Monday 20thAugust, 2018
There are days when emotions are very close to the surface and the smallest thing can bring me to tears. And it was one of those days on Monday when I spent the evening visiting many of the families of the boys I mentor to see how they are doing.
My first stop is to visit two brothers who were deemed at high-risk and so entered the mentoring programme two years ago. They came into my care as no male mentors could be found for them at the time and they are still with me now. My visit to their home, a small room measuring 3m x 4m, was unexpected as the family of 8 were sitting on the double bed that is also their table, sofa and play area, and eating a huge cream birthday cake. It was one of the youngest children´s birthdays and I am invited in to enjoy a large slice of cream cake and sing happy birthday.
The main reason for my visit is to check on the health of the mother, who, according to the two boys, is causing them concern. We discuss the pains in her shoulders and back and how long she has been suffering and the various cheap clinics she has been to with no progress or medical diagnosis. I offer to pay for a private clinic and the boys look relived and the mum is very grateful. Wasting no time, I make the appointment on line with my phone and confirm her appointment for later this week.
I pop into to see a couple of other families and then end up visiting one the families I know is of great concern to me and the team at the moment. It is now dark and the market (La Terminal) is starting to slow down and many of the stalls have now closed, leaving piles of rotting vegetables and fruit in the street. I climb through the mess in the street and push open a large black metal door that takes me into a dark corridor where various rooms are located. In each room is a family and some have just a curtain up as their front door, due to the heat, while small children sit and play with marbles and mums are either washing clothes in the only sink that is shared with the various families there or cooking on make-shift stoves in the corridor.
Doña Luisa is leaning over a small charcoal fire that has been made out of an old car wheel, but it seems rather effective and is warming up a cooking pot – it´s today´s main meal for the family. The younger children hear my voice and come running out to greet me and the smallest two hold up their arms, inviting me to pick them up as they snuggle into my neck and just hang there as I talk with the mother.
Things seem more settled now for Doña Luisa since her husband decided to leave. He calls me now and again to tell me he misses his family and is sorry for the violence and abuse and hopes one day to sort out his life and come back and see his family. For the moment they are all safe, but struggling without his income. Doña Luisa starts work at 5am every day making tortillas and returns home at lunchtime in order for two of her children to go to school. The two oldest girls’ study in the morning and the two boys in the afternoon, leaving just the 4-year-old at home under the supervision of whichever siblings are not studying.
I am now invited into their room and the children sit on the bed and ask about the belt I am wearing around my waist. It is a utility belt and holds two first aid kits, a dog repellent spray and a pouch for a couple of games, a torch, a notepad and a pen. We take out a game and begin to play. The oldest girl, who is clearly loving this new game of tossing two small rubber pigs on the ground which determines their score, gets out her school bag and hands me her school results card. I pause the game and we all look at her card and I am just bowled over by her results.
Lucia is 13-years-old and is loving school. She is in grade two, due to the fact that she never had the chance of going to school before she started the mentoring programme. Her results are incredible and as I look down the list of 100% marks and then look at her, she smiles and turns her head to one side, unsure of how to accept praise. She is clearly doing really well and my emotions are stirred and my mind skips back three years ago when Frank, one of our team here in Guatemala, turned up at our newly opened mentoring centre with Lucia and her four younger siblings. She had been wandering around the streets and tells Frank that she spends every day now on the streets as it is not safe to stay in their room when the mum and dad go off to work.
I remember Lucia sitting in the corner of a room in our mentoring centre with her head in her knees whilst keeping an occasional glance over her younger brothers and sisters. Going to school was not an option for her and all she wanted was that we got her siblings into school as soon as possible, in order, according to her, to keep them safe and help them achieve something with their lives. When we started to teach Lucia to read she just came alive and slowly we convinced her she also could start school. That was three years ago and now she has been in school for two years.
Looking over her school report made me think of the day she and her siblings stopped wandering the streets all day and started the mentoring programme. She has come a long way and is obviously going to go far with her studies. All we need to do is keep her safe, encourage her in school, help with her homework and I know she will do the rest.
It´s time for me to go now as the mum wants to feed them all and so I leave them to their evening meal. As I lift up the curtain that separates their room from the dingy corridor I look into the pot to see what is for dinner. My heart breaks and I am overcome with sadness as I place the lid back on the pot and say goodnight and wander out into the street. I lean against the wall outside and try and hold it all together. In the cooking pot, the main meal for a family of six, are 8 tomatoes. The world seems a very unjust and cruel place right now and my determination to make it all right, at least for this family, makes me walk at speed back to the centre to see what we have available to donate to them in the morning.
I head home to eggs on toast and, once again, feel guilty for what I have and go to sleep with more than a tear in my eye.