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It’s all about the Kids

Every year, Guatemala celebrates Día de Niños, or Kids’ Day. This day is devoted to making children happy. There are celebrations across Guatemala. Businesses have fundraisers for children’s hospitals. More affluent Guatemalans donate toys and games to less moneyed families. In a place where there often isn’t enough for small treats, Kids Day is a day where youth get to experience that bit of indulgence.

Safe Passage had celebrations in the morning and afternoon for our students. In the morning, the students came to find a festive lunch room that had been decorated by members of our youth leadership group. Reggaeton blasted from the stereo. Several of the volunteers dressed up in character costumes from the Safe Passage arsenal. They paraded in, getting the kids amped up. To start things off, a magician put on a show for the students. It can be hard to capture the attention of the teenagers, but their faces showed they were impressed. I was even slack-jawed when he managed to make a dove fly out of a velvet painting.

Next, four girls and four boys were brought up for a “name that tune” competition. A few lines of a song was played, and then the team whose turn it was would have to sing the next line of the song. If they couldn’t do it, the other team would have a chance to steal the point. The boys won, although I think the girls might have just been too shy. It was pretty hilarious watching the students try to come up with the words. The best part was that they were able to laugh at themselves, too.

The finale in the morning celebration was a dance off with the teachers and Education Director. I have never seen the older kids jump up so fast for anything. They crowded up around the front of the room, standing on benches to get a better view. The kids hooted and cheered as the staff set their pride aside and boogied. I most definitely remember loving to see my teachers embarrass themselves for these types of things when I was growing up; I guess that translates across time and culture.

The younger students in the afternoon are a lot easier to please. Volunteers braved the afternoon heat to show off their costumes again. Our good friends at Fabrica de Sonrisas supported us again, doing silly games and call-and-response songs with the kids. They then painted students faces and made them balloon animals. I managed to get a delightful blue butterfly on my cheek, while the delighted, painted faces of girls swarmed around me.

Then a group of professional clowns did their show. Their brightly colored costumes brought instant cheer, and the kids all smiled and laughed. I have particularly bonded with a class that was seated at the back of the room. One of the students I’m closest with snuck up to the front to catch a better view. He is a goofball, but can also be a real rapscallion when his creative energy isn’t channeled, and it was fun to see him so entranced.

The clowns and members of Fabrica de Sonrisas then brought out toys and played with the kids. Boys played fencing with balloon swords. Girls danced with the female Fabrica de Sonrisa members, their shining eyes showing how much they looked up to the teenagers. My favorite moment of the day was watching the concentration on the face of a boy as he learned how to juggle a diabolo, and even managed to toss it a couple of times. Laughter andexcited banter could be heard all around.

It was wonderful to be able to enjoy this day with our students. Our youth work incredibly hard. Through my conversations with them over the past five months, I’ve learned that some of our students leave the house by 5 a.m. and don’t get home until 7 p.m. They brave the unpredictable city buses to go to their schools and come to the project. They have loads of schoolwork, take part in a number of extra-curricular activities during the day, come in to the project on Saturdays and work to help support their families. I think our students are some of the most courageous and hard-working people I’ve ever known. I have the utmost respect for everything they do in order to get an education, and how dedicated they are to their studies and their families. They deserve a break. The Día de Niños celebration is just one way that Camino Seguro is able to reward our students for all of their hard work and honor them for their sacrifices.

In both difficult moments and moments of indulgence, such as a beautiful catered lunch to commemorate the service of the Executive Director, the staff often joke amongst ourselves that, “it’s all about the kids.” Although the laughter that invariably follows suggests this is tongue in cheek, the undercurrent is serious and sincere. Yes, of course we have our own moments of reward. We also work hard because the students work hard. None of this would be possible otherwise.

On Día de Niños and every other day, it truly is all about the kids. They are the hope for a brighter future for Guatemala and beyond. The world changes at a fast pace; with a quality education, they will be the ones equipped to shift with the times and address critical issues in society. Programs like Camino Seguro aren’t just getting youth in school, we’re helping to prepare tomorrow’s leaders. For long-lasting changes in communities like the one around the Guatemala City garbage dump, the vision and new direction have to come from within. Our youth are making huge strides in changing the cycles of poverty and oppression in their community. It has been a long, hard-fought battle, but they are starting to break that mold. They are starting to approach problems differently, envision a positive future for themselves and strive to reach their potential. That is a big weight to put on their shoulders, but they bear it with pride and grace exceptional of people so young.

This week I saw peace in rewarding a job well done.

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