Saturday 29th April 2023
Walking down one of the busy roads in La Terminal in Guatemala City will take you past hundreds of stalls, most selling flowers, fruit and vegetables. It is noisy and often messy under foot as the thousands of daily visitors help generate over 3 million pounds worth of transactions per day. Built in the 1950s as a hub for the rural bus network to connect with the city centre, La Terminal has grown into the largest market in Central America.
It is here we work and where our first mentoring centre is situated. It is notorious for many things and certainly my afternoon and evening walk through the alleyways yesterday was not without its moments of risk, excitement, joy and challenge. Your eyes need to be open to what is going on as so much happens that your mind often struggles to take it all in.
I am visiting three of the children who have been in the mentoring centre this week and I am wanting to see how they are doing.
I come to the point in the 4th street where it becomes lighter and the street wider and you can almost be forgiven for not noticing the small metal door between two shops. It is half open and is dark inside, but as I walk in and up the steps I come to the upper level where hundreds of people live in squalid conditions, surviving in tiny concrete rooms with no windows, no bathroom and very little ventilation. The corridors are full of children playing, running up and down and enjoying their childhood as only children can.
As I get to a corner two children run out and meet me. Little Estuardo is holding up his arms and wants, as always, to be picked up and hugged. He is getting heavier now and soon is leaning back and looking into my eyes and asking me how his new mentor is. His sister introduces me to their cousins, two young identical twin boys. The mum now hears I have arrived and comes out of their room and smiles and asks how Juan Carlos (Estuardo´s new mentor) is doing.
Doña Flor, the mum, has fought hard over the years to keep her kids off the streets. It has been a battle and their new home is now farther away from the drug addicts that used to grace their doorstep, but it now comes with new challenges. Cooking is done outside in the corridor, toilets are for rent further down by the steps, together with showers, but it costs and every trip is another expenditure and over a week this starts to become quite a sum.
She was smiling and telling me about how much she had enjoyed the seminar at the mentoring centre today. She tells me how much she learned about how to manage money, the importance of saving, ideas of how she could generate a second income and the challenge to not fall into the various traps that are circulating around La Terminal that place people living in poverty in greater debt.
I leave and move on to visit another family. Leaving is not easy and takes time as the children ask for one more swing, one more hug, one more… well the list goes on.
I pop into see Carolina who had called me because she is distraught and needs to ask for advice. Out of the blue someone called her the other day and said they were a relative that was now living in the USA. It was clearly a scam but she was sucked into the story of a distant cousin who was coming back to Guatemala and was sending her a suitcase with phones and cash in and could she arrange to transfer him money to pay for the flight home. Slowly, and over three days, the caller convinced her to borrow money and send it because when the case arrived she would be paid back and earn so much more.
Carolina borrowed from here and there and made the transfer to the USA and then discovered that the suitcase hadn´t arrived and the number was now out of service. She was heartbroken as she thought she was helping her relative and was now facing years of paying back the £400 she had borrowed. She sat and sobbed and said she was more upset that someone had fooled her than thinking about the huge debt around her neck. She wished she could have seen what was coming and now has to re-build her life all over again.
Just a few hours or wandering around La Terminal and spending time with two families opens my eyes again to the reality with which thousands of people navigate each day. When you are living in poverty your options are few and every decision you take can lead so quickly to further poverty, abuse and pain or can slowly lead to growth and freedom. I know the team here work hard every day to bring more people along the path of freedom, walking with them and helping them make the best decisions they can to keep their children off the streets, out of gangs and in education.