They're teenage boys who have lived on the streets of Guatemala City, using drugs and surviving by begging and stealing. But George Leger of Waltham sees that underneath it all, each boy is still only a child.
In 1993, Leger read a newspaper account about a homeless Guatemalan child who fled an abusive home only to be picked up off the street by police and then tortured, murdered and left in a field. He was so moved, that in 1994, he traveled to Guatemala to find out more about the problems the young and homeless face in Guatemala City. The end result was Only a Child (OAC). The nonprofit organization helps homeless youths find shelter, kick drugs, and get an education.
The organization’s web site states:
“Only A Child maintains a group home and carpentry shop for street youth in Guatemala City, offering them something to belong to. A place where they are respected and cared for. A place where they can grow and develop an identity complete with confidence and self-esteem.”
At Only A Child boys discover what family life is all about. Like in any normal family, they are expected to contribute to the life and well being of the family. Boys who have lived an undisciplined life on the street learn the value of discipline and experience “tough love” when needed.
Youngsters typically enter the program between 16 and 20 years of age, but Only A Child has taken in youngsters as young as 14 often with nothing more than a second grade education. Only A Child pledges that if he lives up to the obligations of the “family”, they can stay in the program until they complete their education. To date, Only A Child has produced 10 high school graduates. At present, four of the programs residents are studying at university level.
A 14-year-old with a second grade education cannot be expected to attend class with the normal third graders. So Only A Child sends them to private schools designed to handle this type of student. To occupy them during the week OAC started a carpentry shop. They not only learn the skills of carpentry, but also life skills.
Inspired by a display in a local gift shop, Leger decided to train the boys to create mahogany decorative boxes. Along with the boxes, the boys are building self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.
"Making the boxes gives the kids a chance to see themselves in a different light," said Leger, "A chance to see that it's not that they're not capable of doing something productive, but rather that they haven't been given the opportunity."
You can meet Leger and hear more about his work at a fundraiser on Saturday, March 31 at 7 p.m. at the Sons of Italy Lodge, 99 Cedar St., Waltham. The evening will feature an informal buffet followed by a presentation by Leger and an informal buffet. Admission is $25 ($15 for seniors and students).
To purchase tickets and for more information www.onlyachild.org