Although much has happened in the last two weeks, I am writing my blog today about some extraordinary Guatemalans I met in the last few days. Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios was one of the several amazing groups involved in critical work with youth at risk who presented at the second Seminar I organized with a wide range of stakeholders. The panel discussion was focused on the evaluation and feasibility of educational programs as life alternatives for youth at risk. It was conducted in Spanish, transmitted live, and recorded in Youtube.
Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios is an association, a non-profit, non-governmental organization working with youth and families in high risk, particularly Zona 7 in Guatemala City, which is a poverty-stricken area with high incidence of crime, heavy drug trafficking, and widespread family abuse. According to the Association’s staff and website, the filter they use is: how much the program participants want to recognize and overcome their adversities (abuse, neglect, drug abuse, poverty, etc.) and eventually succeed. Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios assumes that the children and youth have inherent strengths. The staff role is to help youth at risk to discover their talents and gifts, and facilitate the capacity to evolve into whole persons.
The organization is committed to a personalized Plan of Recovery and Success. The assistance it provides is comprehensive because it includes getting to know the youth deeply and working together with the teaching personnel in their educational curriculum while engaging closely with their families, and communities. Healing is enabled through complementary programs, such as academic tutoring, substance abuse treatment, individual and family counseling, and health care services, as needed. In other words, they provide the kind of “wrap around” services youth at risk need in order to overcome adversity and engage in the path of recovery and success.
The young women I interviewed during my visit to Zona 7 were 19 and 17 years old. They both stressed the critical work they have done in working on themselves. They identified as their greatest challenge having to confront their anger towards their parents after they abandoned them physically or emotionally, their “rebel” attitude towards their parents and family members, and the risky behaviors in which they had engaged in the past.
Through participating in the Association programs, the youth I interviewed had been able to acknowledge their drug addiction, state of depression, and suicidal thoughts. After “reaching the bottom,” these youth were looking forward, with an open mind and a positive outlook towards life and their future. They were proud to be engaged in education programs to which their parents didn’t have any access. The healing process they had gone through helped them to improve communication with their families.
The youth I interviewed viewed education as the mean to breaking the cycle of violence and poverty in which they were entangled. They told me of the responsibility they felt to give back to their families and communities. They attributed the healing process as the reason for having assumed leadership in the Association. They told me that this was the main reason they were talking to me, so that their stories would help others to overcome their adversities and start assuming responsibility for themselves, in the same way they had done it.
The two young women assisted by Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios spent over an hour with me talking about their past and present lives and how they envisioned their future. I was also able to join their group activities with other eight youth who are part of the same cohort. During the day, these youth engage in educational scholarships through the Association and attend diversificados (diversified programs equivalent to High School) or work towards Peritos (equivalent to technical education, in tourism, communications, and other fields). In the evenings, these youth go to the Association offices for extra-curriculum activities, which are part of their therapeutic group work, and for individual counseling, as needed.
A founder of Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios presented at the Seminar II held yesterday, April 15, at the Central Campus of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Other presenters included the Asociacion Ak’Tenamit and Los Patojos about which I reported in previous blogs. This second seminar will be followed by a third seminar, which it will be held May 5 in the UVG campus in the Highlands, and about which I’ll be reporting later.