Saturday 18th February 2023
Many of us have been in those moments when we receive news of a loved one who has passed away and we are left in shock and often can´t believe what we are hearing. We can quickly say something like: “but I only saw them yesterday”. Dealing with the death of someone we care for is not an easy time and one can often feel guilty, angry, sad as well as suffer a tremendous sense of loss.
Within 48 hours we had two such calls over the last two weeks and the first was from one of the guys who lives in the streets of Guatemala City, informing me that Erica is lying on the streets and not moving. We had been with her a few days before and she was her usual self – happy, smiling and trying to wind us up.
I have known Erica for over 20 years and have seen this young teenage girl grow up on the streets of the capital and in an area that is well-known for a whole list of activities that I would rather not go into right now. It is here Erica grew up, learned life´s hardest lessons and quickly was assumed into the culture of street life. Her survival mechanism led her to becoming a young mum and drug addict and then suffering from various sexual infections together with regular beatings, hunger, cold and her fair share of traffic accidents. The impact of all this led her to lose control of her limbs and was left completely unable to walk.
Every visitor that walked along the fifth street in La Terminal eventually came across Erica and would always comment on her smile and her joy at being greeted and loved. She would often ask us for a drink of Coke and was very specific about what type of Coke she required and might even send back to the shops the visitor who bought her the wrong brand!
Sadly her body could just not cope anymore and gave up its fight and freed her from her day-to-day pain in this life. She spoke often about going to heaven and trusted that God would forgive her bad choices and offer her the eternal home she often dreamed would be there for her one day.
Like so many in the streets, death is close and when it comes we have a well-rehearsed plan in place that ends with a funeral and yet more moments of reflection for those still alive.
Erica was loved and tried to love much. We miss her and walking down the fifth will never be the same now as one can´t help but glance to “her spot” and remember the joy she always expressed when she saw your face.
No sooner had we returned from the cemetery the phone rang and my friend Oscar is crying on the other end. Oscar started with me in the mentoring programme when he was 10 years of age, but I have known him almost all his life. He is now crying on the phone and trying to tell me that his brother-in-law is lying on the floor dead and does not know what to do.
I head over to the tin shack where he lives and ask Juan Carlos, who works with us on the streets, to meet me there and help. On arrival I discover the 37-year-old lying on the concrete floor of the tin shack. It is hard to see as there are many people standing over his body, together with his wife Maria and her three children.
So many of the children we work with come from very fractious families. The reason why most kids take to street life is because of the state of their family. These three children are not the exception and sadly I know well the phases they will now go through over the coming hours, days and weeks.
The youngest boy, Daniel, is 7 and continues to lift back the curtain that is being used as the door for their home. I watch him over the next two hours and every time he comes into his home he just stares at his dad´s hand, the only part of him you can see as he is covered up by a sheet. The next eldest is Jonathan (photo), who is 9, and he seems to understand a little more than his younger brother that his dad is not getting up this time. The eldest daughter, Vivian who is 13, is coping by looking though her dad´s phone for photos and posting them on his social media account. With each photo there is a pause as she remembers happier days.
The funeral is the following day and we arrange everything as the family are unable to think straight right now. What they can do is focus on one thing, the wake, as we arrange for the body to be collected, prepared and re-dressed and delivered back with all the things needed for the family to spend the night grieving together.
Later the following day and after the funeral I visit the family to see how they are doing and to offer our support. Thankfully some good friends in both the UK and Guatemala have sent in donations to cover the cost of the funeral, so that is one thing less for Maria to worry about. What I discover is that they are three months behind with their rent and have no food whatsoever in their shack. Thanks again to a generous donor in the UK we have been able to sort out the rent, buy some food and help them think about the coming weeks as their children start school again.
The family will need ongoing support and guidance and I can see more children now entering into the mentoring programme. Being there is sometimes all we can do, but it is often all we need to do. Thanks to your support we can be here and be the extended hand that expresses your love to vulnerable children and families. Once again, thank you for your support.