As a resident in Guatemala Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes watched many of his peers get in to drugs, gangs and crime. In Guatemala Kids are forced to grow around bad influence. Guatemala continues to be taking over by poverty and violence. According to the United Nations, the country has the fifth-worst homicide rate.
Romero Fuentes became a teacher in his hometown, and he found that many of his students were struggling with the same issues his generation had faced. At 23 and Romero Fuentes turned part of his family’s home into a community center. In 2006 he began tutoring and mentoring a handful of kids after school. Word spread quickly, and children from all over the community joined the group. His program offers free classes, tutoring and meals, as well as low-cost medical care.
His nonprofit, Los Patojos (Little Ones) has helped more than 1,000 children. “I created a safe place for them to realize that they actually can change bad aspects in their lives and their community,” said Romero. Romero wanted to give them a better present to attain a brighter future.
Finding hope at home Los Patojos has become a haven in a region where young people are in desperate need of opportunity and protection. An unprecedented number of children from Central America have made the treacherous journey to the United States to flee violence and poverty in their countries. Since October more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been caught crossing the U.S. border. Some 37% are from Guatemala, more than any other country, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Ignoring this harsh reality Romero said his country could rebuild itself from what has happened. But for the young people to help do that he says they need resources and support. “In a violent country, the only weapon we can have is love,” he said. “These kids are already powerful, but they don’t know that yet.”
To that end, Los Patojos offers productive activities for people 3 to 18, all aimed at giving them the tools they need to transform their families and their communities.
A generation of peacemakers Romero Fuentes’ program takes place in the entire front portion of his family’s home as well as another building down the block.
At the main center, painted with colorful murals and quotes, children are exposed to a number of creative outlets. They take classes in dance, music, photography, theater and juggling and often put on performances for each other. “These classes are to show kids that they can pursue their own passions in order to improve their lives,” Romero Fuentes said.