Friday 1st September

It has been raining rather a lot in the afternoons in Guatemala City.  It´s the last attempt of the rainy season to hang on and provide us with an elevated water table that will sustain Guatemala over the many dry months ahead.  However, when it rains in Guatemala it rarely is light rain and if you are caught out in one of the many downpours you have to have a good quality umbrella or take shelter immediately.  The alternative, as I found out a couple of weeks ago, is being soaked through by both the rain and the many cars that seem to take great pleasure in hitting the largest of puddles at just the right speed that pelts you and leaves not one inch of you dry.  Anyway, I digress!

terminal streetThe street team and me plan to walk through the Terminal and we schedule it well to avoid the coming afternoon storm.  There is enough time for us to get into La Terminal and visit some of the families we are working with before the angry skies open and the streets become rivers while traffic grinds to a halt.  No sooner had we arrived in La Terminal, in an area called ´Las Casitas, than a young girl comes up to us with her outstretched arms and tells us that she still has the rash she had last week and it is getting worse.

Her name is Naomi and she is six and has grown up in this notorious area of Guatemala City and very rarely leaves it.  Once she was invited to a special activity with a team from The Forge in Suffolk who was working with us for a couple of weeks before the summer.  As the children settled on the bus and as it drove down the steep mountain leading away from Guatemala City the children asked: “is this England?”  Obviously their world is very small and for those children who have never seen outside of La Terminal, life away from it can be one massive adventure.

Naomi is prime for the mentoring programme but still too young to join unless we find someone really special who can offer her the love and support she so desperately needs.  Her rash is a common one and we have treated it many times.  She is not the only one in Las Casitas who have the rash and it comes from infected bedding and is contagious and can lead to quite serious scaring and open wounds.  We have to take Naomi to the clinic and get her the treatment she needs.  Her mum is in agreement and so Naomi grabs by hand, after having a good scratch with them under her armpits, and pulls me along the narrow passageway that will lead to the steps and then the road where the clinic is.

naomiWe don´t yet have a clinic at our Centre but are able to access a good clinic nearby that always has a resident doctor available and appointments are all walk-in and cost just £2.  The doctor knows us well and is always kind and helpful and totally understanding when kids come in half-clothed, covered in fleas, sores and in a pretty bad way.  She is very gentle and caring and asks to look at Naomi´s rash.  As the poor child removes her top you can see that the rash is over her chest, her stomach, her back and under her arms.  I suspect that her legs are also covered but immediately the doctor knows what is needed and hands me a prescription for soap, gel and tablets.

We walk back with Naomi and return her to the care of her mum and then try and visit a couple more families before the heavens open.  My hope is to engage Carlos in a conversation.  He still hates me for talking with him and his younger brother and sister about the possibility of going in a care home when his mum collapsed in the streets a few weeks ago.  Carlos is 14 and was then left to care for his younger bother and sister and a baby.  Due to the fact that he abuses solvents I didn´t want to leave him looking after two young children and a baby and so needed to bring up the subject of how he would feel about a home.

The discussion didn´t go well and he felt I had abused his trust and took off with all three children and hid in the centre of La Terminal until his mum came out of hospital.  So trying to engage him in conversation was hard work to say the least.  He looks at me with anger in his tearful eyes and refuses to open his mouth.  He is hurt and, for the moment, is aiming all that hurt at me.  I am fine with this as I know he needs time and so tell him I still care about him before leaving to return to our Centre.

It is a sad moment as I feel so much for him and have worked with him for many years and to see him like this breaks my heart.  He is depressed, lonely, and hungry and spends his time between sniffing solvents and lying on a bed of rubbish watching TV programmes on a TV that has both a poor signal and very little resolution and colour.  It must be hell for him and I wish I could just take him away and offer him something more fulfilling than this.

Monday 28th August 2017

Quite often our work is reacting to the situations we face in Guatemala - families in crisis, abused children and homeless children, threats against us, children going through a tough time, hospital and prison visits and so many other situations.  It does make it very hard to plan your week, which I love to do, but the nature of the work here necessitates speedy reactions to what comes to us each day.

This was highlighted when we made plans on Friday to do certain things and then had to change everything, as we needed to help support a family in need.

