Thursday 1st March
I celebrated a personal victory this week. I have been trying to achieve it now for the last year and could never quite make it due to many factors that always seem to work against me. You might wonder why this was such a big deal when you find out what it is but stick with me as I hope all will become clearer.
It´s 5am and I head out of the car park under my apartment and turn into the main street, which is glowing orange from the city street lamps. My little 1984 jeep is reliable and sounding sweet after its recent service and leaving this early means little traffic. I have two goals. My primary goal, as always at this time of the morning, is to try and drive to our Centre – about 10 minutes away – without being mugged, shot at or driven in to by the numerous drunk and dangerous drivers who seem to frequent the streets of Guatemala City. However, my secondary goal is to get to our Centre with every traffic light on green. I know it is weird but the number of traffic lights we have here in Guatemala makes this task an incredibly difficult one, even for the most expert drivers.
My victory is celebrated as I pass the last green light and turn into the small road where our Centre is and park the jeep inside and prepare for the new day. I feel elated and now don´t seem to mind how many red lights I have to wait at in the future as I know that on this day I managed them all on green.
Celebrating this seemingly insignificant event might cause you to wonder why I am sharing this here. But when you are faced everyday with an overwhelming sense of disempowerment that comes from working with numerous children and families at risk and knowing you can´t help them all, one small tvictory, even the tiniest one needs to be recognised and celebrated. The sense of disempowerment is one that is normal for those who work with vulnerable children. How I wish I could sweep them all away to a safe place, help them realise they are loved and precious and work with them to realise their potential and to keep on dreaming.
Later that day I am asked to go up into the lounge and meet with Bryan. Bryan is 9 and I am asked to chat with him due to a situation that occurred this past week. He sits nervously and uncomfortably on the new sofa whilst swinging his little legs and looking down at the floor. I sit next to him and as I do so he looks at me and smiles. I feel moved as I know he has no idea what is coming and wish there was someone else who could do this. But, for the moment, it falls to me.
The conversation with little Bryan begins around what happened recently when he decided to engage in behaviour that started to ring the alarm bells. There were complaints and accusations and so I needed to hear his side of the story. I am trying, as you might guess, to tell you what happened without telling you what happened. I am trying to protect him by changing his name and keeping you from the gruesome details. Bryan loses his smile and it seems like his whole world begins to cave in. I expect that in his head he is trying to find a space to go that is safe, but the fact that I need to bring up this incident means he will feel shame. I wonder if he thinks that after we have discussed this, he will ever be allowed into the Centre again and if he could ever face seeing us again.
The discussion moves on to me explaining some basic facts of life. Not the type of basic facts your parents might once have tried to share with you through huge embarrassment. But facts about how boys grow and change and how sometimes other people do things to them they don´t like or how their search for knowledge leads them to see things they now regret. Bryan looks at me and understands what I mean and so I take it a little further and give him the chance to tell me why this behaviour might have happened.
I am prepared to hear anything, but what I hear leaves me hurting so much for him. He tells me what is happening when his mum is not at home. He tells me how his 11-year-old cousin is teaching him and making him do things that makes him feel dirty. He looks at me, grabs hold of me and sobs into my shirt. It is a tender moment and I go on to tell him that he is very brave to talk with me about these things and what I would like to do to help him stay safe. I wish I could make him safe all the time, but I know this is not a reasonable request and so consider how we can now bring this issue up with his mum and cousin and try and help them all see there is a way forwards.
Bryan feels loved and accepted and thanks me for listening and for his hug. He is precious, and his smile is a reminder to me, and hopefully to him, that life can still go on. This is a small victory today and one from which I am hoping will lead to a much healthier relationship with his cousin despite the difficult road ahead.