I (Kevin) ventured to the small town outside of Nicaragua known as El Barrio del Cruz and met up with a young man named Francisco. A graduate of the Los Quinchos program, Francisco has spent the last nine years of his life giving back to the organization that made such an impact on his life.
Since that first meeting, Francisco and I have spent two days a week working with the youth together, sharing our stories and developing a friendship. The Los Quinchos program begins right here in Managua. Their outreach house, known as The Filter House, situated in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Managua, invites youth in from the street, offering three meals a day, a comfortable bed and the opportunity to take classes (they would not have the money necessary to pay even the basic school fees). In exchange for this opportunity the staff at the Filter House ask only that the youth hand in the drugs in their possession at the door. The time that I have spent here has been tough. Watching young kids go through withdrawals from drugs is difficult, some leave because it is overwhelming and others stay as they go through the pain.
In El Barrio del Cruz their are two homes, one for boys and the other for girls, places used as another point of transition from one life to the next after a youth is ready and wants to leave The Filter House and begin a new life. These homes allow the youth an opportunity to get out of Managua, attend a private school and the chance to develop friendships with youth who once lived on the street and are trying to make changes in their life. Here Francisco and I teach art classes at the girls home (for those of you who do not know--I am a horrible artist with little to no ability). This means that most of my time is spent building relationships with the girls - asking them about their lives, hearing their stories, their likes and dislikes and talking to them about their hopes and dreams. The Los Quinchos program offers this opportunity to the youth as a point of starting over and developing a new style of living, hoping to provide the youth with something tangible and positive that they can do with their lives.
On my first visit to The Filter House I was hassled for money by a man who appeared to be about sixty. I later learned that this man was actually Francisco's age, only thirty years of age. The two men had actually entered the Filter House together, Francisco stayed and he did not. As we talked the man stood a little ways away. Affected by his many years of drug use, he looked much older than he was. Soon he was down on all fours playing with the dogs on the street. Francisco wept and said in Spanish, "we all have choices in life, choices we may not understand we even have, we need to help these kids see that there is something more to life than what they now know."