Saturday 14th May 2016
I have just finished a chat with a 16-year-old boy who is struggling with making good decisions in his life and was seeking my advice. He is a drug dealer and user and has been involved in local robberies and other crimes and feels lost, lonely and that his only option is to self-destruct.
I feel his pain and can see exactly where his mind is taking him as I was at his stage as a teenager and so tried to explain to him where his life will end up unless he makes the decision to allow us to help him. His presence on the streets is increasing now and two nights ago was completely out of his mind and trying to provoke fights with other boys on the streets. Another lost boy who is not yet desperate enough to receive the help he clearly needs.
Life here does not allow us much time for reflection but this blog enables me to think through the discussions I have had and what I have experienced, and then share this with you in the hope you will understand more of the world I live in.
Soon after my return from Honduras one of the girls we had been helping in our mentoring programme became very ill with severe stomach pains. Due to the time of day and the severity of her pain I took the decision to take her to a local private clinic rather than the main government-run hospital.
The poor little girl was in a lot of pain and with both parents in prison we had to act in her best interests and take control. Many hours and tests later we left the emergency room at the clinic and headed back to the Centre. We made the decision, under guidance from the doctor, to allow her and her siblings to stay at the Centre for the next three days until she started to feel stronger.
Having three children living at the Centre was a challenge and those of you reading who are parents know the hard work that is needed in getting three children through a day. Thankfully we saw how the rest and medical support has helped her back to full health and when I invited the three of them to watch a video with me last week and saw how the girl jumped on her brother for play fighting I realised she was back to her normal self. Despite being back to full health the family situation is one that we will need to invest a lot more time over the coming weeks in order to keep all three safe.
Talking of health, Brandon was back on the streets this week after two weeks in the Mojoca refuge. He was doing well and so we visited him and he was told us all about his desire to go into carpentry and learn the trade. Then one day he appeared on the streets and was exceptionally high on solvents. His health had deteriorated dramatically and when I was asked to treat his gunshot wounds I could see how fragile he was as every touch to his chest left him in great pain.
Thankfully another organization has offered to take him in and try and invest time in his rehabilitation. We wish him well and hope not to see him on the streets as two days ago he was coughing up blood and not eating at all. This boy seems to have something about him that means that despite the many attempts on his life and his constant health issues, he remains alive. We are hoping these next few days will help him realise the precious nature of life and to take the opportunity given to him.
While I was on the streets this week with Hector, one of our full-time volunteers, we found ourselves with a line of boys all wanting their feet cleaned and then dusted with anti-fungal powder.
It was then I noticed Pablo and Omar, both 11 and both looking still very innocent and vulnerable. Their baby-faced smiles appeals to anyone with a heart and so they do quite well at begging on the streets. I took the opportunity to isolate them from the group and with Hector´s help we began to discuss with them about how to stay safe on the streets.
Last week I had seen one of the boys say goodnight to me and collapse on a mattress in the streets and within seconds was fast asleep. A few minutes later, as we were saying our goodnights to all the guys, a prolific child abuser who lives on the streets climbed in next to the boy and pulled a large blanket over both of them. Everyone knew what was about to take place and there was little we could do as the boy has refused our help to get him off the streets. The government agency charged with keeping children safe already has 4 written reports from us about this boy and where he is living but as yet have not acted. It has only been 9 months!
I found it hard to sleep that night knowing how he would be the next day and so when the topic came up both boys listened intently but wanted to know the name of the person we knew was behind this. Another boy reported abuse by this man last year as he woke up with love bites all over his body. He has refused to give evidence and decided to move away instead.
Our conversation with the boys led to them realizing who was behind the abuse and then we gave them some advice about how they can stay safe. They seemed in shock and we tried to offer comfort and one of the boys said he would leave the streets this weekend and so I am hoping to meet up with him tomorrow and take him home and explore options with him and his mum to keep him off the streets and hopefully start school.
Selvin has just called me and asked if I would go and visit him again. I am very impressed with how he has taken to rehabilitation and when we went to visit him last week we found him happy and excited about the programme he is on. For those of you who read this blog regularly you will remember just how bad a condition he was in a few months ago, but now is a changed young man. His friends on the streets were shocked to see how much he had changed and put on weight and this, as always, has a positive affect on those still on the streets as it makes them think of what their life could be like away from the streets. We continue to trust that he will stick at this programme and to dream of life when the nine months of rehab are over.
My visit to the dump this week left me feeling helpless. The obvious need can become rather overwhelming but to see how much the rubbish had been growing each hour, due to the lack of Municipal transport, reminded me of the news that 2 weeks ago a large section of the main city rubbish dump caved in and 19 people were buried alive.
Walking on top of hundreds of tons of rubbish is not for the faint-hearted but we needed to do so in order to visit some of the families we are working with. One family has decided not to send their boys to the mentoring programme at the Centre anymore as they think we are making a ton of money out of them. I don´t know where that came from but in the end the amount of support they have received far outweighs any donation the charity has received over the last year. The other family is keen for us to allow their two boys to start the mentoring programme rather than seeing them spend their days on the dump and in the streets.
Before I come to an end and tell you about today I want to give a mention to the British Ambassador to Honduras, Carolyn Davidson. Her husband Tom is the British Ambassador to Guatemala and so they live here in Guatemala City. Carolyn started as a volunteer with us recently and came to offer to teach the children at our Centre some basic English. From what I could see the children were learning lots and enjoying sticking notes all over things. We are grateful to all our volunteers and when we looked through our list last week we realised we now have 50 local volunteers helping with the work in the Centre, in the office and on the streets.
Today was a relaxing day as I had planned to celebrate the birthdays of David, who turned 13, and his brother Marco, who turned 10, two weeks ago. I am mentoring both boys and soon after their birthday we made a chocolate cake together and then sat and talked about what we could do to celebrate this year. Since both have grown up in La Terminal and have rarely left in they asked about going somewhere.
The somewhere led us to taking a short trip to the calm and safe city of Antigua, the original capital of Guatemala. The city has the feel of being locked in a time gone by and is now a national heritage site and is a massive hit with tourists as well as locals all heading there for the weekend.
David and Marco thoroughly enjoyed a day out of the city and the break away was good for me also. But I am reminded it´s all about the children so have tried to focus the fun on them today with only one indulgence when it came to buying ice creams!