As I was already in our Centre when the news came I could react quite quickly and, as it turned out, it is a situation we really needed to secure the safety of five children and their mother.

doñaanaDoña Anna (named changed) had informed us that she had just been hit again by her husband and was also worried about how he might react to the five children.  We do have a few years of history here with this family so know how things could turn out. Together with two of our team we went to the room where they all live in La Terminal and found Doña Ana sitting on the bed crying.  Lying next to her is her husband who has obviously been drinking.  The room is lit only by one small bulb and the tiny window is covered with cardboard and rags, but a small TV is on and so that gives the best light into the room.  There is just one bed, a wardrobe and small table with some basic food supplies piled on it and a bedside table.  The family shares the room with two teenage cousins who are seeking work in La Terminal.

We spend time listening to Doña Ana tell us what happened and then begin to help her explore the options about what she could do.  As we discuss whether or not she wants to make a formal declaration of what happened, know locally as a dununcia, her husband wakes up and joins the conversation.  At this point I am aware that the situation can get very heated and so begin to tell the others that if the dad becomes violent that I will get in between him and his wife while they get the mum and kids into the street.  I am pleased, however, that this is not needed as he only talks for a short while before falling back to sleep on the bed.

His response is rather shocking though and it is clear that he is appealing to me as a man who would understand and support his corner.  His argument is that he came home from work and gave his wife some money and “told her to cook”.  He then went out for a drink and when he came back, the food was not ready.  He then said: “So that is why I gave her a beating, you can understand that can´t you?”  I had to say I did not agree with his reaction and now needed to take the mum and the children with us as his two daughters were in our Centre and were very upset.

girlssleepoverOn safe arrival at our Centre the more formal investigation begins and our friend Juan Carlos begins to write out a short report and then it is planned that he and Ben take her and the youngest girl to the court to make the allegation and seek an injunction so that the husband is not able to return to the room where they all live.  We know it will take about 6 hours and, at this point, it is already quite late.

The two older girls are coping but distracted as there is a girl’s sleepover in the Centre tonight and so they can stay there and enjoy the activities planned with the other girls. I pop my head in to say goodnight and am swamped with lots of hugs and kisses and have to say I am sorry I can´t stay and talk about girl things but maybe another time.  This leads to squeals and excitement and I back out of the room and close the door.

I now need to get the two boys, 8 and 10, to our Protection Home as the mum has agreed we can offer them all a safe place to stay for the weekend until the police go to their home and inform the father that he needs to vacate and allow them to return on Sunday.

boysinbedThe boys have no other clothes to wear and so they will have to put up with wearing the same clothes, which I don´t think will be too much of an issue until we get them something to last through till Sunday.  They both look filthy and so we take them into the shower and the excitement of having their first shower with hot water is evident as the two dance around in the shower for ages before coming out and climbing into bed.  I find two teddies and go back in to ask them if they wouldn´t mind looking after them for the night as the teddies have nowhere to sleep.  The outstretched arms said it all and soon they were fast asleep and I could return home while staff and volunteers watched over the boys until the mum joined them from the court.

The next day I am told that the boys woke up when the mum got in around 4am and went and had another shower.  The mum then had a shower and told us of her joy of having her first hot shower in 29 years.  It was a special time indeed and good to know they were all now safe, and thanks to your support for this home we could make this happen.  The home is not yet open but we are able to use it for emergency situations like this.

Thankfully we were able to take the family back to their home yesterday, as the father had already moved out and so we know they are now much safer.  The challenge is how they are going to live as I am sure the father will not be that keen on bringing in any money for his wife and 5 children.  It is our task for today as well as check on many other families and children at risk, but we love what we do and thanks to your support can do this every day.  THANK YOU.

Thursday 10th August

It is always exciting when visitors come to see the work and one has to explain to them that going on the streets is an experience they will never forget.  I have to also say that you never know exactly what will happen as the work is often chaotic and unpredictable.

bundleDan Jennings is from Amersham in the UK and has been out here for two weeks and we said our tearful goodbyes to him last night.  One little boy, 7-year-old Melvin, had grow quite attached to Dan and was in tears when he left, which made Dan cry and realise how desperate the kids are for love and affection.  It was funny though watching how the kids in our Centre jumped on Dan and then bundled him to the ground – a fun way to end his time with us.

