It was a dark, frosty December evening when I first read the email describing the forthcoming assignment to Guatemala City. It took me quite off guard. I knew little about the city, or country, only of its reputation as an international murder capital, a gangland battleground and the place to go for good coffee and bananas.

Six weeks later, I was standing, scorched under the golden sun of ‘Guate.’ The sprawling city, home to over four million, certainly lives up to its reputation: it’s big, it’s dirty, and it’s dangerous. Yet within a few days, my skepticism was replaced by an utter fascination for a place rich in history and resurging culture and a people of incredible experience and resilience.

I decided to focus on a story about youth violence and education: a somewhat exhausted topic, I know, but I wanted to steer clear of the grungy, black and white obsession with gore and misery that so often characterizes the powerful yet somewhat myopic work coming out of Central America.

Instead, I wanted to highlight the color and energy I found. I wanted not to dramatize the violence but to examine it as a component of people’s daily lives. I wanted to explore the nuances of growing up in city steeped in a bloody, complex history, yet on the verge of transforming through the enterprise and innovation of a struggling youth generation.

Here are some snapshots of my month in Guatemala City.

A teenage, MS-13 member stands watch at his night post overlooking the sprawling Limon and Maya districts in Zone 18, North-East Guatemala City. Rolling slums here stretch over steep, lush hills, acting as the battleground between the notorious Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gangs. Both have established an organised international presence, supporting murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution and trafficking in drugs, humans and arms. Such 'red zones' have developed throughout the city, known as dangerous, violence-ridden pockets where outsiders are unwelcome, and police and journalists routinely targeted. In Zone 18 alone, 65 people have been reported as killed since 2015. Members of these gangs are recruited from as young as 8 years old. #guatemala #photojournalism #reportagespotlight #everydaylatinamerica Photo by @souvid

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