Guillermo Díaz Linares: Portrait of a Volunteer

Guillermo Díaz Linares, a member of ATD Fourth World’s Volunteer Corps in Guatemala, discusses the time he spent mentoring a group of young people in Nueva Suyapa, Honduras.

I have been on the Guatemalan team since 2014. I am from Guatemala originally, and have been part of ATD Fourth World for many years now. Previously, however, my commitments with the Volunteer Corps had taken me far away from my home country. In those years, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the world to join in ATD’s work at an international level. Such experiences have been excellent training for the tasks that I now undertake. In each country, I discovered that families who live in extreme poverty are the first to struggle against it. They are the first to put into practice a solidarity that often we do not recognize.

I am now discovering this same reality in my own country, where I am rediscovering things that changed. Since I last lived in the slums here, ATD Fourth World started to support activities in schools, such as registering children to attend or facilitating conversations between teachers and parents. Through these activities, I have seen that although we are making progress each and every day, it will take a lot of time to see long-term changes. However, I have seen what low-income families can achieve through perseverance and by focusing on the future. Many of the children whom I left behind have now grown into young people who are continuing their studies. Others have graduated and are now committed to help the younger ones achieve as much.

There are no miracle cures that can happen overnight. It will always be a daily struggle to escape the misery of poverty. However, we can manage it if we stick together.

One of my responsibilities includes staying in touch with young people in Nueva Suyapa, Honduras. They are committed to supporting families in their city who are stuck in deep poverty. Neuva Suyapa is a district on the outskirts of the capital where life is hard. The area has quite a bit of violence caused by gangs, drugs, and extortion, among other things.

The neighborhood is changing: physically with the construction of new buildings; but also its people with many families moving out as soon as they can afford to. Usually, the poorest families are the ones unable to move. They cannot afford to leave both financially and because they do have support networks in Nueva Suyapa. There are also challenges for the young people who make a point of reaching out to the residents of Nueva Suyapa. Curfews require them to be home before nightfall. Also, the majority of these young people must earn money every day either to pay for their studies or just to get by. So their time for volunteering is limited.

I have learned a lot from these young people. Through them, I have discovered the power of commitment as I’ve seen that although their lives are hard, they believe that there will only be change in our society if people in the deepest poverty are involved.
In their free time, the young people run regular Street Libraries and also make visits to the children’s families. How could I not feel inspired to do more after seeing what they do? It’s from them that I learn the importance of loyalty and of continuity in relationships. I speak with them about the philosophy of ATD Fourth World, trying to answer some of their questions, such as: “Why are we not like other associations that distribute material goods, clothes, food or money?” I answer by talking about the meaning behind the Street Library – a window to culture and to the world. I explain to them that their gift to the children is having prepared the Street Library activities very well and always giving our best.

Given the distance between Honduras and Guatemala, I can’t support the young people on a daily basis. As a result, when I can visit them, I try to use our time for training sessions so that their learning can continue without my presence. To do so, I sometimes bring young Guatemalans with me. These exchanges are always enriching. I’ve learned that discovering other realities helps me – and others – to see a world that extends beyond your own neighbourhood or city. As we learn from one another, we progress every day.

Guillermo Díaz Linares is also a painter. In 2009-2012, when ATD Fourth World conducted participatory research about the violence of poverty, Guillermo painted a series of twelve paintings, some of which are shown here. The findings of this research, as well as these and other works of art, are in Volume 3 of Artisans of Peace Overcoming Poverty: Understanding the Violence of Poverty, a free ebook.

Art work by Guillermo Díaz Linares.