A lot of people ask my why I do what I do. Why did I leave the US to move to a 3rd world country? Why did I leave a nice job in the Senate to go work in an area that is unpredictable and sometimes dangerous? Sometimes it’s hard to put into words why I do what I do… and then it’s not.
I do it to see another part of the world. I do it for the kids. I do it to see a better Guatemala. I do it because others don’t. I do it because I could be the one positive force in a child’s otherwise tumultuous life. I do it for kids like Josue.
We just got back from our 1st youth camp of the summer. As staff, camp is insanity. There are 110 kids, 22 mentors, 11 translators, and 50 US volunteers. Sometimes it’s hard to slow down. Every youth camp is special for me. Not only am I able to work around the clock with the kids for a week straight, but I also am able to work within myself. We are there to lift up at-risk youth. Usually they end up teaching all of us a thing or two.
But, this camp was super special for me. I recently got married. My husband is Guatemalan and grew up in a red zone. The exact same red zone that sent it’s 1st group ever to our program this year. In preparing for camp, I saw there would be a team from Lo de Reyes, just north of Zone 18 Guatemala City. An area known for it’s violence, drugs, and gangs, I knew these kids were going to be a tough crowd. Oddly enough, a kid from this group’s name is Josue Emmanuel, the same name as my husband… from the exact same street. I knew this team, and Josue in particular, were going to be very special to me.
At the beginning of the week, none of the kids wanted to really talk to staff or volunteers. We talked soccer, favorite colors, where they are from… but when it came to opening up, they were brick walls. On the 4th of six days at camp, something began to change. One of the staff gave an outstanding talk that night, opening up about the struggles he faced growing up in Guatemala. He invited the kids who wanted to walk away from carrying the pain to come forward. The first kid I see stand up…. Josue.
The next day, there was a new Josue at camp. He was helping care for the younger boys, encouraging them. He was the unspoken leader of the team. Without prompting he was offering to do things he refused to do earlier in the week. The next night, the teams had the opportunity to share what they have experienced at camp. Josue jumped up and asked to share his story:
He never knew his father. His mom left him to find work out of the country, so he lived with his aunt, uncle and grandparents. His uncle was involved with selling drugs and encouraged Josue to join as well. At 11-12 years old, he was selling drugs to the neighborhood gangs and addicts. One day, last year, he was home alone with his uncle. “They” [likely conflicting gang members] knocked on the door. Josue answered it and ‘they’ walked in, shooting his uncle in the head in front of him.
Josue was forever changed, he was hardened… and I don’t blame him. I can’t imagine going through and seeing the things he has… all by the age of 13. But through the work done at camp he is working past it. He encouraged his teammates to not fall down that pathway. He said, “I already lost an uncle, I don’t want to loose my friends too”. Josue is why I do what I do. Because with love, discipline, and mentorship, we are able to change the trajectory of these kids.