It was quite an experience bringing together the many young people who live on the streets and celebrate the International Day of the Street Child last week.
The International Day began in 2012 when many organisations, like Street Kids Direct, met with the Consortium for Street Children in London to put pressure on the United Nations to recognise this unique but forgotten population.
One of the things that have come out of this dialogue with the UN has been the establishment of the International Day, which we hope will continue to focus attention on those children and young people who have chosen to or have been forced to count the streets as their home.
We organised two events to celebrate the day this year and the first one was the walk of witness through Guatemala City with some of the children in our mentoring programme and representatives of four other organisations we work closely with and who support those at risk of the streets and those living on the streets. We are grateful to Mojoca, Sigo Vivo, Puerta de Esperanza and Aaron Musch for working with us to help keep vulnerable children and youths safe.
The walk started at our mentoring centre in zona 9 of Guatemala City and then we met up with the various organisations and many homeless youths to march into the centre of the city (zona 1) with our banners and Municipal Police escort.
We stopped at an important junction in zona 1 to pause and remember the boy whose death sparked off a huge international outcry and a BBC documentary that later led to my moving to Guatemala in 1992 to work on the streets with the hundreds of homeless children. Nahamán Carmona López was doing nothing more than sitting on a street corner in Guatemala City when he and a small group of other homeless children were approached by four police officers. The police began to harass the children and one officer poured a bottle of glue they were sniffing over his head before pushing 13-year-old Nahamán down some steps. This followed by him been literally kicked to death by the officers. A plaque still remains at the spot where he fell and the words on it still haunt me today: “They called me a street child, because that is where I grew up and lived – but no one asked me why”.
His tragic death has led to many things and so as I told his story to the children gathered there we paused in silence to remember him and the hundreds of children who have been killed by the police, the death squads and by other street children or youths. It has been a life changing 27 years since I first moved to Guatemala and we can now celebrate the fact that very few children now live on the streets of the city. A few months ago, we would say that no child lived on the streets, but this changes as one or two have arrived on the streets and we focus our attention at their rescue and rehabilitation.
The following day we invited all the street youths and homeless adults we know to join us for a night of celebration together. It was our “Big Sleep”, as we spent time together with them from 6pm to 6am and enjoyed games, a football tournament, food, music, rap, storytelling, worship and just time to hang out and chat.
This year´s events have helped remind us of the urgency of the work, as we always look back and remember those who have lost their lives over the past year. Bringing them all together in one space was rather moving in that you could see the work ahead and hope that if we could just get each one off the streets then their lives, as well as Guatemala, would change forever.