Lucas’s story: The YMCA taught me to respect and value my body

With the help of his local YMCA, Lucas learned about the consequences of commercial sexual exploitation. He turned away from a life on the streets, took control of his life and has since taken up work at a beauty salon.

Life was complicated for Lucas growing up. He lived with his mum and three siblings, but with rent and food costs, his mother and two older brothers spent the day working, leaving him and his other brother to spend the day at their aunt’s house. However, when his aunt’s home should been a safe place to stay, it nearly destroyed his life when his cousin began sexually abusing him.

“I didn’t tell anyone in case they got mad at me or hit me,” he explained. Lucas was forced to spend more time on the street with boys from his local neighbourhood. “I went to parties and sometimes I drank and smoked. What I was doing led to problems at home, and I left home with someone I had met on the street.”

Life got worse for Lucas though. Now on his own and with bills to pay he had to find a way to earn money. Aged just 16 with no skills or qualifications, finding a job wasn’t an option, “In order to eat and pay the rent I began to work as a sex worker.” In Colombia thousands of street and working children like Lucas who have grown up surrounded by a culture of violence, and at risk of leaving education early, have to work illegally to earn money or support their families.

“I got tired of the situation and I wanted to change things,” said Lucas, “I decided go home and talk to my mum to see if she could help.”

Upon returning home his mother took him to Bogotá YMCA after hearing about a project that supports street children, and  it gave him the second chance he needed to leave his life working on the streets. Bogotá YMCA provides psychological support to young people who have experienced sexual exploitation and helps them access local services and support so they can learn about their legal rights and responsibilities.

It was here, that Lucas learned about the consequences of working on the street, and was taught about negative effects of drug and alcohol consumption. “The YMCA taught me about my sexual rights, to respect and value my body.”

Just £20 could allow a YMCA to provide beauty classes for young men and women. Photo: Bogotá YMCA

Just £20 could allow a YMCA to provide beauty classes for young men and women.

With the support of Bogotá YMCA, young people also participate in vocational training and employment skills workshops to support them to find a job. Lucas begun taking beauty classes and, building on what he learned, started working in his freind’s salon.

“As I like everything to do with beauty they encouraged me to do a beauty course and now I earn my own money from it and I can buy what I need. My partner has a beauty salon so I work there and things at home have improved.”

There are thousands of young people like Lucas in Colombia who are suffering from commercial sexual exploitation. They don’t need to suffer in silence. With your kind donation today the YMCA can reach people like Lucas, and make sure they build a future away from the streets.

Share this article