In the small community of Jocotenango (hoh•koh•tay•nahn•goh), Guatemala, many children don’t have a safe place to play and learn. Over the years, a civil war and other problems have made life difficult for many people in the Central American country. A program called Los Patojos (pah•toh•hohs) is helping improve the lives of young people in Jocotenango. Los Patojos means “The Little Ones” in Spanish.
In 2006, a 23-year-old schoolteacher named Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes started Los Patojos in his hometown of Jocotenango. He saw that children there still had the same problems that he had faced when he was growing up. The area’s high crime rate continued to make daily life a challenge for many young people. So, Romero Fuentes converted part of his family’s home and a building down the street into a community center.
At first, Romero Fuentes only offered after-school tutoring to a small group of children. Since then, Los Patojos has grown and has now helped more than 1,000 children. Today, Los Patojos offers leadership and cultural programs for kids from ages 3 to 18. There are also classes in everything from music and dance to theater and juggling. The goal of all of the activities at Los Patojos is to give kids the tools they need to make positive changes in their community.
One program at Los Patojos provides a daily meal to more than 100 children. For some, this meal is the only one they get each day. Los Patojos also has a medical clinic that provides basic healthcare. In addition, the group is building its own school. Soon, about 250 students from preschool to sixth grade will attend classes at Los Patojos.
This year, Romero Fuentes was chosen as one of the top 10 nominees for CNN Heroes. His story and the stories of other heroes will be shared on a television special on the CNN channel. For being a CNN Heroes nominee, Romero Fuentes received money to help continue his work with Los Patojos. He loves his community and wants to inspire the children who live there. He wants Los Patojos to help make Jocotenango a better and safer community in Guatemala.