Boy returned to Guatemala describes ordeal near U.S. border

Sixteen-year-old Kenny* endured an arduous and dangerous trek from his home in Guatemala to the U.S. border, but was returned to Guatemala by the government of Mexico. World Vision communications manager Cecilio Martinez spoke with Kenny about his journey.

Told by Cecilio Martinez, World Vision communications manager in Guatemala
Published July 29, 2014 at 11:00am PDT

During Kenny’s* treacherous, 1,200-mile journey to the United States border, he faced starvation, danger, and death.

“I fought for my life,” Kenny says.

Dire poverty, violence drives boy to border

Mexican authorities repatriated 300 people to Guatemala last week, including Kenny.

I was among the media at Guatemala City’s airport waiting to interview 16-year-old Kenny, the youngest of the returnees.

I have a son the same age as Kenny. It broke my heart to see this young man who had to leave his family to make money to support them.

Kenny, the youngest of six sons, was born in a Guatemalan border town close to El Salvador and Honduras. Because of his family’s dire poverty, he quit school to help his father, who worked as a farmer.

Two of Kenny’s brothers migrated to Spain, and two young cousins migrated to the United States. He needed to travel to America, too, to escape the escalating conflict among gangs.

‘Eight straight days through the desert’

When he came off the plane, Kenny looked exhausted and stressed. He held a lunch bag he had just received. He kept his head down and, with tears in his eyes, answered questions in the tense atmosphere.

His ordeal:

“The hardest was to walk eight straight days through the desert. I was starved, the heat was unbearable, and I was extremely thirsty.

“I was in a group of 22, but I was the only child. On our way, we encountered many other children and youth coming from Honduras and El Salvador. I saw many mothers with their babies in their arms.

“But the image that hit me most was seeing a boy from Guatemala who died in the desert. He was dehydrated, could not walk anymore, and was left alone to die, just lying in the desert. We just kept walking, but it’s very hard to abandon someone.”

In the end, the smuggler, or “coyote,” abandoned Kenny and the others. Authorities found him near McAllen, Texas.

I wanted to help this boy who was sent back to Guatemala without many hopes and now with broken dreams. I approached him to say a few words of encouragement. I wanted him to know there are organizations like World Vision that are looking to help communities and young people. I told him that and even pointed to my World Vision logo.

Kenny smiled. A lump formed in my throat.

A God-appointed role to respond to the needs of children

The number of boys and girls fleeing Guatemala has increased significantly.

Children who embark on the journey to the United States don’t know they could encounter sexual abuse, human trafficking, emotional damage, and, in some cases, death.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children from Mexico and Central America have entered the United States since last October, seeking refuge from violence and oppressive poverty. Many will try and fail or get caught by gangs that use the children as “mules” to traffic drugs.

At night, after telling my family about the crisis, we prayed together.

I realized I had to keep informed about what is going on with these young people. This was the role God had appointed me to do in this humanitarian crisis. I have to find courage to leave my comfort zone and take my backpack, my camera, and my computer to show the world that we have to do something for these kids.

We are Christians, always walking toward the hope of a new kingdom of love and justice.

*Name changed to protect child’s identity

Learn more

Ways you can help

  • Pray for children in Central America who face violence daily. Use our prayer points to help guide your prayers.
  • Sponsor a child today in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador. One of the best ways to keep a child safe from exploitation and violence is through child sponsorship, which provides a safety net of basics like safe shelter, nutritious food, clean water, education, medical care, spiritual nurture, and more.
  • Build Promise Packs. Caring groups of all sizes can purchase and assemble the packs for children affected by this humanitarian crisis. They’re filled with a blanket, a toothbrush, shampoo, school supplies, activity books, and an encouraging note for the child.
  • Create your own fundraising page and share it with your network of friends and family to help children who are affected by this crisis.
  • Advocate. The border crisis has prompted an attack on current U.S. anti-trafficking laws. Join us in urging the president and Senate to protect this critical legislation.