The vibrant neighborhood of El Zapotillo in Chiquimula pulses with lively energy. Children dash barefoot to the corner store, eager to savor ice cream treats. Heat waves distort the air between the pavement and the distant mountains, creating a shimmering mirage. Soft reggaeton melodies permeate the streets, escaping through open windows, while the enticing aromas of lunch wafting from stoves beckon families’ homes. This is Fabiola's world, her cherished upbringing, and the place where she tirelessly combats the harsh realities of insecurity for the sake of her son.
Nestled along the border of Honduras and El Salvador, Chiquimula bears the burden of insecurity fueled by irregular migration. In March 2022, the department faced the third-highest homicide rate in Guatemala. In response, the National Police directed their resources toward El Zapotillo, an area with higher rates of violence known locally as a ‘red zone’. Though the police wanted to help assuage the daily fears plaguing its residents, paradoxically, their presence often exacerbated the feeling of insecurity in the community, allowing negative police perceptions and a sense of invasion to permeate.
Witnessing the unfolding dangers just beyond her doorstep, Fabiola resolved to shield her 13-year-old son, Luis, from harm's reach. Engaging with local community groups dedicated to making a difference, she discovered the community development council and eagerly joined the El Zapotillo Women's Commission. With fierce determination, this devoted mother utilized her voice to ensure the youth and children of El Zapotillo can thrive in a safe environment.
In 2019, Fabiola and her fellow women leaders collaborated with USAID and the National Police to organize a summer vacation school for children and young people. This initiative aimed to foster bonds through various sports and educational activities during the school break. Every week, a gathering of 50 to 100 kids convened at the Vacation School, engaging in soccer matches, learning about personal safety, indulging in board games, and unleashing their artistic talents. Over four consecutive years, the endearingly nicknamed "little school" has provided children with a secure haven for their leisure time.
An officer serving El Zapotillo shared a profound transformation brought about by the Vacation School:
Before the Vacation School, kids from El Zapotillo feared us (police officers). But now, we can barely step out from the patrol car before a big group comes running to give us hugs and to ask if we’re going to do an activity with kids”. This remarkable initiative has reshaped the relationship between the community and the police, forging a bond built on trust. The police are now esteemed caretakers, seen as protectors and upholders of order rather than instigators of fear."
“The people who live in dangerous areas are forced to confront many difficult situations,” Fabiola reveals. As a passionate advocate for her community, she endeavors to create a safer neighborhood where all children can flourish. USAID shares this vision, envisioning a world where young people possess agency, rights, influence, and opportunities to pursue their life goals while contributing to the development of their communities.
ABOUT THE STORY
In Collaboration with: Samantha Boss, Tetra Tech and Zeina Hijazi Dubray, Creative Director for USAID Guatemala
Urban Municipal Governance (UMG) Project, Tetra Tech The Urban Municipal Governance (UMG) is a seven-year project designed to reduce levels of violence in municipalities most at risk of violent crime through enhanced municipal governance, increased coverage and quality of municipal services, and greater citizen participation and oversight.