Thursday 10th August
It is always exciting when visitors come to see the work and one has to explain to them that going on the streets is an experience they will never forget. I have to also say that you never know exactly what will happen as the work is often chaotic and unpredictable.
Dan Jennings is from Amersham in the UK and has been out here for two weeks and we said our tearful goodbyes to him last night. One little boy, 7-year-old Melvin, had grow quite attached to Dan and was in tears when he left, which made Dan cry and realise how desperate the kids are for love and affection. It was funny though watching how the kids in our Centre jumped on Dan and then bundled him to the ground – a fun way to end his time with us.
I was out with Dan and Ben Soden the other afternoon on the streets and it had been explained to Dan the volatile nature of our work when we turned a corner in La Terminal and came across a scene that Dan and Ben later acted out for the other volunteers we have visiting at the moment. It was one of those scenes that I am sure will stick with Dan forever.
We had spent some time with a family in one area of La Terminal in Guatemala City when we decided to move on to see how three young children were doing as we had reports that the youngest one was now sniffing solvents everyday and not going to school.
Walking out of the crowded and busling market area into the car park that separates the market from an area we call “las casitas” (the little houses) is a relief on the senses. No soon as we had walked into the car park than Marta ran up to me crying and asking me for help. Marta is 16 and is carrying a baby on her back. I held onto her shoulder and was about to comfort her and find out why she was crying, even though the bruised faced gave me a clue, when Carmen – who is a short distance away – starts screaming. Her screams distract us for a moment and divert our attention to a lady collapsed on the ground. At the same time Reyna, another young teenage mum, approaches us in tears. We seemed to have walked into quite a situation and for a moment we are overwhelmed and it seems like we are frozen in time.
My brain goes into emergency mode where I try and look at what is happening and make a judgement about what is the most important thing to do. Cleary it is the lady lying on the ground who apparently unconscious. It turns out to be Doña Gloria who we know well and as we try and comfort the three teenage girls I evaluate Doña Gloria´s situation as a small crowd begins to gather around us.
Doña Gloria has a story that should be turned into a book. It won´t be a book with a happy ending so far but we live in hope that it will one day. Doña Gloria has grown up in La Terminal and earns about £3 a day for cleaning up rubbish. It is obviously not enough to live on and the three young children and teenage boy who live with her have to try and fend for themselves. It is heartbreaking and we have tried so many times to find alternative solutions for the family but these have always been rejected.
Doña Gloria has no obvious wounds and seems to have collapsed and, from what I can understand, is in shock. We place her in the recovery position and ensure she is breathing and somewhat comfortable while trying to talk to her and bring her round. Dan is a real help and holds her head while Ben and me continue to check her pulse and talk with her. For a few seconds she comes round and looks up into my face and cries and says: “Duncan, please take care of my children”, before her body starts to shake and once again she loses consciousness.
I call for the Bomberos to come and take her to hospital while Dan monitors the situation and Ben, now joined by Frank, go with Reyna into Las Casitas to try and resolve a family dispute that, we later find out, is at the heart of this whole situation.
Having a friend who helps run the Bomberos means they arrive quickly and the sirens draws the attention of people from all around. A crown gathers and the police step in to manage the push of people to see what is happening. The Bomberos get through the crowd and help us assess the situation. They agree with my initial observation that Doña Gloria has collapsed and showing signs of shock.
We manage to lift her onto the stretcher and arrange for one of her daughters to go with her to hospital and then are left with four young children in our care until we find out what is happening with Doña Gloria. Due to the number of people still hanging around to see what we are doing I decide to take the children back to their shack and chat with them about options.
This is not going to be easy as we have little choice if Doña Gloria cannot return tonight but to inform the authorities as we just can´t leave a small baby and three young children in the care of a teenage boy who is high on solvent. I explain the possible options and when the older children here about the obligation we have to inform the authorities they begin to scream about not going into a home where they will be abused. I leave them for a minute and make a phone call and while I do they all escape and hide in the alleyways in La Terminal.
Some of the neighbours come out and begin to complain that we are going to inform on them all and they will all lose their children. One family wants to talk about making a formal complaint to the police about her being hit by one of the other families there, which left her lying on the ground for over an hour unable to move. It is a volatile situation and I am concerned for the safety of the team and so we decide to walk away for a short time and, as we do, we receive a call from the hospital that Doña Gloria is allowed to leave.
The night is a long one and involves us collecting Doña Gloria and her daughter, finding the missing children, calming down aggressive families and trying to bring some form of peace before we head home and try and find some food to sustain us a while longer. Just another day on the streets and one I am sure Dan will remember for a long time to come.