If you go looking for Los Romeritos, you may have a hard time finding it. On a narrow street in the poorest part of Guatemala City, it is camouflaged behind an unmarked door to help protect it from being a target for the crime that haunts the streets in its neighborhood. But, when you ring the bell and are identified as a friend, you are welcomed into a bright, colorful center alive with active laughing children.
In 2003, Bryan Stone of Emmet, Idaho visited Los Romeritos as a Volunteer in Mission. The following description of the center is taken from the account he sent back to his congregation:
“Los Romeritos is a day care project in a poor neighborhood in Guatemala City, named after Oscar Romero, the civil rights Archbishop assassinated in El Salvador in 1980. The very name cries out for justice for these marginalized children. Forty children depend on this project for a better life, and they are getting it.
“In 1995, 21-year-old Meggan Parkinson, active in the Oregon City Methodist Church, had a three-month study course canceled in Guatemala City. She stayed on to look into volunteer opportunities. She met Jaime Marcía in a central plaza locale, working with street children, trying to teach them how to survive. He had a theater background, as did Meggan. Jaime was a political refugee from El Salvador and was well versed in survival means. He tried to organize the children and directed their energy into street theater skits and games, juggling and magic performances that enabled them to earn a little money for themselves and their families.
“Meggan teamed with Jaime and they had meetings with the children to see what they wanted. The children wanted stable homes but that was going to be impossible . . . They decided on a day care shelter where they could be off the street when times were the hardest.
“Jaime and Meggan approached Guatemala’s top singers to donate songs to a music cassette, now available as a CD, that was sold with proceeds going to fund a shelter for these street children, children of single mother prostitutes, of abusive, domestic violence families, of undocumented refugee immigrants with no birth certificates and no rights and no voice. A child born in Guatemala needs nearly $200 to be registered at birth and that registration is necessary to attend school.
“The day shelter became a reality. Another young woman Meggan’s age, Laura Romero from Spain, was planning on coming to help. Meggan returned home to finish her degree program in theater. Her thesis was on Theater of the Oppressed and Theater of Development. She was killed in an automobile accident in California on May 27, 1997. She was 22. A month later Laura Romero met the same fate in Spain.
“The two families are now directing efforts toward the work that their daughters were dedicated to. In 2001, Laura’s family influenced Queen Sofia of Spain and the Spanish Red Cross to donate a building to Los Romerítos. Rent is no longer an overhead expense. Meggan’s family works with a group of volunteers, Los Amigos de los Romeritos, based in Portland, Oregon, to underwrite general operating expenses - light, heat, crayons, and paper. Salaries? It’s close to a labor of love for Jaime, the director of the school.
“Jaime’s main concern is still to furnish two good meals a day, school catch-up classes, teaching respect and love for others, conflict resolution without violence, providing legal help, study discipline, and imaginative projects . . . so children are not forced into crime, prostitution and sweat shops. What did he ask from us? He wants wigs to make better clown costumes.
“Miracles are happening in this mission.”
Since it opened in 1996, over 100 Volunteers in Mission have visited Los Romeritos, and scores of volunteers have helped with teaching, health care, and upkeep of the center. In the U. S., volunteers raise funds year round, and hundreds of friends donate time and funds to keep the center going. Several robberies in the last few years, cuts in government grants for the meals program, and essential maintenance needs have posed challenges, but generous friends and the hard work and dedication of staff and supporters keep the program going strong.