Sunday 23rd March - A Little Shack
Mario (name changed to protect him) is 16-years of age and has recently returned to living on the streets of Guatemala City. I wanted to tell his story here because I believe it is important and that his experiences are saved somewhere. I am afraid that we will lose him to violence or that he will take his own life and pray that he will make it through to tell his own story one day.
I remember meeting Mario´s father when he was just 14. He had grown up on the streets from the age of 9 and was now very much part of the street scene and had 5 years of drug abuse, sexual abuse and many days of constant physical abuse to contend with. We tried to keep him safe as much as we could but it was a constant struggle.
At the age of 14 Mario´s father (photo) was living with a much older lady in a little shack in La Terminal and started to provide her with children. Both of them were often drunk or high on drugs and so it would be expected that their children will probably be taken away from them at some point. They both went through times of real depression and short moments of feeling good, particularly when another child was born. Mario´s father suffered greatly on the streets and was once stabbed several times in the stomach and almost died.
Mario grew up into a very confusing and harrowing family life filled with drugs, early sexual experiences, abuse, neglect and violence. I remember the many evenings we spent together playing simple games in La Terminal and trying to convince him that going to school would help get him out of the cycle of life he hated so much.
He grew strong and learned the techniques any child growing up there needed to in order to survive. What he didn´t count on was being violently attacked one day by a man who took sexual advantage of him when he was only 10. He became withdrawn and tearful and it was hard to engage him in conversations and any attempt at showing genuine love for him were, understandably, rejected quite firmly.
Thanks to the help of another partner organisation we got Mario plenty of help and support and in the meanwhile the investigation into his assault came to nothing until his father said he knew the person who had abused his son. He confronted him one day and made it clear he was going to inform the authorities, maybe in the hope he would confess. Sadly, confessing was not on the guy´s mind and a few days later Mario´s father was found shot dead in the alleyway near their little shack in the middle of La Terminal.
Everyone knew, but no one said anything and so his murder was attributed to “the angels”, the contract killers who patrol La Terminal and receive payments for keeping business interests safe. For Mario it was another blow and this one hit him hard and led to a real fear for leaving his shack and venturing out for school, the toilet or to the shops. Our support of him and the family was difficult, but we gave it our very best.
The last few years have been ones of massive ups and downs for Mario (photo - child in red polo shirt) and then when he entered the mentoring programme we could see real change in him. It was like watching a flower bud and this beautiful young boy, full of potential, love and talent came to life. Mario enjoyed so much his mentoring sessions and committed himself once again to going back to school and making positive life choices.
The onset of his teenage years brought Mario into another difficult phase as his sisters were now regularly selling their bodies to local strangers and coping with it by sniffing solvents and experimenting with other drugs. His young brother and sister, both under 10 years, were now coming to an age where they also wanted to try out sniffing solvents and found in them a comforting release from the daily stress of life in this little shack. Visiting the children would leave you numb and confused and coming home afterwards was a struggle as you had witnessed some of the worst conditions and abuse you would ever see here.
Our tears and frustrations were so mixed together and sometimes we even made knee-jerk reactions in the hope that this or that decision would keep them all safe. The desire to gather them all up and take them home with me was so strong that I almost did one night.
I saw Mario recently as he often calls me every day or two to tell me how he is and ask how I am and tells me that he cares about me and to thank me for all I do for him and his family. Instead of making me feel good the calls just make me feel rubbish and hopeless, as I keep having these dreams where I am burying him and it is rather too much at times. I told him today I was concerned about his welfare and safety and all he could do was to rest his head on my shoulder and hold one of my hands.
What upset me most recently was when he phoned late one night to tell me that he didn´t want to live anymore and was considering ways to end his life. I went to meet him and took him out for a drink of coffee and he just sat opposite me and cried. The next part of the story unfolded and it left me very weak indeed.
His mum has found a new boyfriend, a much younger man and one just a few years older than Mario. The little shack has one bunk bed and so there is little room as it is for Mario, his sisters and their mum. This meant that Mario was relegated to the dirt floor where rats would run amuck all night long. Then last week Mario got upset with his mum as she was getting very drink with her new boyfriend. It was not the fact that the little money they had for food was being wasted by the consumption of alcohol, but that his mum and new boyfriend would belittle Mario.
The argument that followed led to Mario´s mum saying that he had to leave the little shack and that she never loved him and that his mum died many years ago and so never to come back home again. She picked up a knife when he refused to leave and tried to stab him. Fortunately, he managed to flee in time only to be met by four men who set upon him and stole his phone.
Mario called me, still shaking and with a massive amount of blood covering his face. He had no idea what to do apart from calling me and so I went to his aid and found him in the most vulnerable of states. He was just 16 and young at that, but had lived the life of a 50-year-old.
The story does not yet a happy ending yet. I spent time with him today and once again convinced him that street life and drugs are not the answer and once again he promised me that he would leave it all tomorrow and start a new life. Rehab centres for young people are sparse here in Guatemala and the many we know of are violent and lead many back to the streets at their first opportunity of escape.
Maybe you could pray for Mario and hope with me that this story, one day soon, will have a happy ending where he indeed lives happily ever after.