1. Sandra Yanira Tuluxan, a teenage girl from Jocotenango, Guatemala was diagnosed with gastritis because of lack of food in her family.

2. A view on Jocotenango municipality where most of the girls from this story live. Many poor families have houses with beautiful views but lack necessary utilities.

3. Julisa Rodríguez returns back from school to a room her family (mother and two brothers) rents in Jocotenango. Her 17 year old sister who moved to work in Guatemala City was killed in January 2013.

4. Afternoon in San Miguel Dueñas. Most schools have uniforms which makes all the kids look equally nice and tidy.

5. Julisa Rodríguez enters a rented room where her family lives. More families live in this "dorm" along with pets and poultry.

6. Flor Esmeralda Gallina Gonzales, left, had to help her mother pick coffee to be able to afford shoes for school and pay a $2 school fee. Her father works as a garbage collector for the municipal government.

7. Most families live in 1-2 rooms without much furniture others than beds.

8. Wendy Cruz Clemente, 12, at home in a poor section of municipality San Miguel Dueñas. After school she babysits her three younger siblings while her 14 year old brother has to work at a construction site.

9. Jonathan, 6, brother of Wendy Cruz takes a bath outside of their house.

10. Julisa had to collect cans with her mother before she was able to join school about a year ago.

11. Dolores Clemete Sotto, mother of Wendy Cruz Clemente cooks a meal for her family outside. Dolores is a single mother after her husband moved in with another woman.

12. Yanira's mother, Julia Reyes, watches her daughter as she cleans her room. Julia lost her ability to work when she slipped on the wet ground during the rainy season and broke her leg. Many people have accidents in this area due to the treacherous living conditions.

13. Wendy Cruz plays basketball with her brother and a neighbor in their old house. God's Child Project was able to build a better home for her family because they owned this piece of land.

14. The Tuluxan family consists of seven members, the oldest sister, 18, is the only one with an official job. She works as a housemaid with a monthly salary of around $150.

15. Brenda Leidy, 19, washes clothes for her 1 year old son and her husband’s family. Brenda was not able to continue education after she got pregnant.

16. Neustros Ahijados (The God’s Child Project) and Scheel's Center provide important access to education for kids in the area.

17. A boy feeds his cousin surrounded by his school friends at the Scheel’s Center, a middle school operated by Neustros Ahijados (The God’s Child Project). That day the school held a meeting for mothers on nutrition.

18. Students from the Scheel's Center, a middle school built and sponsored by God's Child Project, celebrate in front of the school after being released for vacation.

19. Girls use a street phone on the first day of school vacation. Young girls’ lives become even more complicated when they enter sexual maturation and start dating boys.

20. Yanira sees her friend off the school premises.

21. A troubled student reacts to being photographed during a school test at the Scheel’s Center in Jocotenango, Guatemala.

This photo story is about Guatemalan girls.

I was visiting Guatemala in March 2013 and this was my first trip to Central America. I found Guatemala sunny, colorful, hospitable and in the most part astonishingly poor. Our group of photographers was working with a charitable NGO named Nuestros Ahijados, or God’s Child. Their mission is to help poor families of Antigua and neighboring areas by providing education and medical services to children, building basic homes with volunteers, distributing clothes and food, and saving malnourished infants.

While in Guatemala I wanted to connect to local people and their lives. Before long my interest was drawn to the life of teenagers. Visiting poor families, seeing young couples hanging out, as well as young women often with a baby who were working on the streets made me think about teenage girls growing up there. Being a young woman myself, I could see the challenges they face or might face. Poverty forces them to partake in adult life too soon. Their health suffers from the conditions they live in. They babysit their siblings and work to support their families and to buy shoes or a uniform for school. They see violence in their neighborhoods and might find themselves or their relatives victims of such violence. They are lucky if they get access to education, stay diligent, and break out of poverty.

That is why the most important question that goes beyond the scope of this photographic project is what is the future for them? Will they ever break this circle of poverty through education? Or will they end up having a baby and multiplying the number of poor?

All images © 2012-2020 Alena Kuzub. Please, contact me in case you would like to use any photograph