Saturday 25th August, 2018
“I really love you Duncan”, little Cristopher said to me while giving me a hug and planting a kiss on my cheek. He then continued with “and when you die I am coming to your funeral”. It made me laugh and I would rather him have stopped at the first bit, but kids do say the funniest things. I have no idea what he had in his mind but Cristopher was enjoying himself and having the best day of his life, his words not mine, during a mentoring session with me.
Cristopher is an adorable 9-year-old boy living at very high risk and who has entered into the mentoring programme. Since there are no male mentors to keep up with the new kids coming in I am having to look at 8 boys at the moment, which is beginning to take its impact on my life, but it is a joy to see the change that happens when you demonstrate love, care, concern and value.
The other day I decided to take Cristopher to school. He has not been in a while and trying to get his mum to take him every day has been a challenge. His 11-year-old sister is not going to school at the moment, something I am hopeful we can change over the coming days.
I climb the steps to Cristopher´s room from the now-bustling street in the heart of La Terminal and the stench coming from the pile of rubbish that has accumulated in the stairwell is rather overpowering. It is 6am and the noise of the busy market in the street blends in with the shouts and cries from those I meet and make their way to work as I make my way through the corridors to where Cristopher is living.
School starts early here in Guatemala and for those children who have to walk a long way to school, like little Christopher, it is a challenge for any kid to be up and ready for 6am. I approach the metal door of his home – which is just a small room with no ventilation or windows. His mother is already up and showering in the corridor outside their home. She finishes quickly and invites me in to help get Cristopher ready for school. He is half dressed and just needs to find a t-shirt, socks, shoes and then wash his face and comb his hair. We are nearly there! I help find his t-shirt and then help him put it on as he still seems half asleep. The only bed in the 2m x 4m room is covered with clothes and his older brother is fast asleep on it while his sister and two other young children are asleep on the concrete floor.
I walk with him to the corridor and help pour some cold water over his head while he washes his face and wets his hair. The mum explains that they can´t afford water and so they collect rain water and try and use what they have sparingly. The murky water in the bucket is last night´s offering from the heavens and Cristopher tells me they can use about two-three cupfulls of water for a shower. He uses about half a cupful to wash his face and wet his hair. His hair has to look good of course and in the style any 9-year-old boy would consider makes him look cool.
Success, I now have a clean boy, dressed for school and with a small quantity of school books in his little rucksack. His mum and I begin the long walk to school. It takes us a few minutes to get out of the terminal and then we head down one of the main streets that has a cycle path and walkway for pedestrians. Cristopher holds my hand and we chat as we walk along the path, being very careful not to tread on any of the cracks as we go. He enjoys this game and it takes his attention off the long walk, but eventually we arrive at the school and Cristopher tells me he is hungry and has not had breakfast. Fortunately, there is a lady outside the school selling sandwiches and so I buy one for him and one for his mum.
The school is a government school and this is clear by the austere building that has been painted government blue and named City School number 64. A lot of thought must have gone into that name! The old lady at the gate opens it enough for us to squeeze through and wait for Cristopher´s teacher to arrive. Meanwhile we sit down near the playground and his mum tells me why Cristopher´s sister stopped coming to school. She points to a small boy, aged about 9, who threatened Cristopher´s 11-year-old sister in school one day, saying he would be waiting outside school to stab her to death. True to his word he was there with knife in hand ready to stab the young girl. Thanks to some adult intervention she was saved from the attack and the boy was asked not to bring a knife into school.
Eventually, the teacher arrives all flustered and apologetic for being late. The two large padlocks on the classroom door come off and the door is flung open to welcome the five children waiting outside. I introduce myself and tell the teacher I am looking after little Cristopher in mentoring until a mentor can be found for him. Cristopher quickly settles into his seat and gets out his books while the teacher tells his mum and me that she is so pleased he is now back in school. It is unlikely he will pass the school grade this year, which means he will have to repeat it next year. I look at him sitting there with a huge smile on his little face and wonder if he will stick at school, given all he has to deal with each day. I am sure he will not want to repeat the school year with younger children but all I can do is encourage him to do so while looking at options for a much better school for him.
It has been an eventful morning and I arrive back at our mentoring Centre feeling like I have already completed a day´s work. However, there is much to do today as we have more school visits, street work and then mentoring in the afternoon and evening. I love days like this and hope that, come Monday, Cristopher is back in school and focussed on his education. He knows I am expecting great things from him and can see, from his parting smile, he loves the idea of having a male in his life who cares for him. Hope has been sowed.