I was out with Dan and Ben Soden the other afternoon on the streets and it had been explained to Dan the volatile nature of our work when we turned a corner in La Terminal and came across a scene that Dan and Ben later acted out for the other volunteers we have visiting at the moment.  It was one of those scenes that I am sure will stick with Dan forever.

We had spent some time with a family in one area of La Terminal in Guatemala City when we decided to move on to see how three young children were doing as we had reports that the youngest one was now sniffing solvents everyday and not going to school.

Walking out of the crowded and busling market area into the car park that separates the market from an area we call “las casitas” (the little houses) is a relief on the senses.  No soon as we had walked into the car park than Marta ran up to me crying and asking me for help.  Marta is 16 and is carrying a baby on her back.  I held onto her shoulder and was about to comfort her and find out why she was crying, even though the bruised faced gave me a clue, when Carmen – who is a short distance away – starts screaming.  Her screams distract us for a moment and divert our attention to a lady collapsed on the ground.  At the same time Reyna, another young teenage mum, approaches us in tears.  We seemed to have walked into quite a situation and for a moment we are overwhelmed and it seems like we are frozen in time.

My brain goes into emergency mode where I try and look at what is happening and make a judgement about what is the most important thing to do.  Cleary it is the lady lying on the ground who apparently unconscious.  It turns out to be Doña Gloria who we know well and as we try and comfort the three teenage girls I evaluate Doña Gloria´s situation as a small crowd begins to gather around us.

Doña Gloria has a story that should be turned into a book.  It won´t be a book with a happy ending so far but we live in hope that it will one day.  Doña Gloria has grown up in La Terminal and earns about £3 a day for cleaning up rubbish.  It is obviously not enough to live on and the three young children and teenage boy who live with her have to try and fend for themselves. It is heartbreaking and we have tried so many times to find alternative solutions for the family but these have always been rejected.

GloriaDoña Gloria has no obvious wounds and seems to have collapsed and, from what I can understand, is in shock.  We place her in the recovery position and ensure she is breathing and somewhat comfortable while trying to talk to her and bring her round.  Dan is a real help and holds her head while Ben and me continue to check her pulse and talk with her.  For a few seconds she comes round and looks up into my face and cries and says: “Duncan, please take care of my children”, before her body starts to shake and once again she loses consciousness.

I call for the Bomberos to come and take her to hospital while Dan monitors the situation and Ben, now joined by Frank, go with Reyna into Las Casitas to try and resolve a family dispute that, we later find out, is at the heart of this whole situation.

Having a friend who helps run the Bomberos means they arrive quickly and the sirens draws the attention of people from all around.  A crown gathers and the police step in to manage the push of people to see what is happening.  The Bomberos get through the crowd and help us assess the situation.  They agree with my initial observation that Doña Gloria has collapsed and showing signs of shock.

We manage to lift her onto the stretcher and arrange for one of her daughters to go with her to hospital and then are left with four young children in our care until we find out what is happening with Doña Gloria.  Due to the number of people still hanging around to see what we are doing I decide to take the children back to their shack and chat with them about options. 

This is not going to be easy as we have little choice if Doña Gloria cannot return tonight but to inform the authorities as we just can´t leave a small baby and three young children in the care of a teenage boy who is high on solvent.  I explain the possible options and when the older children here about the obligation we have to inform the authorities they begin to scream about not going into a home where they will be abused.  I leave them for a minute and make a phone call and while I do they all escape and hide in the alleyways in La Terminal.

Some of the neighbours come out and begin to complain that we are going to inform on them all and they will all lose their children.  One family wants to talk about making a formal complaint to the police about her being hit by one of the other families there, which left her lying on the ground for over an hour unable to move.  It is a volatile situation and I am concerned for the safety of the team and so we decide to walk away for a short time and, as we do, we receive a call from the hospital that Doña Gloria is allowed to leave.

The night is a long one and involves us collecting Doña Gloria and her daughter, finding the missing children, calming down aggressive families and trying to bring some form of peace before we head home and try and find some food to sustain us a while longer.  Just another day on the streets and one I am sure Dan will remember for a long time to come.

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