Covenant House Opens New Boys Residence in Guatemala
In recent years, reports on trafficking from the national human rights office and the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, and from the Inter-American Forum on Combatting Human Trafficking have consistently called out the need to create programs to care for young and adolescent boys who are survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking.
Carolina Escobar Sarti, national director of Covenant House Guatemala, participated in the recent gathering of the Inter-American Forum on Combating Human Trafficking in Colombia, where, she said, “Representatives of various countries, from Canada to Chile, expressed this same need.”
Now, as we approach World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, Covenant House is proud to announce that, with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (JTIP), we have taken a huge step toward meeting that need with the opening of a new boys shelter — the first program of its kind in Guatemala and the region.
Carolina and our Covenant House Guatemala staff celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May to mark the opening of the new residence, located in San Juan del Obispo, about 25 miles west of the capital. It is our third Covenant House site in the country, along with our girls residence in Guatemala City and our day center in Coatepeque, near the Mexican border.
The ceremony was attended by local government officials and foreign dignitaries, as well as by representatives of nonprofit organizations, the press, and officials from the U.S. Department of State. U.S. Ambassador William Popp addressed the gathering, as did former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, who sits on the Covenant House International board, and Covenant House President and CEO Kevin Ryan.
“This is an old dream,” said Carolina, noting that Covenant House Guatemala had long sought to reach boy survivors of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and migration, but could only do so occasionally, through our drop-in program in Coatepeque. The JTIP support now makes it possible to provide them systematic, around-the-clock, residential care and programming.
The new residence accommodates up to 25 boys. Here, our staff will enfold them in unconditional love, and absolute respect. At Covenant House Guatemala, they will find safety and the relentless support they need to heal and grow, including support from our on-site legal staff, social workers, and psychologists.
During the ribbon-cutting event, our staff provided tours of the campus, which boasts multiple buildings and lots of greenery. There’s even room for the boys to attend school. Natural sunlight pours into the residence, an open concept space, which is lined with balconies that wrap each floor. The open floor plan fosters a sense of community and connection.
Covenant House Guatemala residents of the girls shelter made guests feel welcome at the ceremony, performing songs, theater, a clarinet solo, and more. Carolina noted that girls and women experience trafficking and sexual exploitation in far greater numbers than do boys and men, but she underscored the challenges of serving boy survivors.
“Owing to the socialization of women and men in our society, to speak of sexual violence and trafficking in its sexual exploitation form of young and adolescent boys passes through taboo topics and topics about power,” she said.
Carolina also addressed the specialized staff training it will take to provide the highest-quality care in this very distinct space.
“We are beginning this adventure with a great deal of humility, passion, and desire to learn every day about how to accompany these young and adolescent boys with a well-trained and well-informed team that understands well the profile of care,” she said.
To close out the celebration, Carolina offered some words of encouragement to the new team of Covenant House Guatemala at San Juan del Obispo.
“Without each and every one of you, we would be able to do nothing, nothing, nothing. And I would like to tell you, we offer you all of our love, open arms, and we say to you: Forward! We are with you."
Now, while we wait for the first boys to arrive at our new residence, Carolina said, “We are ready to open the way, and we hope that, little by little, this place will fill with voices and embraces.”