Tuesday 5th November 2019
School is now out and most of the children are having to work to support their families. Our plan to offer workshops and special activities every day has not gone as well as we thought as numbers coming to the mentoring centre were not that great. It is good the kids are not on the streets, but with some only 7 years-of-age and working long hours in La Terminal my heart is torn. Reporting them to the authorities will only lead to alienation and conflict, so we have decided that it would be best to support them and work with the parents to minimize the risk to the children as well as encouraging them to allow them some free time to play and be kids.
The special days we have now planned till the end of the year at Casa Alexis have been very well supported this week and parents have got the message and allowed their working children to have times of rest, play and support.
Our full-time volunteer “Super Brenda” is helping us out now in the home on a daily basis and, since I have worked with her on the streets since 1993, I know she will be a fantastic asset to our work. Brenda knows we have very little money for the running costs of the home, let alone funds for a staff worker, and so was thrilled to have the chance to come and offer her skills with the children and bring something very unique to them over the next two months.
Yesterday the home was full of kids, upstairs and down, and just to hear the squeals and laughter was something I had wanted to hear for a very long time. It felt like the home had breathed one of those deep breaths you enjoy when you relax into a night in with hot chocolate and a good movie. The home is a welcoming place and the boys quickly got on with making banana smoothies and chocolate brownies, while the girls queued up to get their hair cut but two volunteer professional hairdressers.
Most of the day´s activities were down to a new volunteer we have called Ingrid. Ingrid´s parents live next door and one Saturday she was visiting them and saw some of our boys in the streets sweeping and picking up litter. She was inquisitive and asked why they were doing this. The conversation led to a meeting and that then led to her pulling out all the stops in looking for donations and contacts to help the children and the charity. She seems unstoppable and we are grateful for more local volunteers and donations.
The contrast to this came in the week when I accompanied Benjamin on the streets one evening. It feels odd as this was my full-time job and now I can only go out once or twice a week, something I hope will change next year when another volunteer from Amersham joins us for a year – Alex Denton.
We begin to meander through the little alleyways in La Terminal and come to “las casitas”, which means the little houses. Here we find 16-year-old Carlos very high on solvents and a couple of young children running around unsupervised and getting into all sorts of situations. We had come to see Amanda and record a video, which we hoped would help her get out of poverty. Amanda wants to be a hairdresser and sees this as a great opportunity to find another place to live for her, her daughter and boyfriend.
We move on to the rubbish dump and find Doña Olivia and little Jesus hard at work with a couple of sacks of recycled materials. We talk about a plan we have to find them alternative accommodation, as the place they are living in is not fit for humans to live in. We are working on a plan and if all goes well they should soon be in a much better place thanks to supporters in Tunbridge Wells.
A little girl comes over to see us and asks if we can help her get into school in the coming year and could she come into the mentoring programme. Her 14-year-old brother then joins us and asks for our help as a gang are looking for him as he was witness to a massacre in the cemetery last week when 12 people were killed. A solution needs to be found for them all and already I am feeling overwhelmed again by, not just the need but by the urgency and extremity of the need. We pause to reflect and record a video.
Our evening on the streets finishes at “La Casona” where the guys on the streets want to know how Pablo is doing. Last week he had to be rescued by the street team and rushed into hospital as it was clear he was dying and his organs could no longer cope. It reminded me of the scenes the day we rushed Gerson into hospital, who then died three hours later. Pablo was not in good shape and we are still waiting on news as to how he is doing. The hospitals here are very closed and extremely under-funded, so access to them is limited and care very hit-and-miss.
Finally, we spend some time with Selvin who was thrilled to have our attention and was so happy that he walked us all the way back to the mentoring centre in order to make sure we were safe. It was another special moment that made the very long day seem more human and less painful. Sleeping in a bed tonight won´t feel a guilty pleasure and tomorrow is a long drive for Ben and Hector as they go to San Marcos, in the very northern jungle area of Guatemala, for two days to see children we have rescued from the streets in La Terminal.