Sunday 23rd July
The day begins with high expectation as we head of to AMG about 10 minutes drive from the soon-to-be Protection Home for high-risk children in Guatemala City. AMG is an inspirational school for about 400 high-risk children and they opened up a special classroom for the most challenging young people who have missed out completely on their education.
We drive into the school car park and disembark the huge pickup I have for the week while my car is in the workshop. I am very happy to have my dear friends James and Sally Hawes with me, together with their two sons Cadan, 14, and Afton who is 12. They are from Nottingham and are visiting here for two weeks to volunteer on the streets and to se the scope of the work we do.
Walking into the school is comforting, as the 400 children here would not normally have the chance of an education if it were not for AMG. It certainly sounds like school and year 4-6 are pouring out of their classrooms and heading to the sports field to play. We arrive at the special classroom that AMG funds for some of our boys and are welcomed in and invited to see how the boys are doing before photos are taken and a few questions are asked about the two boys visiting from the UK.
All of a sudden one of our team comes into the classroom with a cake that has candles on it and begins singing Happy Birthday. It´s Alex´s birthday and he is rather overwhelmed by the attention but I can see he is rather enjoying it. I remember back to the first day we found Alex and am so pleased we persevered with him and got him away from the streets and into school.
We challenge the boys to a football match, England vs Guatemala. The challenge is accepted and before we can count to 10 we are out on the pitch recruiting little children to join our squads and the match begins. It is a huge amount of fun but the game only lasts for 10 minutes at 1-1 as we get a call that one of the young mums we are working with has been kidnapped and has called to tell us she has escaped her kidnapper and is hiding in a warehouse and could we go and rescue her.
The Hawes family are then driven to our Centre while I head of with Ben to meet Juan Carlos, one of our street team, and see what we can do to help. I drive as fast as I am allowed to as we are all concerned about Cindy´s safety and discuss scenarios as we drive and approach to warehouse. I was expecting to find some abandoned industrial unit where we might have to rescue her by force and have already called PNC, the national police, to ask them to join us when we arrive.
I was asked to take the pickup as it was large and had black windows and so this would help with the rescue. It was still rather confusing about why she was there and what had led to her call saying she had been kidnapped. Cindy has lived on the streets for many years and has a 10-year-old daughter who has grown up on the streets. Recently we helped Cindy find a children´s home for her daughter, as she could not look after her and keep her safe from a gang. Cindy was doing well, had found a job and a neat place to live and now her life was in danger again.
On arrival at the warehouse it was clear that she would not need to be “rescued” at all as a friend had already arrived and taken her away. Furthermore the warehouse was a working factory where over a hundred people were happily at work making sweets. The factory boss came out and invited us in to look around if we wanted to after hearing the story and gave us bags of sweets for the kids before we walked down the road to one of the many government offices that deal with complaints about abuse, etc. from the public.
Cindy is inside and bursts into tears when she sees us and tells us her story. She fell in love with a young man who became violent and started to abuse her on a daily basis. She coped with the abuse as she had always been in relationships that were abusive and so knew nothing else. But one day she told herself that enough was enough and decided to leave him. Apparently he would not allow this to happen and so locked her up in the warehouse where he worked and it was from there she called us.
Her boyfriend was nowhere to be seen but her friend who had helped her leave the warehouse seemed a really caring man and said he was from the local church and they would help find her an alternative place to live while we explored options for the next steps. At least she was now safe and thanked us for our support before heading off to the Public Ministry offices to make an official statement that would mean a restriction order could be taken out so her boyfriend can now longer have contact with her.
Ben, Juan Carlos and me drive back to our Centre to collect the Hawes family and head to the streets. It has already been a full morning and we suspect the afternoon will also be eventful as street work is hugely exciting, varied but also the most challenging of jobs.
Walking down the 6th Avenue can overwhelm the senses as we pass by the various bars, shops and stalls and are enticed by numerous street vendors to buy sweets, fruit and newspapers or have our shoes cleaned. It is a busy afternoon and the sun is hot on our heads and so we try and enjoy the bits of shade until we reach the place where it is safest to cross the busy road. It is at the point where four young children come rushing out of a doorway and grab hold of my legs. I bend down to greet them and they all want picking up.
