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Homelessness in GuatemalaIn Guatemala, over 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Families of four or more live in small one or two-room huts if they have shelter at all. On average every four days a child, usually a newborn, is abandoned because families do not have or can not access the means to take care of another child. Homelessness in Guatemala harshly impacts children, families and indigenous women.

Street Children

Young children are considered lucky if they are not part of the large homeless population. Among the homeless population, 7,000 of them are children and adolescents left to survive on their own. Many of them turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness in Guatemala. Violence directed towards street children is not uncommon. The Guatemalan police force’s deathly violence towards these children had remained unchecked until the early 2000s but the threat of physical harm has not been abolished to this day.

Homelessness in Guatemala is a ripple that ends at the children of the impoverished. For example, they are needed for work and are often unable to go to school, if they can afford public schooling to begin with. The little income they make does not stretch far. A quarter of the population of children are actively involved in child labor out of necessity. In addition, one in four children under the age of fifteen are illiterate. Chronic malnutrition and hunger are a consistent part of life. Without access to proper education or nutrition children of the impoverished do not have the ability to move forward. As a result, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and homelessness in Guatemala.

Inadequate Housing Plagues Families

Traditionally, Guatemalan culture revolves around family. It is a tight-knit community that is hindered by the lack of funds, nutritional food and educational opportunities. Those who are fortunate enough to have shelter are stuffed into small huts with a tin roof and dirt floors. Children, parents and grandparents often live together without running water or electricity. Diseases plague newborns and small children due to people’s inability to keep housing sanitary, leading to high infant death rates. Medical care is all but nonexistent.

Cooking is done over an open fire kept inside the home. This leaves the women and children of the families to breathe in smoke for hours at a time with no ventilation. Some houses are made from straw or wood both of which are extremely flammable and pose another risk to families inside. Respiratory illness affects a large portion of the poor population. Since most houses are one room, the idling soot from cooking fires becomes toxic for the entire family. Without running water, there is no way to properly clean the soot and without electricity, there is no other option for families to cook food.

The Plight of the Indigenous Woman

Half of the country is homeless and of that population, half of those people are indigenous women. Impoverished indigenous women not only suffer the fallout of poverty, they face racism and violence because of their sex. Compared to the rest of the country, including Guatemalan women, indigenous women have a higher chance at having multiple unplanned children, living in poverty and being illiterate. In addition, the birth mortality rate for women of native heritage is double and non-indigenous women have a greater life expectancy by an average of 13 years. They are malnourished and underpaid. The inequality trickles down to their children who face food insecurity, lack of education and if they are young girls the same fear of violence and racism their mothers endure.

Taking Action

Homelessness in Guatemala engulfs half of the 15 million people living in the country. Basic human necessities are not available and haven’t been for generations. The Guatemala Housing Alliance focuses on providing proper shelter to families. They work in tandem with other groups aiming to help education, food insecurity and sexual education for the poor of Guatemala.

The Guatemala Housing Alliance has built 47 homes with wood-receiving stoves that eliminate the danger of open fire cooking. They’ve put flooring in 138 homes that had been previously made of dirt. Also, the foundation offers counseling for young children and has hosted workshops for women for them to speak openly and learn about sanitation, nutrition and their legal rights.

For more information visit their website. 

Amanda Rogers
Photo: Pixabay

child homelessness in Egypt
Egypt is a presidential republic in North Africa. Famous for its history, archaeological values and vast deserts, Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world. However, Egypt went through a period of political, societal and economical turmoil during the 2010s. By 2011, former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his office, and between 2011 and 2018, the nation went through multiple presidents. All of this political and societal turmoil contributed to homelessness. In particular, child homelessness in Egypt is a pervasive issue.

Child Homelessness in Egypt

Child homelessness is an issue that has plagued the country for a long time. According to a survey conducted by Egypt’s National Center for Social and Criminological Research, there were an estimated three million homeless children in Egypt in 2011. The Egyptian government took measures to combat child homelessness, however. In 2003, the government adopted a new national strategy that aimed to protect and rehabilitate homeless children, also known as street children. This initiative aimed to alleviate child homelessness in the country through multiple coordinated projects between the government and NGOs.

While this initiative saw a relative amount of success, it is clear that there is still a long road ahead of alleviating child homelessness in Egypt. These homeless children are often in danger of sex trafficking, street begging and forced labor.

