Wednesday 30thJanuary 2019
I remember the many times, as a young child, I had learned to hold in what I was feeling rather than letting it out. In those days the phrase “boys don´t cry” was all too real and spoken over me so much that I believed it. When I became a Christian in 1981, my life changed and I began to unpack those harmful feelings in a loving and caring environment and learned that being emotional was OK.
So often, in my work with boys here in Guatemala, I still come across the phrase and try and teach boys that talking about and demonstrating their feelings is OK and healthy. If the only feelings we guys show is our anger or passion for football then we are poor indeed.
The phrase came to mind again this past weekend when I came across Marcos. Marcos is 14 and has always been rather withdrawn and despite my efforts to try and get to know him, he has always remained in his shell. He has not had the easiest of lives and when I first met him on the rubbish dump in La Terminal, Guatemala City, it was clear to me that he was suffering from some form of emotional deprivation.
Marcos’ mum works very hard indeed and usually starts work on the rubbish dump around 7am and finishes at 6pm. In those days, Marcos, his mum and little brother Jesus, were living in a mud-walled “house” about an hour and a half outside the city. It was small, but large enough for a bed, a table, a small bookshelf and a couple of plastic stools. On entering the house, one would go from bright sunlight to almost darkness and then you could walk through to the little patio at the rear.
As a family they had worked very hard over the years to keep the repayments on this plot of land and slowly started to save for various things in their home. Marcos’ older brother was not around much, always preferring the streets and an easy life to studying and earning money to keep himself. The two younger boys would get on the bus at 3:50am every day and arrive into La Terminal around 6:30-7:00am. Their journey home was equally as long and prone to robberies.
Last year Marcos, Jesus and their mum managed to get a room near La Terminal and both boys continued to study in school. We have been helping them over the last 6 years, as it has been a tough journey for the mum to provide for them. One thing we have offered is the mentoring programme to both boys but only Jesus has taken up the opportunity and has done well at school despite frequent bullying and discrimination. Marcos has always put on his brave face and tried to maintain his tough posture until I spoke with him the other day.
I had popped in to see their new home and see how the boys were doing with their new schools. I walk up four large steps to a partly-open door and with an indigenous lady sitting on the doorstep looking vaguely into the street below. I greeted her and was dragged inside by Jesus, who had seen me coming and smothered me with hugs and was now pulling me into the darkness of the little house. We walk into the room that doubles as both bedroom and lounge for a family of about 6 people. It feels awkward as we have to pass right through the middle of their home in order to get to the tiny patio where all the cooking is done. A small shower and toilet shares the same space. Jesus pulls back a curtain to reveal another room at the rear of the property. This is their new home and inside is a double bed, a large gas canister and a shelf unit. In the corner is a sack, which I am guessing contains their clothes. A tiny window is there only option for both light and ventilation, but it is home and they invite me to sit on what looks like an old school chair, which is rather too small for me but better than the floor.
The family tell me that they have left most of their things in a previous room they rented last year and are planning on bringing it over little by little as they could afford. It is only a 20-minute bus journey, but at the moment there is no money for the bus and so their belongings stay where they are. I am told that their little home in the country is no longer available to them. Apparently, the older brother was staying there and was getting high on drugs and turned into a zombie figure. Neighbours became concerned when he started walking around naked and was vomiting a lot in the streets. One evening he set fire to the house and they lost everything. It was a sad and disappointing moment for them and they resigned themselves to starting all over again.
We have worked hard over the last few years to keep both boys off the street and in school and with caring people around them to help them make some positive decisions in their lives. It has not been easy, but we are committed to helping them not take the same road as many other boys in their family.
I am shown by Marcos his new school book, which he has covered with plastic material to keep it in good condition. I check over some of his work and comment on what a neat writer he is. He tells me that he is saving to buy the other three books he needs for this school year. “I think that you will look after them well and then pass them onto Jesus one day” I say. He looks to the floor and says nothing. I go on to say that I expect he has kept his other school books and it was at this point he just could not hold it in anymore. He burst into tears and I moved from my little chair to sit next to him on the bed. Marcos grabbed hold of me and just let out years of suppressed tears and said that all his books had been destroyed in the fire. Everything they had saved, all his clothes, toys and many other things were now gone.
Many minutes passed by as he held onto me and me to him as we shared a special moment watched on by his mum and little brother, who said nothing as they entered into his pain and then his mum began to cry also. It was important for Marcos to let this out and know he was in a safe place and that things could actually get better from here. I asked if they had eaten and Marcos began to tell me how they had struggled to find food on the rubbish dump this past week. It was not easy, he told me, to find something edible and something that would not make him ill again. The competition on the dump was higher and so they came home with less each week, and with two growing boys, the mum then went on to tell me, it was tough.
When the tears had been exhausted I asked Marcos if he would like to go with me now to collect the remainder of their possessions. He perked up and gave me another hug and said thank you. We left and drove only 10 minutes before arriving at the little room they used to rent. A kind lady welcomed us in and knew we had come for the belongings. I was wondering if I needed to fold the back seats down and make a few journeys but Marcos came out smiling and carrying a small wooden stool and two sacks of clothes. “That is all”, he tells me and thanks the lady for looking after their things and climbed back in the car.
We head back to their room, but call past a supermarket and I ask him to help me shop for some things they most urgently needed. Marcos was very careful about what he chose and only selected things they actually needed right now. With my encouragement we filled up the little basket and then headed back to his home.
He was so happy and I gave him some money to buy his books and said I would like to help him whenever he needed me. This time I knew that his heart was more open and since then I have received a few messages from him to say thank you. As I left I asked him what his dream was, what he would love to be one day when he had finished school. “If I can finish school”, he said, “I would love to do what you do, go around and help people”. We said our goodbyes and I have mused on his dream and so wonder how I can help him become a volunteer with us to help our work with younger children. I am sure that in looking after others with similar needs, this will help him develop and open up to an even more caring individual. For the moment he is grateful and happy and has had the opportunity to cry and talk about his feelings like never before. It´s a small step forwards, but one that I know has meant a lot to him.