By Dianne Sivulka, founder of Travel on Purpose
All non-profits and social businesses have a few things in common. They are often started by big-hearted people who see a particular need in the world and then rise to do what they can to meet it. Today I'd like to spotlight an organization I've been spending a lot of time with lately.
Over the past three years, all TOP guided tours to Guatemala have included a visit to Kids Alive International. When I first launched TOP, I started with organizations with which I already had a relationship. I knew their work and was already a fan. Over the years, as more connections have been made through travel, TOP's network of no-good organizations has grown and continues to grow.
Kids Alive International began in 1916 in China when a missionary couple began taking in homeless Chinese children. From those humble beginnings, Kids Alive today has expanded worldwide, helping care for thousands of children through Residential Homes, Care Centers, and Schools. Kids Alive is a faith-based organization seeking to follow the example of Jesus Christ by responding with sacrificial love to the world's suffering children. In addition to their work in Guatemala, KAI serves in Dominican Republic, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Peru, Taiwan, and Zambia. In each location, meeting the needs of vulnerable children is their focus.
In 2015, the BBC News named Guatemala the worst country to be a child in (aside from those in war or natural disasters). Due to violence, lack of education, food insecurity, clean water, and sexual violence, children face extreme hardships in this small central American country.
According to the World Bank, Guatemala's inequality score is so low that it is second-worst in the region, only ahead of Haiti. Indigenous women and girls living in rural areas are the most vulnerable to poverty and inequality. Nearly half of the population in a country of 15 million people is indigenous.
Like many developing countries, a small percentage of people own all the wealth, and Guatemala is no exception. According to the BTI Transformation Index, 260 Guatemalans own 56% of the national economy, meaning that 0.001% of the population owns more than half of the country's wealth. As a result, many people throughout the country face hardships, but women, children (particularly girls), and the elderly face the most significant difficulties. Typically, only half the population finishes school, and this is especially true for girls. Due to poverty and cultural conditions, the sexual abuse of girls is a concern throughout the country.
And that's where Kids Alive Guatemala serves; the vulnerable population of girls who have been victims of sexual violence.
KAG approaches the process of restoration and healing holistically. A devoted team of social workers, therapists, teachers, house moms (called Tias), and lawyers surround them with the help they need. KAG begins the restoration journey with the latest therapies in evidence-based neuroscience and Biblical principles in understanding their worth as a child of God.
When girls enter their safe houses, they are traumatized and broken. Staff often hear, "I am trash, I deserve it, I am nothing, It's my fault, God hates me, God does not care about me." It's a long walk to healing and restoration and sometimes, girls stay as long as two years in the program. The goal is always to reunite these girls into a family unit as soon as she's ready because KAG believes that the best place for all children is with a loving family.
The Goal for Each Girl
Enjoy a vibrant life-changing relationship with God
Experience emotional and physical well-being
Equipped for a life of independence and service
To live life in family and community, free of fear of violence
I am art, daughter of God, chosen, strong, clean
A Team of Lawyers
Kids Alive Guatemala has a team of lawyers who work with each of the girls in their program to seek justice on their behalf. In a country with a very low conviction rate for sexual offenders, KAG is changing that. They have also been instrumental in introducing video testimony so that girls no longer have to relive their trauma and relay their experiences over and over again.
Young Mother's Home
To meet the needs of girls who arrive pregnant (sometimes as young as 10 years old), KAG has a young mother's home where they are prepared for birth and caring for their baby. Specialized Tias help them co-parent their infants and growing toddlers. Families who welcome girls from the program also welcome their children.
Special Needs Home
Many girls who are victims of sexual abuse have special needs. The special needs home is where girls who are 18 or older and have nowhere to go can remain in a nurturing environment. According to their ability, they learn skills training and receive therapy while living in a loving home that will likely be their forever home.
Kids Alive Guatemala lives by the words of Isaiah 1:17:
to seek justice and defend the oppressed.
In a world of so much pain, injustice and trauma, it's good to know that organizations like Kids Alive International are making a difference where it's needed most. Despite the heavy nature of their work, each time I visit I leave with a sense of hope. There is so much joy and laughter in each of their facilities and a visit is nothing short of inspirational!
If you would like to learn more about Kids Alive International and ways you can engage, check out these resources: