Last month, 40 teenage girls died and 13 more were left with serious injuries after a fire in a children’s home in Guatemala. Staff of the Bible Society, which has been ministering to children in the Virgen de la Asunción home for more than five years, are heartbroken and are working to bring help and healing to all those affected.
“There was a riot in the home, and 60 girls and some boys ran away,” explains Project Coordinator Annelisse Palma. “When they were caught the girls were locked in a classroom as a punishment. One of them set a mattress on fire as a desperate cry for help, but the fire got out of control and caused this huge tragedy. Our hearts are broken.”
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the Bible Society’s staff and volunteers sprang into action to offer practical and spiritual help, naming the project Healing the brokenhearted. As well as providing humanitarian aid, they are visiting the injured children in hospital, praying for them alongside their families, and providing Scriptures. They have set up support groups for the grieving relatives of the girls who died, to offer Scripture-based trauma healing.
The 500 other girls and boys at the home, already fragile from the difficult lives they have led, are traumatised by the events. They have been moved to a number of other shelters while repairs are made. Bible Society staff and volunteers, who are familiar to the children, are regularly visiting them in their new homes, bringing them Scriptures and spending time with them to help them deal with their trauma. Special support is being offered to girls who have been victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, now living in the Human Trafficking Shelter in Quetzaltenango.
“All the children in the home have had to face such cruel situations in their young lives already,” says Ms. Palma. “Some have been abandoned, orphaned, trafficked, abused, and others were living on the streets or involved in gangs. Over the past five years, we have been trying to improve the lives of children in this and other homes by running two Scripture-based projects. The Wings of Refuge project is aimed at helping orphaned and abandoned children who have either already been drawn into lives of crime or are vulnerable to that, to encounter and engage with God’s Word. And the Free to Live project is aimed at girls who have been victims of sex trafficking.
“Many of the children at the Virgen de la Asunción home have developed a relationship with God and found peace in their hearts. Some of them are still among us and some of them have gone to be with the Lord, but they are in our hearts, and in the hearts of those who have supported these projects.”
The Healing broken hearts project aims to reach at least 400 children from the home, along with 50 monitors who are taking care of them, and 25 family members. The project will run in three stages, providing immediate help and long-term support, depending on the needs that emerge.
“Please pray for this project, for the children and their families, and for the volunteers supporting them,” says Ms. Palma. “The pain is immense, the challenge is big, but our passion to bring hope through the Word of God is greater. We believe that we will see the hand of God comforting, healing and restoring the hearts of the children in this home, and throughout Guatemala.”