By Javier Carcámo and Lindsey Quinn
Former sponsored child Shirly Alvarado lives in one of the impoverished zones at the margins of Guatemala City. Her community was formed by people termed “land invaders.” It’s a negative phrase that hits close to home: Shirly’s father had to become an “invader” – or squatter – when they didn’t have another place to live.
Families don’t intend to become invaders, but it is a consequence of limited economic opportunities and cruel necessity. “It is not that [my parents] were irresponsible,” Shirly explains, “but their luck changed for the worse. My parents rented, but all the jobs dried up and my father was fired. When we didn’t have resources to pay for a house, problems and debts began. Desperate, he decided to ‘invade’ land just at the edge of a ravine to create a small, fragile and rustled up ranch that was my home.”
Life as an invader is complicated. Families face constant harassment from the authorities and neighbors. At times, this rejection can turn into brutal attacks. Coupled with harassment is ill health and vulnerability from poor living conditions. In Shirly’s case, she lived in a shack at the edge of a gully. Conditions in the home were desperate. “I have sad memories of when it rained. I remember it well, because when we just got there, all my father could build was a house with sheet metal, cardboard and plastic canvas; but the rain came in everywhere. The wind seemed to take everything to the ravine. I was really afraid to sleep there because the water pounded on the roof. I felt the breeze, and there was a big puddle in the floor. My mother made my oldest brother and me sleep wrapped up with nylon and plastic bags. It is amazing that we survived.”Thanks to Into Employment training, Shirly is now employed by a prominent Guatemalan pastry company.
This challenging childhood, however difficult, honed Shirly’s desire for a better life. Naturally shy, the young woman worked past her fears to develop a strong personal, scholarly and spiritual life. Support from Children International helped Shirly became a promising leader: “The support from Children International was a great relief that changed everything. I had a scholarship that allowed me to study and that helped my dad continue building a better place to live. It was practically brick by brick, but he was able to give us a home.” Shirly adds proudly, “I keep in my heart that example of hard work and perseverance.”After a childhood of terrible deprivation, Shirly is proud to help her family with their expenses while she invests in her future.
And all Shirly’s hard work has paid off. A graduate of Children International’s Into Employment program, she works for Anfora, a well-regarded patisserie: “I am in the production area, specifically in the chocolate department. You can say that my job is sweet and delicious! They treat me very well, and I feel motivated.” Her training in food safety and processing made Shirly an enticing candidate for the company. “Anfora really valued the training I received with Into Employment,” she explained. Although not one to brag, Shirly adds proudly, “When I tell my girlfriends about the place where I am working, they say to me – A la que rayada! This means, they think I am really fortunate because Anfora is very prestigious.”
A woman with clear goals, Shirly is on her way to success. With a stable job, Shirly is able to help her family economically. She’s proud to build a better future for herself and her family. “I don’t want anyone in my family to live like that again. I’m going to work really hard to move up in the company and continue studying. This job may seem simple, but for me it is invaluable; it is my foundation, my launch pad! It’s what allows me to save money and invest in my future; above all else, it is allowing me to live better right now.”