Relentless drought and rising gang activity are squeezing the life out of Herik’s town in Guatemala. He’s watched many of his friends fall into crime or flee for the Mexico border. But with a little help from some Hymenopterans, he’s found a third way.

“I only have good memories from when I first began with Compassion. I was seven years old when that happened. I loved games—I was so happy to come to Compassion’s centre just for the games!” says Herik, and laughs.

Then his face and voice grow serious.

“[Now that I’m older], I understand that I need to do something to be someone in life. The Compassion centre isn’t just for the games, there is more. It’s a place to become a better person and to [learn how to] do more in life.”

Flee or be crushed

Herik, now 16, was born and raised in a humble family in a community called San Felipe Chenlá in Guatemala’s north west.

It should be an idyllic place to grow up. But instead, it’s as if an enormous vice is squeezing the life out of his town. He has watched many of his friends flee or be crushed by the deep-rooted problems in his town, his district, his country.

“It’s really sad, because most of my friends have become gang members or migrated. Most of them are friends who don’t have the opportunity to be part of a Compassion centre,” says Herik.

With unprecedented numbers of people leaving Guatemala for the hope of a better life in the US, his friends are far from alone.

Drought has caused crops to fail in consecutive years and staples like corn and beans have run out.

For rural communities and indigenous people especially, life is increasingly difficult. Up to 90 per cent of children in the worst-hit regions are malnourished. Small-scale farming, always a precarious way to make a living, has become almost impossible.

“Our community is poor; we have to travel to bigger communities to find better opportunities, to keep studying at university or to get a better job,” says Herik.

For so many, it’s flee or be crushed. But Herik, with the help of his Compassion tutor, Miguel Toma, found a third way.

A Path to Sweet Success

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“I never in my life expected to work with bees,” says Herik. “But I love it!”

“I’m so happy to do it, because despite the hard work it takes to check every week on how the bees are, I know my future is going to be great.”

For Herik and his friends, beekeeping is a long way from gang life or scratching a living from a plot of land gripped by drought. That’s why Miguel, their tutor, was so keen to pass along his knowledge.

“I learned to work with bees with a team of beekeepers in a nearby community,” says Miguel, “and I knew that this workshop could help the [teenagers at the centre].”

He guides 30 apprentice apiarists as they collect the honey and sell it to nearby communities, including other Compassion centres. Half of their earnings go to purchase supplies and keep the honey project humming, and the other half to the participating students.

“I am so thankful for Miguel, because he is so professional to teach and explain how bees work and how they make the honey, [as well as the technical skills like] how we need to open the [apiaries] and how to wear the uniforms,” says Herik.

“The money that I receive is a big support to pay for materials to do my homework, or to support my family.”

His income helps to relieve the burden on his parents—and gives him a strong belief that a better future is within reach.

Buzzing with Confidence

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Bees give life to many flowering plants and crop species. But for Herik, their impact has been much more personal. Put simply, these little insects have given him a future—and the ability to resist the trap of gang life.

He says he’s learned how to be a beekeeper but also discovered an important lesson: if he does his best and gets a little help from friends, he can overcome any obstacle.

“I am completely thankful for Compassion’s support. I received a scholarship to finish high school and I’m going to graduate next year, which means a lot to me because I will have a higher education,” he says, with a big grin.

“When I finish high school, I want to study at university. Maybe engineering or law—both call my attention. I want to be a professional and support my family as they supported me.”

Sponsor a child today and you can help a local church in Guatemala to ensure that children and teenagers like Herik discover a hope more powerful than poverty.

Words by Javier Elis and Richard Miller; photos by Javier Elis