In a society oppressed by poverty and violence, Pavement Project is helping Christians offer a different future to the children of Guatemala. Bethan Collingridge reports.
Miguel lives under a blanket of shame. He is 13 years old and, like many children on the streets of Latin American cities, he is addicted to alcohol. Sitting in the counselling room he starts to cry as he shares his sorrow and guilt with the Pavement Project worker . He listens intently to the story in Matthew 19 where Jesus asks for the children come to him, and hears for the first time that he is loved and important to God. His heart begins to calm.
A dream becomes reality
When Brazilian missionary Viviane Pinheiro first heard about Lifewords Pavement Project at a conference in May 2015, she knew it had the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of Guatemalan children-at-risk. On the overcrowded streets of Guatemala City, Viviane and her husband Rodrigo minister to children living in poverty. They provide food and childcare for hundreds of families in a country where malnutrition affects four in ten children (eight in ten among indigenous families). Guatemala is still reeling from a brutal civil war that lasted over 30 years, and poverty, social violence, drug trafficking and environmental disasters make life for its 15.5 million residents extremely tough. Gangs rule the streets in many areas and children are caught up in the violence. It has been described as the worst place in the world to be a child – physical and sexual child abuse rates are staggeringly high and impunity is a grave issue. Viviane’s dream to bring Pavement Project to Guatemala became reality a few months after the conference when Carmen Andrade arrived to train the country’s first three workers. Along with Viviane were Pastor Jaime Perez and Nora Mendonza, and together the group spent three days learning how to use the Biblebased counselling tool to bring God’s hope and healing to the children they work with.
Bringing God's love to violent communities
Pastor Jaime works in public schools in the capital’s slum communities. Guatemala City has the second highest homicide rate in the world, and most of the students he ministers to are involved in violent crime and drugs. In these rough areas gang members are heroes in the eyes of children, and the average time spent in school is only three years. Pastor Jaime will use the Pavement Project green bag to share God’s love with 1,200 young people who have grown up around violence and aggression; to show them that God has a better plan for their future. Nora Mendonza works with children-at-risk in a rehabilitation centre. The vast majority are addicted to alcohol which they often use to numb their painful memories, hunger and the cold. Nora herself has suffered the effects of addiction. Her husband was an alcoholic for over 20 years and used to physically and verbally abuse her . He came to faith a few years ago and is in recovery – he and Nora are now dedicated to supporting addicts and are using Pavement Project to counsel the children and their families. Miguel is just one of the children Nora has already been able to minister to, through the green bag. After being counselled he said: “I feel safe in Jesus’ hands. He will give me strength like a lion to overcome my addiction.” For Viviane, Pastor Jaime, and Nora, Pavement Project is an answer to years of prayer for children-at-risk in Guatemala. As young hearts cry out for hope across the country, we pray that the Bible’s life words will bring healing to children living in the worst situations imaginable.