Life for Street Children

Poverty, unemployment, family breakdown, child abuse and neglect are some of the main causes of Egypt’s child homelessness crisis. While not all street children lack a stable family and a home to return to, the majority of the street children still live, work and sleep in the streets. A young woman interviewed by France 24 in 2017 said that she left her parents’ house when she was six years old because her father abused her. She has lived on the streets ever since. Unfortunately, this young woman’s story is not uncommon among street children.

However, life on the streets is still harsh. Many people in Egypt view street children as drug-addicts and criminals. As a result, there seems to be a general hesitation in donating to the NGOs and shelters that are trying to assist the homeless street children of Egypt. According to a 2010 study that interviewed a total of 857 street children in Cairo and Alexandria, 93% of the children stated that they faced harassment or abuse on the streets. Furthermore, the study found that 62% of the children used drugs. Among adolescent girls 15 to 17 years old, most of them stated that they had suffered sexual abuse.

Government Efforts

Fortunately, there are programs in place to help the street children of Egypt. In 2016, the government launched a project aimed to build shelters and educate street children. Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity also launched the “Children Without Shelter” program. Ministry workers train street children in first-aid and try to collect any paperwork or identification which they can use to move the children into a shelter. Getting children into shelters is difficult because Egyptian law does not allow shelters to receive children who do not provide a birth certificate.

The government also created the “Protecting Homeless Children” program, which deploys 17 mobile bus teams that provide temporary medical and psychological services. If a child is able to be united with their family, a separate team keeps in touch with the child’s family.

Moving Forward

Street children of Egypt are the ones who are most vulnerable to homelessness in Egypt. These Egyptian street children, who ran away from abuse, neglect and poverty, face harsh realities living on the street. On top of lacking shelter and food, the homeless children of Egypt face discrimination and further abuse on the streets. Thankfully, the Egyptian government is taking measures to alleviate child homelessness in Egypt. Many hope for a future where child homelessness will be a story of the past in Egypt.

-YongJin Yi 
Photo: Flickr

Guatemala Street ChildrenIt is estimated that there are between 1,500 and 5,000 street children in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Approximately 65 percent of these children are between the ages of 10 and 17 — and around 30 percent are girls.

Street children are those for whom the street has become their real home — a situation in which there is no protection, supervision or direction from responsible adults. Consequently, most of these children live and sleep on the street, with some taking refuge in parks or under stairs.

Children living on the streets migrate from rural areas of Guatemala or from Honduras or El Salvador. This migration is caused by the extreme poverty in Guatemala, which is both widespread and severe. According to the World Bank, “approximately 75 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, which is defined as an income that is insufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and services.”

The main sources of income for these children are usually activities such as robbery, begging and prostitution. Specialist Irving Epstein indicated that “many children inhale the fumes of shoe glue or paint thinner, often their only avenue to escape hunger, pain and hopelessness.”

Due to the lack of access to any educational institution, these children are more likely to choose violent pathways and tend to join street gangs. In 2005, approximately 10,000 Guatemalan children were members of street gangs.

Unfortunately, joining these street gangs comes at a price. According to Epstein, “violence between street gangs is common and is often used as an excuse by the national police and private security guards to harass and beat street children.”

Additionally, condom use is irregular and the pregnancy rate among the girls is high. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but largely because these girls hardly have what they need to take care of themselves and do not have the capacity to raise a child.

The social panorama in which street children find themselves living reflects the widespread poverty and severe inequality existing in Guatemala. Yet the plight of street children is hardly uncommon amongst developing countries.

However, several governmental and nongovernmental organizations have become active in Guatemala City since 2003. With his wife, former president Alvaro Arzu opened a center that provides both traditional humanitarian aid, such as food, shelter and clothing, and long-term sustainable aid, such as health services and education, to the homeless.

Casa Alianza is another agency working in Guatemala City that has provided several services for street children. It promotes residential and outreach programs, legal aid, drug rehabilitation and other vital services.

Children living in the streets of Guatemala are the most vulnerable to major social issues. Nonetheless, these initiatives are fighting to ensure a better life for these children, and hopefully in the coming years, Guatemala may see fewer children living alone and in destitution.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: World Bank, Google Books
Photo: Hansen Photo