Saturday 10th September
My plan was to return from the sponsored walk through Central America, spend a few days with the Mi Arca team and catch up on some admin and then head off for a week´s holiday. The plans of resting for the week and all I had dreamed of doing were in the forefront of my mind while I was walking the last two weeks. I knew I needed something really exciting to keep me going as well as the faces and names of the children we are helping.
On my return it was clear that the situation with Mi Arca was not the one I had left 5 weeks before and needed my urgent commitment. Alongside some very serious staffing and volunteer issues came a list of names of children and families at risk. It was impossible to just pack and bag and head off and so I decided to keep going and try and help where I could.
Dropping one of the children home one evening to their little shack I found one of the little boys we work with playing outside in the street. The family of the child I was dropping off invited me into their shack and as I entered their home I heard the mother of the boy playing in the street scream obscenities and then drag the young boy into the adjacent shack. The boy´s cries were just terrible and the mother begins to hit him hard and on each hit another scream. I am told that this is a daily occurrence for him and that in another shack a young girl is being hit by both her father and mother. In one recent incident the girl was left with serious injuries to her face as her parents repeatedly hit her. As I leave the boy is still crying and the little girl sobbing as she sits hunched up on the street. How can you just go home and pack your bags and head off to a beach?
The following day I have to drop two boys off after their mentoring programme in the same street and as I do a lady who calls me over and begs me for help. I explain that after dropping the boys home I will return and then hear her story. A few minutes later I turn up the road where there are around 40 small bars, all offering prostitution to the many men who frequent La Terminal at night.
Doña Lydia is clearly distressed as well as drunk and her business is not doing well. She has been working in La Terminal for many years and has seen everything that most of us wish to never see in our lifetime. Her family is scattered around La Terminal and it seems that most are in the two camps of either getting along or fighting and trying to kill each other. She is desperate to talk to me about her 13-year-old daughter, Carmen, who was arrested by police two weeks ago because she and two 11-year-old boys were on the streets at night taking drugs. Normally the police would not bat an eyelid but the previous night a local TV channel reported the story of the children and so the following day the PGN (child protection service) and police turn up and take two of the three away to the secure children´s home, which is basically a prison for children. The third child manages to escape custody and runs off into the dark alleyways in La Terminal.
As she talks to me about Carmen and how she wants to have her back at home her 17-year-old son bursts into the bar and smashes a bottle on the step and starts swinging it around and shouting at two men sitting at a table. This was the first time I have met her eldest boy and obviously not the best of introductions. Her grandson is 4 and starts screaming and clings to me whilst calling my name over and over again. He is very clearly distressed and so I keep him behind me while I try and talk the lad into remaining calm. It does no good as he begins to use his fist rather than the bottle. The two men leave and some sense of calm falls upon the bar as we take the bottle form his hand and allow him time and space to talk.
The 4-year-old is still in shock and so I focus on a wound on his leg and I ask him to help me with my medical kit. The extra attention I pay to his leg overshadows his real needs, but for the moment this will have to do. It is a tough beginning to a very long night and I walk to meet two UK volunteers, Alex Denton and Jack Gocher, who have come to join Ben Soden and help us on the streets and in the Centre. They are running activities just around the corner for about 30 young children.
The week begins to look like it will be a busy one with many such incidents, children coming to the Centre with some devastating news and big needs, coping with some who have left rehab and returned to the streets, families calling and asking for help as they haven´t seen me in weeks and have been waiting till I returned to tell me of the desperate situations they are in and many other situations that demand my time.
I did want to write a blog here about my reflections from the walk, but this will have to wait. But I would like to say here a massive THANK YOU to all those who supported me throughout the five weeks, for those who wrote most days, for those who watched and shared the video blogs, for those who sponsored me and for those who offered us places to stay along the way. It was one incredible experience and I will be trying to cover some of the story on Radio Christmas this December and maybe a book in the New Year.