Living in a violent household forced Jon onto the streets. But when NPH Guatemala offered to give him a scholarship to re-start his education, he didn’t miss the opportunity. November 6, 2020 - Guatemala
Jon on his bicycle
Jon grips hold of a newspaper. It is the Prensa Libre, a well-known Guatemalan national newspaper.
“It sometimes contains stories from this town,” Jon says solemnly, looking around the neighborhood.
When asked what kind of stories, he replies, “The usual. Crime. Rarely anything positive. It’s poor: not many steady jobs, nothing much to do. I’m used to it.”
Are the stories true?
John pauses for a moment, and looks down. “Unfortunately, yes,” he says, sadly.
The town is called Parramos, located in the Chimaltenango department in the Guatemalan highlands, not far from the Volcano Fuego, and an hour from the capital, Guatemala City, with Casa San Andres, NPH Guatemala, also close. The municipality, also named Parramos, was founded in 1553 as part of the reducción del indios - when the Spanish rulers relocated the indigenous populations from their colonies into settlements modeled on Spanish towns and villages. Today, the main industries are agriculture, commerce and the textile and food manufacturing, providing informal employment to much of the town’s population.
Jon grew up in the urban areas of Parramos. His family dynamic is complex; he lived with his mother Alejandra, two stepsisters, two stepbrothers and his stepfather. His stepfather has never been a good person: alcoholism and violence characterize the domestic life of the family. His mother had Jon when she was 29-years-old, who made a living working on the farms surrounding the town. His step-father had his own plot of land to grow produce, but rarely made enough to support the family.
He doesn’t speak about his biological father. He doesn’t even mention if he is alive, nor does he talk much about his early childhood. He begins his story when he turned 8-years-old; he started working in housecleaning and garden maintenance to help the family’s economic situation. But the money he brought home was never enough for his stepfather.
“Even if I tried my best, he would get angry over little things, or things that weren’t true,” Jon remembers. “It wasn’t just me. My brothers and sisters and my mother suffered the violence and abuse, too.”
In fear he might be arrested and go to prison, his mother would defend his stepfather if the police were ever called, and social workers from the local youth welfare office wouldn’t take the situation seriously either. When Jon reached 14, feeling increasingly uncomfortable and fed-up of living in an abusive household, he decided to leave home.
“I went to a friend’s house, then I ended up on the streets in Parramos and I started smoking and taking drugs. They were really desperate times, under the influence of bad friends,” reflects Jon, today.
He admits that there were times when he was tempted to join gangs as a way of survival. It is a route many youths take throughout Central America, which often ends in death or imprisonment. The department of Chimaltenango also has an unfortunate relationship with crime. According to a 2019 report from the Unidad Para La Prevención Comunitaria De La Violencia (UPCV) – a government entity that specializes in the prevention of community violence – 66.21 in every 100,000 people are victims of extortion, 34.86 of robbery and 14.13 of homicide.
For almost a-year-and-a-half, Jon had to survive on the streets. But the more he was pushed to a life of delinquency, the more he realized it wasn’t for him, and he found himself at the doorstep to his Uncle Javier and Aunt Carmen.
“They brought me in and I was fortunate that they took care of me,” he sighs with relief.
Living with Javier and Carmen changed Jon’s life. They encouraged him to be more independent and grow up, and he did so. “I was 16 at the time, and I had been out of education for too long. They gave me a room, then I enrolled at school where I studied in the evenings and worked in the mornings to pay for his school tuition and food,” he explains.
“I worked on an avocado farm on the other side of the NPH facilities, where I earned 300 Queztales-a-week [approximately US$40]. When I would look over the fence, I would see the children working and being happy, and I wished I could be with them on the other side,” says Jon.
Then in 2018, Vilma, Jon’s older cousin, suggested that they contact NPH to see if they could help after hearing Jon speak so admiringly of the organization. To Jon’s surprise, NPH returned the call. On seeing his enthusiasm and commitment to study, NPH Guatemala sponsored Jon to attend the internal education center at Casa San Andres to obtain his middle school diploma. “I had just turned 17 when I was told. It was the best birthday present,” he confesses.
Two years on, Jon is now in his first year of high-school, studying computer science at the Pedro Molina campus in Chimaltenango.
“NPH gave me a future, not only in sponsoring my education, but more importantly in giving me psychological assistance. That really has helped me to process my past and to continue with my future,” says Jon.
“I am now 20. I understand that I have to be disciplined and focused, which NPH has supported me with. I have seen many people disappear. I know I am one of the lucky ones. Family difficulties and false friends almost made me surrender, but then NPH provided me with a future. Now every time I see teachers or when I pass Casa San Andres, I say thank you,” concludes Jon.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.
You too can help change the life of children and youths in Guatemala. NPH provides a comprehensive education in a healthy and safe environment, strengthening the values and principles instilled by Father Wasson. Support NPH Guatemala by visiting nph.org.
Thomas Hartig Communication Officer
You may be only one person in the world, but you may be all the world to one child.
—Fr. William Wasson