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Helping street children in Latin America


A U.K. program working to promote the plight of the street children in Latin America and support projects that seek end their suffering.


The Toybox Charity, registered and founded in the U.K. in 1992, was inspired by British youth workers Duncan and Jenni Dyason. After viewing a harrowing television programme, they decided to relocate to Guatemala to help the street children of Guatemala City. Within a year of their arrival in the country, they organized The Toybox Charity, known in Guatemala as "El Castillo."

El Castillo’s first project was a training centre known locally as "The Tower". Here, street children may visit daily for showers, clean clothes, meals, and a basic education. There were also training facilities where they could learn local crafts in order to earn a living and leave the streets.

Teams of street workers go out every evening to befriend the children where they live—on the city dump, at the bus station, or in "The Hole", a filthy alley strewn with the scraps and leftovers of a nearby market. They play with them, tend their wounds, and share with them their own faith. They encourage the children to visit the training centre and join some of their outings—to the beach or the zoo—where they can just appreciate their childhood. The children’s street life usually denies them the pleasures of youth. Most of them have been physically or sexually abused by their parents or caretakers. They come from hopelessly overcrowded homes with a single room, dirt floor, and scanty food cooked in a single pot over an open fire. Some will have been abandoned or forced to leave home because their families just have too many mouths to feed. Others choose the camaraderie of the streets as it provides some form of security, however questionable, compared with the insecurity and violence of their homes.

Most of the children are drug-addicted. They invariably inhale fumes from "glue-bags" suspended permanently around their necks. The short-lived "highs" alleviate the miserable drudgery of their daily lives. There are more boys than girls on the streets, but those girls who do live there are forced into prostitution. They frequently become pregnant, some as young as eleven or twelve. Their babies often die at birth or soon after as disease and malnutrition are endemic. Babies who survive risk being stolen and sold to the thriving market of childless couples abroad.

Carolina, one young mother, almost lost her baby this way. Daniel was just two years old when thieves tried to drag him from his mother’s arms. She pulled him away and fled, bumping into Toybox Director Duncan Dyason as she ran. Recognising him as a possible source of help, she shared her story. Duncan offered Daniel a place in the newly completed boys’ home. Daniel was severely malnourished and suffered from several minor ailments, all treatable. He continues to live there, and he enjoys regular visits from Carolina. She is waiting to move into the girls’ home with him when it is ready.

The boys’ and girls’ homes were the next projects upon which Toybox embarked. It was decided to encourage the children’s development as individuals by founding a series of small houses (eight or nine children per house), each presided over by house parents. In May 1995, the first boys’ home was opened by the British Ambassador, who has remained very supportive of the projects. There is room on the land to build several more homes as funds allow.

Children must earn a place in the home by attending the training centre regularly for several weeks and by demonstrating a willingness to give up drugs and obey necessary rules. It is often difficult for boys accustomed to total freedom and lawlessness to adjust to a disciplined environment. Even when they are in the home, they often run away. If this happens, the child must repeat the process to earn a place again.

Moses is one teenager who has found adjustment to life in a home particularly hard. He left his family after years of violence and abuse at the hands of his mother. Herbert Paiz, the Guatemalan director of El Castillo, found him weeping. Herbert took him into his own home, and Moses began to attend school. After running away from Herbert twice, Moses was offered a place in the boys’ home if he could comply with the simple conditions. He worked hard and managed to give up his drug addiction, but it was difficult to discipline him. Several times, he ran away and immediately regretted his impulse. Currently, he is back on the streets. There is no simple panacea which to solve his problems instantly, but Herbert and his staff do not give up hope.

Toybox’s third project was the provision of a home for girls and their babies. Opened early in 1997, the first house is managed like the boys’ home. Here, though, each young mother has her own room, in a series of self-contained units, which she shares with her child. Again, there is room for further construction. The girls cultivate their own vegetables and assist in the running of the home. Their children attend local schools, educating the next generation away from the streets.

Toybox founders Duncan and Jenni Dyason now operate from the U.K., though Duncan returns to Guatemala three times a year to oversee the projects. He travels around the U.K. and the United States speaking at churches, schools, and other groups to inform the public of the plight of the street children. He also encourages and organises fund-raising events to support the projects in Guatemala.

Duncan brings back quanitities of Guatemalan handicrafts every time he visits the country; Toybox has a trading arm known as Castle Art & Crafts Ltd. This company sells the handicrafts, bought and sold at fair trade prices, to support administrative and travel expenses, so that 100% of all donations go directly to Guatemala.

Future plans include expansion into other Latin American countries where there are similar problems with street children. It is hoped that projects could be set up along the same lines with training centres and groups of small homes.

The charity already has supporters in the United States; its American branch is based at John Brown University in Siloam, Arizona. The address is: The Toybox Charity, c/o Mr Joe Walenciak, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761, U.S.A. Our address in the U.K. is P.O.Box 660, Amersham, Buckinghamshire HP6 6EA.





  1. It is important to look beyond one’s own borders. There are children in need throughout the world, and anyone can help them.
  2. Providing skills and education is key to ending the cycles of poverty, abuse, and addiction.
  3. To expect positive results, programs (like Toybox Charity) should require participants to show a willingness to accept responsibility and desire to change one’s lifestyle.
Angela Hayward cCYS