Antony Ledezma Mendin
& The Bethlehem Youth Club – A photo shoot for Opportunity Nicaragua
When Antony was eight years old his parents divorced, and his family disintegrated around him. Antony’s mother is Costa Rican, but his farther is Nicaraguan. When the family broke down Antony’s father returned to Nicaragua, forcibly taking Antony with him.
They moved to the Nicaraguan Capital of Managua and shared a house with Antony’s grandmother. Life at home was tough, and the family relationship was strained. Antony rebelled. He fought with his father and grandmother, who also fought with each other. At a young age he began experimenting with drugs, smoking and drinking, by 12 he decided living on the streets was better than at home. He ran away.
Antony lived on the streets with a group of friends. They stuck together and protected each other. To get money they would steel whatever they could, sometimes visiting local farms to rob fruit and then sell it on the street.
As he got older, the group of friends developed into a gang; drugs and gang related violence became part of life. Antony looks back on his past drug use with open honesty, recalling “I was crazy, but I liked it (to feel something different)”. The violence on the street was life threatening. At one point in a street gang related attack Antony’s skull was smashed open with a rock, he spent 15 days in hospital and came dangerously close to death.
His life reached crisis point after the sudden death of one of his close friends and soon after Antony was jailed for armed robbery. He spent two months in jail awaiting sentencing. While in jail, a Christian group visited the inmates. Their message resonated with Antony and when still in prison he accepted Jesus as his saviour. Antony was facing at least 10 years in jail and began to pray to for his freedom.
On the day he was to be sentenced an extraordinary string of events occurred. The official escort to court failed to show up. At the end of the day the police officer in charge did not know what to do. He called Antony inside and, astonishingly, gave him his release papers. The charges were dropped and he was free to go. In that moment Antony felt God had answered his prayers and became a committed Christian.
He was free, but with nowhere to go Antony was back on the streets and in danger of returning to his old ways. In his old neighbourhood he met Doña Suzie, who is part of the Bethlehem Youth Club community. The youth club rescued Antony from the streets. They gave him a place to live, food, clothes and support to turn his life around.
Now, the number one change in Antony’s life is a feeling of security. He no longer has to steal in order to eat or wonder where he is going to sleep. The Bethlehem Youth Club gives him a safe, supportive environment, for him to strengthen his resolve to live a new life.
Antony now dreams of being married and having a family, not such a wild dream. He already has a child on the way with his girlfriend, but is honest when he says he is not prepared for marriage. Antony feels inadequate about not finishing school and not having any job skills. He hopes to earn these and be able to support his own family before he asks his girlfriend to marry him. He also dreams of finding his mother who he has not seen since leaving Costa Rica.
Text by James Galletly, Freelance Travel Writer
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