Jose Daniel is 6 and he is child number three to be picked up and given a cuddle. I am just about to put him down when his mum appears and tells he the boy is not well and could I help. Without telling me what he has she pushes him back into my arms and pulls down his tracksuit trousers to show me he has a genital infection. The poor boy must be in agony and so we go into their shack where we can examine him without having to do so in the street. He is obviously in pain and it is clear from what I can see that he needs a series of antibiotics. So I carry him to one of the local heath clinics accompanied by his mum, brother and sisters, Ben and the Hawes family.
The doctor takes one look at Jose Daniel and realises the medication he needs and encourages the mother shower him everyday, apply cream and give him two forms of antibiotics and that within 10 days he will be back to normal. Normal is not something Jose Daniel has ever had and so I must go back and see how he is progressing and hope that the mum is actually going to give him the medicine and apply the cream twice a day.
Finally we head across the road and arrive at La Casona, a street where some 20 children, young people and adults are living. We greet everyone and introduce the family visiting from the UK before conversations quickly turn to Gerson´s death and funeral. Everyone was asking to see photos of Gerson and so I quickly find some on my Facebook page. His death has made some decide to leave the streets including Luis, Vicky and Selvin. We begin to explore options for each of them while playing cards and cleaning feet and attending to wounds.
All of a sudden there is a huge amount of activity as one of the guys notices that the municipal (city) police have just driven past slowly whilst taking photos of us. Heads begin to look around and we notice that a small group of police is gathering at the corner of the road. Within minutes everyone is gathering up their possessions, as they believe they have arrived to remove them from the streets and confiscate their beds and belongings. One man grabs a machete and tucks it down into his trousers and so I warm the family that we need to be prepared to take photos and ensure that no abuse happens.
Feelings are running high and everyone is on high alert and then two national police arrive on bikes followed by a patrol car full for heavily armed police. It is clear they have not come to just talk and something is about to happen and so Ben and me walk to meet the police while James and Sally Hawes begin to record the moment with photos in case we need evidence.
The municipal police are first to talk and we realise that their agenda is quite passive, maybe because we are present. The last few times we have not been present the police have weighed in hard and in one video one officer is seen kicking a disabled homeless person in La Casona while threatening the others with much of the same if they come to her defense. It is vital we are there and being present is about all we can do at this point.
The spokeswoman begins to tell us that they have had many complaints from members of the public and neighbours because of the younger children that are present living on the streets and abusing drugs. We listen carefully and respond with our own concerns for the welfare of the children particularly. It is clear the police only want to talk and raise their concerns but with the number of police officers and the manner in which some stand by with their fingers on the triggers of the police issue automatic machine guns I am worried that anything can happen. It does not help that Juan takes off his shirt and begins to shout at the police and tries to barge the spokeswoman before an officer gets in the middle and Ben and me pull Juan away. It is a tense standoff for a while but we help keep things calm and a reasonable conversation begins about what to do with the young children living there and abusing drugs.
Our visit finishes with an agreement that the police will inform the appropriate authorities about the younger children and leave the rest alone to live, as they need to on the streets. I head back with the Hawes family as it is now getting dark and leave Ben with the guys on the streets as another one of our team rushed over so that Ben is not on his own.
It has been quite an eventual day and we talk about the various things we have seen and done and how we will be helping those who want to leave the streets to start new lives and enter rehab programmes.
As we cross the main road and turn the corner into the road where our Centre is we notice two police pickups and an ambulance in the road and wonder what is going on. It then becomes clear as we approach the building where our dear friend Don Edwin lives and I see his grandson on the steps in tears and quickly know that Don Edwin has passed away. A TV crew appears and climbs the stairs into the flat where Don Edwin has been found lying on the floor.
It is a very sad moment for me. Slowly our team poured out of the Centre and gathered with us as we mourned the loss of this elderly gentleman who cared so much for the work we were doing. All in the street knew Don Edwin. He would spend most of his day sitting on a post in the road and watch all our vehicles and take time to greet every child that came past. We would often invite him into the Centre for cake and to see how the children are doing. It was the highlight of his day and all the kids would give him a hug on their way home.
Another loss and another funeral. Another long day and another reminder of just how fragile life is and how we must make the most of every opportunity God gives us to help someone and make a difference.