Our partnership with Toybox: Guatemala City – outreach project & Covid-19 update
Guatemala City itself is a place of contrasts. It has areas of beauty and opportunity but it’s also a highly dangerous place to live – especially for a child living and working on the street without official recognition. This means that street children can be used, neglected and abused by gangs and criminals, and are at significant risk of being trafficked.
As we are undoubtedly facing a global crisis unlike any the world has ever seen before. In the space of just a few short months, the coronavirus pandemic has spread to almost every country, bringing grief, anxiety and economic chaos. As the outbreak continues, it is easy to miss those who are out of sight. Street children are the hidden victims of this pandemic – which threatens their rights and exposes them to even greater risks. So many of the street children we work with are unable to earn any money, and without a safe place to isolate, they become dependent on government support. But unregistered children are invisible– they do not officially exist, and cannot access any official help, which makes them even more vulnerable.
Our street outreach is the vital way for project staff to begin to build trust and relationships with street children but since mid-May the country has been in lockdown has meant that the project staff have been unable to physically reach the children that have been abandoned on the city streets. So, all the outreach activities have had to be put on hold. Street children have complex needs, but by far their most pressing need is basic survival. As coronavirus is so easily transmissible, children on the streets are particularly susceptible to contracting it – and the two things which work best to prevent the spread – good hygiene practices and social distancing – are those that street children are simply unable to do. As many of the street children are dependent on casual work, living a hand-to-mouth existence, ways of earning any income have gone, increasing the children’s vulnerability with too many going to sleep hungry.
THE IMPACT OF YOUR SUPPORT
Over the last 12 months, your generosity has helped some of the most vulnerable children on the streets:
• 108 street connected children were provided with support with their basic needs.
• 87 children were actively involved in life and recreational skill developing activities.
• 40 children accessed therapeutic and psycho-social support.
• 50 children were registered with their birth certificates and official legal identities.
EMERGENCY CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE WORK
Your funding also meant that from the end of March we have been implementing a full emergency response. We were able to start responding prior to the forced quarantine, with a health day to train street connected children on coronavirus and how to protect themselves, and where to go for help if they have symptoms.
NEVER BEFORE HAS THERE BEEN SUCH A NEED FOR THE BASICS OF FOOD, WATER AND MEDICATION
We know street children already struggle to access essential services, so during times of crisis like these when healthcare systems are overstretched, they are even less likely to receive the care they so desperately need. Another huge challenge the street children are facing is linked to the rules and restrictions on movement and being out in public spaces. When lockdowns are enforced with criminal sanctions, those living on the streets are at a high risk of being prosecuted and further marginalised.
Our partner CONACMI are working to ensure street children are given the emergency support they need to survive – food, water and medical care - as well as advocating to stop them being criminalised for being homeless. They are also working tirelessly to find places for children in shelters or with extended families.
We know that isolation is putting some children at greater risk of abuse and neglect. We are also aware that the virus is driving children off the streets and back to the precarious situations they once fled from. In a country where violence against children is already at an overwhelming level – this could have serious and dangerous repercussions.
For those children who remain on the streets, the team have been supporting overnight shelters to provide food, medicine and other essential services and working with local businesses to provide meals and food vouchers. For children living with their families, our partner is providing telephone guidance to encourage healthy parenting methods and to help rebuild relationships. They are also giving children phone credit so they can reach out to them for support and are also sharing videos with children on how to keep themselves safe. In order to protect children’s mental and physical health, they are offering counselling and online health check-ups.
In three of the areas we work there is no access to running water, so our partner is bringing in a water truck to enable communities to have clean, safe water. The team are also working with local businesses to provide 15 children in Guatemala City with food each day and issuing food vouchers to 320 street children and their families who are most in need.
The costs for these activities per month are totalling around £2,222:
- Food vouchers & rations: £1,853
- Hygiene and Medication: £176
- Support supplies for shelters: £96
- Information & support Materials on COVID-19: £96
From the end of March, to mitigate the exchange rate fluctuations, we implemented a system of monthly budget transfers. We have received an adjusted budget based on their realistic spend each month to cover the activities and the administrative costs such as salaries, social security and regular office rental costs. This is to ensure we can maintain the high quality of staff and restart the project activities as soon as is viable & safe.
THE YEAR AHEAD
Our Partner CONACMI have most recently reported to us that Guatemala have had 4,607 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and sadly 90 deaths, but the average daily infection rate has increased significantly. The hospitals are nearly at full capacity and there is concern that if the daily rate of infection keeps increasing, the health services will soon be overwhelmed.
We are determined to help as many street children as we can to survive this crisis. When we are able to safely, we will be looking to continue with our planned activities as they were progressing so well, the approaches are effective, and it was having an impact.
Our goal for next year was for our committed and skilled outreach staff to support the most urgent needs of a minimum of 100 street children. They will continue to meet with these children regularly and depending on the needs of each child; provide safe water, food, clothing and hygiene kits, as well as emergency first aid and basic medication.
At the same time the project will continue to provide life skills training to include increasing awareness of self-protection. The sports and friendly recreational activities that will take place, are not only a means to engage with the street children, but the best opportunity that these children have to develop positive qualities within the dangerous and hostile environment they are used to living in.