The Asociación Nuestros Ahijados, sponsored by The GOD’S CHILD Project, offers poor children and families in Guatemala a dignifying and permanent way to break out of poverty. These programs address both the present and future needs of very poor children by providing food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care, structure, guidance and the support they need to one day make it on their own.
In the early 2000s, Antigua government officials asked The GOD’S CHILD Project to help build, maintain, and operate a much-needed homeless shelter. The Santa Madre Homeless Shelter provides temporary housing for children and adults, including many individuals suffering from chemical dependencies. The GOD’S CHILD Project works with the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous to provide inspirational discussion, rehabilitation options, and a safe place to sleep. The shelter, located next to Antigua’s bus terminal, opens every night of the year at 6 PM and offers a hot meal, showers, bathrooms, and sleeping mats for to up to 100 people. The Albergue (shelter) is often an opportunity to find individuals and families struggling so much that they fall through the cracks of our other screening methods. Runaways and orphans have found new families through GOD’S CHILD. Children working for pennies or stealing to survive have been enrolled in our schools. A mother and her children fleeing from domestic violence received a ServiceTeam home, free education and access to all of our programs and services.
The Problem of Homelessness in Guatemala
Guatemala is the most populous of the Central American countries with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-tenth of GDP, two-fifths of exports, and half of the labor force. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with about 56% of the population below the poverty line.
In Guatemala there are an estimated 7,000 street children. Many of these street children are transitory and frequently beg rides in private cars, or come as runaways on public transportation, to travel to Antigua where they engage in street begging, stealing, car-washing & car watching, prostitution, and the sale and abuse of drugs.
Antigua is a natural draw for homeless and abandoned street children, given its high concentration of international tourists, business conventioneers, and language students who arrive to Antigua from around the world.
This large international presence also presents a natural draw for poor, homeless, and underprivileged Indian youth and families from around the countryside. These internal migrants leave their simple villages, broken homes, and rural areas, and travel to Antigua where they are highly susceptible to crime, sexual predation, violence, and to being taken advantage of in employment, relational, and living situations.
Homeless children located around Antigua Guatemala’s Central Park
At any given moment, there are in excess of 125 homeless people, including young children and adolescents, on the streets in Antigua. At night, these homeless street youth and adults, many of whom have chemical addiction problems, including alcoholism, glue sniffing, and base-crack problems, search for safety and refuge in Antigua’s recessed doorways and abandoned alleyways.
In addition, dozens of homeless people can be spotted sleeping under the outdoor arches and covered corridors that surround Antigua’s Central Park. The city’s garbage dumps are also the home for many more homeless children and adults. These homeless people search the trash for food to eat and clothing to wear, after which they clear a corner in which to sleep, chasing away the rats, spiders and insects with whom these homeless children and adults compete for food and heat.
A nocturnal visit to any one of the municipal garbage dumps will find women in various stages of pregnancy living, eating, and simply surviving there.