy for street kids in Guatemala. From the 1990’s to the present, the relationship has grown as YAP delegations traveled to Guatemala to assess needs and ensure that “Extra Mile” funds were used in a manner to have the greatest impact. Monmouth University School of Social Work International and Community Development students interning with YAP served as delegates, volunteered with our sister agency, conducted youth focus groups in Guatemala and hosted fundraisers for Guatemalan street kids in New Jersey. YAP staff support across the nation through fundraisers continued.

A November 2011 YAP delegation returned from Guatemala with an appreciation for the changing climate in Guatemala as a youth-led activist movement had formed; groups are more willing to collaborate; and there is a slow opening of Guatemalan society. Atrocities inflicted during the country’s 36 year civil war are being spoken aloud as new legislation allows for those responsible for carrying out acts of genocide to no longer be protected. While there is still a strong resistance to discussing nearly four decades of intolerable acts of cruelty, the path to healing has opened up with a whisper. YAP remains dedicated to Guatemalan street kids, particularly those kids and families sustaining themselves from the town dump which was noted by delegates in 2010 and 2011 as an increasingly urgent need. YAP likewise supports an opening society in Guatemala in which all humans are valued and protected and ensured of their rights.

In 2012, an exciting development is emerging in our sister agency relationship. YAP’s role has evolved as we are now acting as a catalyst for change on a new sphere. Serving as a facilitator for a Community Coalition, the YAP team is working to galvanize the work of collaboration among community activists in Guatemala City who are combining efforts and resources to have a greater impact and provide a holistic plan of services for street kids and families sustaining themselves on the town dump. YAP’s in-country liaison Rolando Urrutia is joined by activists, non-governmental organizations and local business leaders who include: Giuseppe Terno and Proyecto Operacion Rescate, Escuela del Basurero Francisco Coil, Emilio and Jeanne Mendez, Gabriela Altman, Mario Moreno, Techos Para Mi Pais and Movimiento de Jovenes de la Calle. Check back soon for updates on the Community Coalition!