Juan David lives on the top of a mountain in Medellin, Colombia in a humble two-bedroom house with walls made of wood and a roof made of sheet metal.
The area where Juan David lives is called an “invasion” neighborhood; houses are at high risk because they are built on very unstable land. More than 150 families live here and most are displaced from other regions of the country due to guerrilla-related violence. Most are black people coming from the Chocó region.
After making our way over rocks, streams and trails, we finally arrive at Juan David’s house. His mom waits for her children at the door while she holds her youngest son in her arms. As she tells me her story, Juan David plays outside among the bushes with his sister. I can’t stop thinking that they might fall down the rocky outcrop, but it is so normal for them that it doesn’t seem dangerous at all.
When Juan David’s parents were still single, they had to flee their homes due to threats from a guerrilla group. His mom lived with her family, but after her brother was killed for refusing to be part of an armed group and her family started receiving death threats, they had to move.
Juan David’s father came to Medellin looking for work opportunities, but the violence displaced him. Unfortunately, he started doing drugs. Drug addiction affects many young people of this city, especially in the poorest areas.
Juan David’s dad now works in the Flowers Square, a marketplace where he helps carry merchandise to different stores. But the work is not consistent. His mom doesn’t have a job, which is very common in this community because most of the women have only an elementary-school education.
She is thinking about learning to use a flat sewing machine at the National Learning Service so she can help her family earn extra income. She would like to help her children rise above the poverty they live in.
Juan David is a quiet child with a smile that lights up his face. When we asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, he told us,
“I just want to drive a bus to take people where they want to go.”
You might have expected Juan David to say he wanted to become a fireman, a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut or any other career most little kids want to pursue. But here it is a noble purpose to want to help people move around. I asked him if he ever thought about becoming an engineer and his eyes lit up as he showed me his drawings.
“Yes, a construction engineer. I will build houses. Now I do it all in my imagination where I have materials and everything to build them.”
This shy and quiet boy does open his heart with his child development center tutor when she asks how he is. Even with me, he was very shy and serious at first, but then he began telling me about his problems:
“I fight at school because they call me names like negro chocoano.”
Calling someone negro chocoano is offensive; it shows discrimination because of skin color. Juan is deeply hurt by these words so he fights with his schoolmates and gets poor grades at school. He has been in the second grade twice, which concerns his mom and his tutors.
Even though he is quiet and serious at home, he loves music and becomes very happy when he listens to the Christian CDs given to him at the child development center. He wants to start music classes at the center and learn to play the bass.
Every day, Juan walks through an “obstacles course” to get to his child development center. When he first leaves his house, an old door serves as a bridge over a contaminated stream. He then has to walk over a second bridge — an old trunk spanning another stream that is no cleaner than the first.
Next he has to jump over a fence to get to paved stairs. The stairs have an open sewer in the middle. Finally there’s the last bridge, which is made of concrete and has railings. After Juan crosses this bridge he arrives at his development center.
Juan David has found that, at the center, tutors listen to him and take care of him. He receives lunch every day during the week and sometimes the center gives him some groceries for his mom and siblings. The pastor and tutor visit him and follow up with him at his home, which they do for many children who live in this area as displaced people.
This little one, like many others in his community, needs help not only in overcoming physical poverty, but also in addressing the poverty that circumstances have created in his mind and heart. But because of his involvement at the Compassion-assisted child development center, Juan David has hope — and an opportunity to dream about the future.