Denis was probably born a genius, but has never been tested. His father was a lawyer in the 80’s in El Salvador and had to flee to save himself and his family. Without papers, Denis’ parents had to cobble together 5 different jobs to make ends meet. His father and Denis began to screen t-shirts to supplement this work. Denis taught all the other teens at Los Romeritos how to play chess. He would play three of them at once sometimes. He was also obsessed with perfecting the music skills he gained at Los Romeritos. He would take three busses every day to get to Los Romeritos. Denis has been able work hard and earns enough money to go to school. He is just a few months away from getting a degree to become a doctor.
Vivian (on right) was one tough kid. With a serious chip on her shoulder and edgy sense of humor, one might think that no one was going to get through her tough exterior. But Vivian’s best friend, Lourdes (on left), and she adored and trusted Jaime. He was likely the only adult in her life that was safe. When she was 12 she was already having to make some tough decisions. She had to walk past the linea and see her mother prostituting on her way to school every day. Her sister, who was just a few years older had already been lured to follow her mother’s footsteps in order to pay for nice things and a roof over her head. She confided frankly with Jaime about these choices. Jaime is not clear whether she did end up succumbing to this pressure for a while, but is happy to report that now Vivian is a secretary and is saving money to go to school.
Imagine being seven years old and living in a very dangerous part of Guatemala City where your mother works as a prostitute because it’s the only way she can make money. You don’t really understand what your mother does, but you know she seems ashamed and sad. This was Lourdes’ scary and lonely life on the streets, and it didn’t seem possible that things could change. Then, her mother heard about Los Romeritos and took her to the safe haven close to where she worked. Lourdes loved the caring, secure environment. She laughed and felt like a child for the first time in her life. Her mother started to change also. Her confidence grew as Jaime and the other workers treated her with respect. Lourdes’ mother was encouraged to join in the making of piñatas, a program offered at Los Romeritos. Both she and Lourdes became very skilled, which eventually led to them starting a home business in a safer part of the city.
Fast forward 7 years…you should see Lourdes now! She’s 14 and the years of care, nourishment, and education have made her into a mature, fun loving adolescent with a ready smile. She was the oldest of 10 girls who participated in the 2007 Intercultural Exchange, a program designed to promote better understanding between the Ladinos and the indigenous Maya, and she gladly led a workshop to teach the others the art of piñata making. Lauren, an exchange volunteer and amiga of Los Romeritos, marveled at Lourdes’ confidence and pride. Lourdes asked Lauren to take a photo of her teaching piñata making, her pride of accomplishment obvious. Lourdes has flourished under the watchful and caring eye of Jaime whom she loves like the father she has never had. His focus on encouraging children’s creativity has led both Lourdes and her mother to a self-supporting activity in which they take great pride. And Lourdes now dares to dream of continuing on the path of learning and creative expression. She plans to become an excellent seamstress to broaden her skills and ability to earn money. Here’s to that little girl who once felt so scared and lonely. We’re behind you all the way!
Meet Wilma. She's four years old and full of energy and spunk. Wilma's mother is a sexual worker in Guatemala City and probably had syphilis when Wilma was born, so Wilma has developmental troubles that keep her from speaking. She understands what is said to her, and understands that words should come out, but, when she tries to form them, her mouth just says "AMA". Teachers at Los Romeritos work with Wilma every day. They are able to spend time encouraging her to work hard to form a word — any word. They don't have technical training, but this encouragement is something that Wilma's mother desperately wants for her daughter, but simply cannot give her. Wilma is clearly up for the challenge, but without the Center she wouldn't have a chance.
Lauren holding Wilma.
Victor is blind and has cerebral palsy. He lives in an incredibly isolated world. Sidewalks in Guatemala are not friendly to those in wheel chairs — much less those who must navigate them without sight. When he was attending a computer program at the school for the blind, he learned about the mobile music workshops from Los Romeritos that were going to start at the school. He immediately wanted to join. His fingers make notes challenging, but he has discovered that he loves percussion — particularly the maracas. When it is his turn to play his part, his muscles seize with excitement, and he squeals with joy. He clearly loves being part of the musical group.
This is Julio. He lives in a Catholic boarding school for children who have behavior problems. Julio's father abuses his wife and children at home. Now Julio has begun doing the same thing at school and with his mother. Once, he was so violent, he had to be removed from home and sent to this boarding school. Sister Maria Elena, who is Julio's teacher in the boarding school, has been particularly baffled about what to do for him. Once a week, the mobile music workshops come to the school and spend an hour with specially selected students. The teachers have noticed a marked difference in behavior with the boys after they come out of a session. Sister Maria Elena has commented that she has especially seen Julio begin to show interest in class and to be more focused.
Nine-year-old Luis (top left with his brothers) has a quick shy smile. He loves the time he spends at Los Romeritos singing and learning to use the computer. Best of all are the music classes Jaime leads on Saturdays where Luis is learning to play both drums and guitar. When he has finished his schoolwork and snack, his mother will come for him and his two little brothers. He knows she must first fix dinner and clean up after the family she works for. On a good night, she brings leftovers. Most nights, however, she and her boys wait until morning for their next meal. Sometimes Luis is scared walking home and thinks about the day his friend saw a man machine-gunned down in a nearby street.
Luis moved to Guatemala three years ago when the bad economy in Nicaragua and their dad’s drug addiction left his family near starvation. They hoped their cousin in Guatemala City might be able to help them. But when they arrived, they couldn’t find their cousin and ended up living on the streets. Dad’s addiction and abusive behavior finally led Mom to separate from him. She found another family of four, whose tiny apartment and one bed hardly seemed adequate, but together, the two mothers have been able to keep their families off the street.
Since they have no papers, Luis’s mother can only do work that pays “under the table,” and the boys are not eligible to attend regular school. However, since Luis and his brothers started attending Los Romeritos, they have a safe place to be while their mother works. Luis’s teachers are helping him keep up with his studies and he is staying on track for his age. The three small meals he receives at Los Romeritos each day are tasty and often his only food. Luis’s mother is grateful to Los Romeritos for the help they have given her family. She is trying to save enough money for the documents her sons need so they can attend regular school. Then she hopes to get them a mattress so they don’t have to sleep on the floor. Most of all, she is thankful for the education, food, safety, and support the Los Romeritos program has provided for Luis and the rest of her family.
Chino’s parents are Quiche Indian. They had been displaced in the highlands and forced to live in the outskirts of Guatemala City and bus into to scrounge a living in one of the most dangerous open air markets in the world. Chino was poor even for the standards of the other children at Los Romeritos. The other children constantly teased because his feet stunk so bad for the lack of socks. Jaime mixed a home-made powder every week to help Chino with the odor and chaffing. Chino is a natural born clown. He is incredibly talented with timing and charm. Jaime honed his skills and Chino was able to help supplement his parents’ income with his work as a clown on the streets. Today Chino works for a taxi company taking tickets for taxis. This is a very good job that pays more than Chino had ever dreamed of earning.