Juan's Story: The Journey Home | Global Refuge

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New name.
Same mission.

LIRS is now Global Refuge.

Welcoming newcomers since 1939.

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Juan's Story

The Journey Home

Sixteen-year-old Juan didn’t want to watch his mother work so hard anymore. His father had fallen ill, unable to work, and his mother had taken on multiple jobs, laboring at all hours of the day just to feed Juan and his siblings. He knew their life was not sustainable—but when he made the difficult decision to migrate to the United States alone at the end of his 10th grade year, he was quickly returned home.  “Sadly, I couldn’t cross,” he recalls. “I was stopped at the border in Juárez and sent back to Guatemala.”

Juan’s experience is not unique; each year, thousands of young people in Guatemala seek refuge in the U.S. due to poverty, violence, instability, and other unlivable conditions in their home country. But for those who are returned home, reintegration into life before their migration journey can be challenging.

The Way Home

For youth who left the country to provide for their families, it can be difficult to reenter the school system due to pressure to join the workforce. Many returned youths also have unmet mental health needs stemming from violence, family dynamics, discrimination, and the traumatic journey to and from the United States.

Seeing this immense need, Global Refuge embarked on our first-ever international program, launching the Camino a Casa program to serve returned youth.

Thumbnail for a video entitled 'The Journey Home with Global Refuge'

Operating across nine regions in Guatemala, Camino a Casa (which translates to “the way home”) is for youth aged 14 to 24 who’ve returned from the U.S. or Mexico. The program offers vital support to help them reintegrate into society after experiencing the hardships of migration and aims to empower young people like Juan to see the potential in their homeland. By furthering their education and career goals, and supporting their financial, physical and mental health, the program encourages them to build a brighter future right where they are.

The program has helped Juan enroll in college courses and provided him with a laptop so he can submit his assignments online. He works as a bricklayer’s assistant during the week and takes his classes on weekends. According to Juan, Camino a Casa has given him hope.

“It’s been a great help because not everybody would give you the chance to pursue your dreams and continue your education,” Juan said, adding that his goal is to become a social worker and make a positive impact in his community.

Building a Brighter Future at Home

Camino a Casa psychologist Diana María Cifuentes González stresses the need to create opportunities for youth to thrive locally, so they do not feel that migrating is the only way to succeed.

“Guatemala is a country with great cultural riches … there are many opportunities in Guatemala for our youth to stay here,” says Cifuentes González. “We need to create those connections so that they can access them and decide to stay in Guatemala.

With the support of Global Refuge, not only has Juan decided to stay in Guatemala, he is now determined to make a difference in his community.

“My wish is to work with people, learn about empathy, do things with love, and do things right,” he shares. “I want to be a social worker who does things with love.”

As the program grows, Camino a Casa Head of Program Sharon Huertas hopes to reach even more young people like Juan and help shape a brighter future for the country she loves.

“I feel very happy to have the opportunity to be an instrument and a channel of blessings for the families through what Global Refuge does, both in the United States and how it can impact my country, my people.”

Juan received a laptop to continue his studies as part of the Camino a Casa program.

Media: Javier Aparicio and Oscar Leiva, Silverlight Photo & Video

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