The following appeared in the January 29th Sunday edition of Nuestro Diario – Guatemala’s number one newspaper (pictured above). Just two pages before this article, there was a write-up about Diego Chic’s death and major violence in La Limonada. This article follows by bringing hope to the community as a whole. Featuring Priscila Yool – the psychologist at the Mandarina School.
The constant risk isn’t important to a group of volunteers that are available to the children of this neighborhood.
The life of Priscila in La Limonada wasn’t like just any child. When she was ten years old she had to walk more than fifteen minutes to get out of the neighborhood to get to her school, in Jardenes de la Asucnción, Zone 5. But no one went alone, her parents, Miguel y Cadalina del Yool, always accompanied her because of the great fear of all of the crime that lurks in the area.
She always enjoyed studying, she always saw groups of men smoking around her house in the alleyways – groups of young people smoking marijuana, sniffing glue or committing crimes. As the time went on, there were more young men living like this, listening to music with the volume all the way up, jumping across the laminate roofs of the houses after committing their misdemeanors.
In order to not be their victim, her life consisted of being inside her house and inside the evangelical church, only 200 meters away. “After six in the afternoon I couldn’t go out of my house- not even to the store. If it was very urgent, my dad had to go with me,” Priscilla remembers. These were the hard days of the colony ‘El Esfuerzo’ in 1995.
Miguel Yool laments the fact that he didn’t have the resources to give Priscila and her three older siblings a better life, but he always motivated them to study. “Education is the only inheritance we can give you,” he would tell them before going out to work as a bus driver, while his wife took care of the house.
Not everything was bad in La Limonada. Other citizens of this ravine went to work to earn their “daily bread,” just like her dad did. This motivated her to graduate as a teacher in 2003, the year that her family decided to move to Santa Catarina Pinula, because every day there was more violence. Her current goal is the University, studying for her Masters Degree.
La Limonada is a ravine that was gradually invaded in 1958. Between 60 thousand and 100 thousand people live there. Forty percent are children and adolescents under 15 years of age, according to the study Asentamientos precarious in la ciudad de Guatemala, written by an Urbanist, Francisco Rodas Maltez.
Now, the municipality of the city has this designated sector as ‘neighborhood status’ with ten colonies. The first to be occupied was part of the continuation of the stadium Mateo Flores and was named “15 de Agosto”- it was this date of 1959 that the Military let the people make houses there, by the order of the president Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes. At this time, there were 11,700 people.
With the passing of the decades and because of the abandonment of the government – the area became overpopulated and the violence gained momentum in the community, to the point where the gangs marked their own colonies with boundary lines and to date the rivals of the other neighbors are not allowed in. Even less the people from outside.
Tita Evertsz came to this reality in 2000, when she founded a support center for children in the ravine. She gave spiritual help to a gang member from La Limonada – who she had met, while he had been hospitalized for a gun-wound, in the hospital San Juan de Dios, where she was his social worker.
She started by giving food to 13 children, their parents left them during the day (at this time there were few laws to regulate the start-up of the care program) while they went out to work. “They have passed through many hard times and people see them as monstrous. But it’s the result of not being attended to like a child deserves,” Evertsz confirms.
It turns out that although almost no one can go into La Limonada, the gang members value the sincerity of those who really want to help them. She won their confidence and now has two schools: The Limón, in the colony Loudres I, and Mandarina, in Loudres II. We were able to enter La Limonada simply because we were with her.
Between the two schools, the team of 50 workers attend to over 300 children that are sponsored by international organizations with food, schooling support, psychological attention, and fine arts.
Priscilla Yool was studying Psychology in the Universidad de San Carlos when she met Tita in 2008. She gave classes to Tita’s son and Tita invited her to be a part of the project to help children. Now, she’s 26 years-old and is one of the two psychologists that attend to the children between 4 and 15 years of age.
The young girl ensures us: “If God permitted me to grow up here, and to get ahead in life, it’s to show that this place doesn’t only have bad people. These little ones deserve to have trained educators and that’s why I returned to La Limonada to help.”
Although Mandarina has suffered recent theft and bomb-threats in the past two years, the gratefulness of the parents for the actual work and to see a distinct future for their children, the danger hasn’t pushed out anyone from the team. The team lives off of offerings that don’t always supply their personal needs or even the needs of the schools.
-Translated by Rebecca Gant