I know my memory is not that good at the moment. I am over-tired and have been working too many hours each day for far too long now. Retaining things in my head or recalling things is more of a challenge right now! So, when a message came through on my phone saying “I had an accident and now I am in hospital” from an unknown number, I was trying to remember if someone had told me about a child who had been taken to hospital. I guessed it was not a child and presumed it was one of the older guys off the streets who had remembered my number.
I have to now ask each caller who it is as many children just assume I will know their voice and remember the number of the phone box they are calling from. I was then told “yer, I have been here three days now”, which didn´t help me to identify the person on the other end of the messages. I asked the name of the person and was told “It´s Jhony”. Well that was a good start and since I know many boys called Jhony and each with a different spelling I needed further clarification as the conversation got into details of how he had fractured his leg in an accident and could I go and visit him.
In order to discover which Jhony was messaging me I asked him if he could use the phone to send me a picture. What came back made me laugh so much. I had assumed he would take a picture of his face so I could recognise him. Instead he took a picture of his leg! There was no way I could identify a boy just from a leg and so asked him to take a photo of his face. Another picture came through of the top part of his eyes and forehead. It was enough to locate him and remember the boy who Ben and I had visited a few months ago in the market.
Jhony has grown up in real poverty in a settlement called Santa Fas, on the outskirts of Guatemala City. I have been working there for 25 years and have seen the community of displaced street dwellers from the city centre grab land that most people would not consider any value and build a basic structure and call it home. In one of those structures, a tin shack with dirt floor and sewage running alongside the outdoor sink that is used for washing and drinking water, Jhony and his family live.
His story is one of survival in the face of overwhelming odds. The gang that control the area are heavily recruiting young boys into the gang and intimidate and threaten those that don´t join. Sometimes this leads to their torture and murder or the murder of family members until the boy gives in and joins the gang. This was the main reason Jhony stopped going to school and tried to stay at home. But, with the hot sun beating down on the tin shack it becomes unbearable to spend time there during the day and so the streets are a cooler alternative and this leads to greater risk of gang involvement.
Having located Jhony and his family in my head I asked if I could visit him on the next open visit and he said I could but didn´t know if he was going to have his operation and how he was going to cope. Thankfully his mum took the two-hour bus journey to be with him each day and so he had her phone and could contact me and also enjoy her company and care.
My sister has been visiting Guatemala and so was invited to join me as I headed to the main city hospital that is struggling to cope with very few resources, out-dated or no equipment, limited staff and unsanitary conditions. We find little Jhony in one of the men´s wards and a huge smile comes across his face when he sees us. He managed to have his operation due to family members joining the long early morning queues outside the hospital in order to give blood. If your family and friends don´t donate blood, and often medical supplies, then you can´t be operated on. Jhony, however, had made it through and was now, in his doctor´s opinion, ready to go home.
Picking him up from the hospital is an ordeal in itself. His mum had managed to borrow a wheelchair which got him to the entrance. He was in a huge amount of pain and as soon as I picked him up he was in tears. Keeping his leg straight whilst not touching it and lifting him at the same time was quite a challenge but eventually I get him in the car and we set off for Santa Fas. As we arrived in Santa Fas I knew that carrying him down the steep hillside to his shack was going to be hard work and I could see in his face he knew the pain that was coming.
Eventually, and after many tears, we got him onto a small metal bed that is precariously held up on blocks of concrete and wood on a dirt floor. His main concern, as I struggled down the hillside, was for my back rather than the pain he was in. The dimly-lit shack was going to be a tough place to recuperate and how I wished all had gone to plan with the refurbishment work at the new Protection Home. The home (photo right) would have been the ideal place for Jhony, but it was just too dangerous and we were still unable to use the toilets due to the construction of a whole new drainage system being put in. It will be great when finished but I would love it all done now so we can take care of kids like Jhony.
Returning to Guatemala City, I did manage to honour my promise of celebrating Damaris´ 14thbirthday. Damaris is a quiet and caring girl who has come through some really tough stuff in her life. She was so excited when I turned up with my sister and a few presents, followed by a few members of the SKD team. Damaris and her mum had worked hard to get the room, which is their house, ready for the party. The bed was stood up against the wall and the floor decorated with pine foliage and a line of borrowed tables and chairs had been placed in the centre of the room.
We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Damaris´ birthday and her brothers and sisters, all of whom are in the mentoring programme, seemed amazed that we were prepared to eat food they had so lovingly prepared for us.
A few days later I am sat with the children at the Centre who are all excited to say their goodbyes to me and pray for me as I return back to the UK. The highlight of the afternoon with the children was the showing of the two videos of the boys and girls camps a few weeks ago. The kids were glued to the screen and laughed throughout and remembered some very special times indeed.
It will be hard to leave them and get on the plane and head back to the UK, but head back I must as I focus on the 10thanniversary of Radio Christmas and the many presentations and school assemblies to speak at over the next few weeks.
Please do follow the station, tune in and get involved as we celebrate all the incredible things that have happened over the last 10 years. We will be based at Café Africa in Amersham this year and will have live broadcasts coming from the USA, Guatemala and Honduras. It will be a special time and we hope to break 10 Guinness World Records at the same time! Stay tuned.