I spent last week in Guatemala, leading a group of eight bloggers to visit the work World Vision is doing there and witnessing how that work brings hope to the children, families, and communities we serve.
And it was amazing! These kids are amazing. Their passions for Jesus and for music are all but tangible and contagious. But these passions come from somewhere: a history steeped in violence and loss.
Between the 1970s and early 1990s, political violence in Guatemala led to guerrilla warfare, which in turn led to civil war. The violence of these conflicts tore the country apart, but more significantly, it abducted an entire generation of men. Of fathers. Whether off to fight, killed in the fighting, or fled from the fighting, the effect on their families was the same: The fathers of that generation disappeared.
Since the war’s end, the story has been similar. Without fathers during the war, that generation of children took to the streets and formed gangs, and this form of violence is the one that pervades Guatemala today. Outside of active war zones, Central America in general is one of the most violent regions in the world, mostly a result of gang violence.
Again, violence is stealing and killing and chasing away the fathers of this next generation, leaving single mothers who have to work multiple jobs to support their families. In effect, the children of this generation are abandoned, orphaned even if their parents still live, growing up in the absence of their parents’ love.
What does this abandoned generation do? Exactly what their fathers and by now probably grandfathers did: They take to the streets, forming brotherhoods to replace the families they don’t have. They form gangs.
Some of World Vision’s most important work around the world, in my mind, is in child protection: fighting child labor, child trafficking, and violence against children. This is true in Central America, too. Personally, I don’t see the point of improving a child’s nutrition (for example) if tomorrow he or she will be forced into slave labor or killed by a rival gang. So we combine our efforts holistically, working to address all of a child’s needs together. Child exploitation is the area that angers me most; it's also the focus of World Vision's work that I find most inspiring.
What child protection looks like in Guatemala, where gang violence has abducted children, is this: We provide a new source of love (Christian witness) with child protection (getting kids off the street), as well as with education and training, so the children can learn skills that will enable them to build a life outside of the gangs (while receiving access to clean water, hygiene, proper nutrition, etc.) This kind of practical education empowers children to retake control of their lives. It gives them a dream, and through World Vision, that dream becomes hope.
So when a 12-year-old plays a Bach suite for cello, or a 7-year-old wins a national violin competition, or an 18-year-old earns a coveted seat in Guatemala’s national orchestra, it isn’t just a success story. It isn’t just talented kids -- though of course their talents are without question!
When Hector made the national orchestra at 18, he didn’t just get a job; he began a career. That orchestra seat is his for life; what he earned for himself is a career. A different life. A different future.
We go to school plays and concerts to see our kids perform what they’ve learned, showcasing for their families their newly acquired skills, and when we tell them how good they were, their smiles reflect the pride they can take in a job well done. For the music students at World Vision’s youth orchestra in Tinamit, when they do well, when they smile, the joy goes deeper than pride in a job well done. Those smiles reflect hope.
What these young musicians achieve when they succeed in music is the ability to imagine a better future, knowing that it’s possible. They have a dream, a hope, a career path! Having watched their fathers’ generation disappear, having been abandoned, what they’ve worked so hard to earn is a different path, one that leads not to war and death and violence, but life. Hope is a dream made possible.
Not only do these child musicians learn discipline and the language of music and fine motor skills and teamwork; they are given a real chance at a new life. They are given the ability to imagine that possibility. And Hector is proof -- a role model to his fellow students -- that this possibility is within reach. And all of this is made possible because of people like you: World Vision sponsors.
Yes, your faithful monthly contributions help provide clean water and nutrition and healthcare. But they also fund the music school -- and give the possibility of hope as a gift. And when you send them cards and emails and gifts, the children’s relationship with their sponsors helps fill in that void of love that this violence created.
More than anything else, children need love. And children need hope. Be a child’s hope today. Show them that they are loved. Consider sponsoring a child in Guatemala.
See what our other Guatemala bloggers are writing:
Roo Ciambriello: "Mental Buffering"
Caleb Wilde: "A Woman Warrior Fighting Death"
Micha Boyett: "Because this matters"
Shelby Zacharias: "Confucius is wrong. Leave your heart behind"
Zack Hunt: "Visions of Guatemala"
Follow the Guatemala bloggers as we continue to tell the stories of the children, families, and communities whose circumstances have been changed for the better by World Vision’s sponsorship programs.