Thursday 19th October 2023
Some days I see here the undeniable need for change in a society that has lost its way and where there is a silent congratulation for just existing one more day. With all that we are seeing of war, death and suffering around the world it is no wonder why one can feel helpless and even powerless.
Yesterday I walked with one of the young adults we have helped get off the rubbish dump to his humble home in the middle of Guatemala City´s largest developing slum, La Limonada. I first walked into this slum over 30 years ago when most of the now concrete structures were just tin shacks and where a highly contaminated river runs through the middle. The smell is often overpowering, but you do actually get used to it. The enormity of the place and its hidden need is what can make you feel helpless as very few Guatemalans would come down here.
The young man I was walking with I have known since he was 11 years-of-age and have seen a huge transformation in him over the years. From a kid growing up on a rubbish dump, doing drugs and involved in things that adults shouldn´t be doing, to now – being a great example of change. It was just fun walking with him and chatting about his life and family.
The reason for the visit today is to see his brother who is going through a tough time and needs some support. I have had him on my mind and heart for many months and have something I need to share with him that I feel God wants him to know about.
Walking closer to La Limonada you notice a change in the environment. The smarter cars are fewer, there are no police around and the feel of the place is increasingly oppressive. We walk close to the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry) where there are a hundred or more protesters demanding the resignation of the Attorney General. The protests have grown substantially over the last three weeks and have resulted in blockades throughout the country. The shouts of the protesters can be heard all around as we begin to walk down the numerous steps into the far side of La Limonada.
I am somewhat of an anomaly here as it is noticeable that people stop and stare. A man sees me coming and grabs hold of his door and pulls it almost closed while keeping a close eye on me as I pass. A lady is sitting on the crumbling pavement and talking out loud to herself while pointing at the figures that she must be seeing in her head. We continue to walk down the many steps and the “aroma” from the river begins to arouse my senses.
As we near the bottom of the steps I find a man, probably in his late 30s huddled over a piece of tin foil together with a boy aged around 12. Both seemed to be getting high on crack and the boy leans further into the foil and lets out a groan. Two ladies say good afternoon as they hurry past and then I meet three men drinking alcohol on a corner and make myself known by making a big deal of saying hi to them.
We walked into the alleyway where his house is and I am asked to wait until he ensures all is OK and I can climb up the few steps to see his brother. I wait and take a couple of photos while the dipping sun was casting its golden glow over the sprawling landscape.
I am now invited to come into his simple house and spend time with David. The last time I saw him he was 15 and had just become a dad and had decided to leave the local gang and try and make something of his life so that he can support his girlfriend and baby.
His smile is huge and infectious and I am pleased to see him too and we go inside and sit down, he on the bed and me on a plastic chair. A skinny cat rubs up against me and seems totally oblivious to its role in the home as a small mouse runs along the cable that hangs loosely from the ceiling and disappears into a hole in the block wall.
David was a lot of fun to be with and I first met him on the rubbish dump in La Terminal. He tells me he is nearly 10 and has a layer of dirt over his skin from working there in the heat of the day. His shabby clothes and rotting trainers were covered in rubbish. David smiled and then began to question me about who I was, what I was doing, why I was doing it and what I thought about the people on the rubbish dump. It was not long before he started appearing at our mentoring centre, which wasn´t yet open as workmen were working around the clock to try and get it finished before Christmas that year.
David always had that inquisitive nature and was always full of questions about why things were the way they were. I liked that and could see in him a desire for learning and so helped get him into school and could see he would thrive in an academic environment. The ups and downs of his time in school are something we can leave to one side for now as I know he has huge potential but seems resigned for now with drugs, stealing and sleeping during the day.
My message to him had been burning in my heart for many weeks and when I started to tell him what I had on my heart, tears began to stream down his face. He could see himself, as in a mirror, that the person he was now was not what he dreamed of when he was 10. I am now hoping he will work with us and go into a rehab centre as I know his potential is huge. It´s like I see him in an environment he was never meant to be. I feel so strongly he is destined for greater things and leave, after praying for him, and begin the climb back up the hill.
There was only one gun shot that rang out across the slum as I walked back up and then stopped at the top to take a photo. The sun was now setting but there was enough light for one photo and time to just look and think and appreciate what I have and then begin the long walk back home.
It´s not the safest place in the city and Sony, the SKDGuatemala Director, wrote to me later when I let him know I was home safely with the words “wow, that is a very dangerous place”.
The danger is never an issue, it´s the sadness that gets you. The hauntingly poignant image of that boy groaning as the drugs hit him will stick with me for a long time. I, at least, can go home to a place that is safe and I know that no one will break in during the night and where I won´t see children on the streets doing drugs or wandering around lost and without hope. I know the team here will do all they can to help David and I am hopeful that my parting words will have had an impact. There is still lots to do!