Azaria Spencer

Erika

I remember the first time I met Erika. It was one of my first trips onto the streets of Guatemala City with our street team. It was late, and the air was beginning to cool as the sky faded into a dark indigo. We walked down fifth street and there she was, huddled into an almost unidentifiable bundle at the side of the road. She came to life when we approached and gave us all a warm greeting. I knelt to kiss her cheek and I distinctly remember her voice as she said ‘Hello, nice to meet you,’ in slow, uncertain English. I can hear her say it even now in my head. It made my soul smile. I sat down beside her and we shared our names and a little about our lives with my limited Spanish and her slightly confused sate, due to drug abuse. I don’t really know what it was about her, but she drew me in and I felt so much love towards her. Since that first meeting I have met her several times and for a while every time was like the first, for her at least. She didn’t remember or recognise me, that is was years of living on the streets and sniffing solvents has done to her. She is probably in her mid-late thirties, although her lifestyle has aged her somewhat. I’m not sure how long she has been on the streets, but I would guess more than 15 years. I wish I knew more of her story, how she ended up on the streets, why she decided to stay, if she ever wanted to leave, if she knows she is loved. 

Just last week I was able to spend some quality time with her, we visited her during the afternoon and for maybe the first time, she knew who I was. She couldn’t remember my name, but she knew that she had met me before. She always has such a big smile on her face and a very distinct little half laugh that follows most of what she says. She let me sit with her and we were able to chat more. She showed me a few of her possessions including a tiny plastic star and a note book, which she handed to me asking if I would draw for her.

So, I found myself sat there in the street, in ‘la terminal’ Guatemala City, with my friend Erika. Drawing in her notebook as the afternoon began to turn into evening. I dew a house, a girl, flowers, stars, the moon, page after page she turned and requested a new drawing.
It was a beautifully humbling time for me and I am convinced that I was more blessed than Erika.
I know so little of her life and what it must be like for her. What she thinks and feels, what I do know is that Erika has a beautiful heart and a warmth to her that brings joy. I am blessed to know her and am glad to have been able to spend time with her.
‘Time spent with another person is never time wasted!’ Never have truer words been said, building relationships and spending time with others, valuing them and loving them at the same time as being valued and loved is a special gift. To have been allowed into Erika’s life and her world is a gift. So many people walk by her every single day, seeing only a shape on the floor, a buddle of clothes and dirt hiding a person. They walk past and don’t even see her.
But God sees her and so do I, and I am better for it.


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Moments of Joy!

It is the little things, the details, the brief moments of joy that bring true delight to one’s heart and warms the soul. Thankfully in my line of work, which is constantly changing and quite hectic, I am blessed to have these small gifts, these moments of joy that absolutely make it all worth it.
Below are just a few recent moments of joy.

Every couple of weeks we take the children, from the centre where I work, out for the afternoon to a big park called Campo Marte. Where we can all play and run about, or at least the children can, and I can supervise and occasionally run about.
A few weeks ago, we were walking back from the park when one little boy, who can be a bit of an energetic ball of chaos, decided to walk hand in hand with me. His sweet and affectionate side revealed in a moment on tenderness. He reached up and picked a flower from a tree and gently tucked it behind my ear and said, “Una flor para tu cabello señorita Azaria” ‘a flower for your hair Miss Azaria.’ My heart melted and in an instant, I forgot all the times I had to pull him off other boys as their play fighting got out of hand or all the times I had to use my stern face and tell him to listen and calm down. He reminded me that beneath his sometimes-rough exterior is a little boy full of love and kindness. I gave him a gentle hug and we continued to walk back hand in hand. A picture-perfect moment!

There is this one girl who is 12 years old and has completely captured my heart. She is the eldest of five in her family. They live in a small one room house, it is quite a dark and dingy room and it is not very clean. She helps her mother with chores and with her younger siblings. She also understands that her father drinks too much and sadly she has seen the results of his drinking when he comes home and beats her mother. Yet amidst all this difficulty in her life she is a truly gentle and sweet girl, with such a generous and kind soul. I had spent one Saturday with one of my colleagues taking her and her siblings out for a fun day trip, as part of our mentoring program. We played together, rented bikes, did fun activities and ate delicious food. I saw her open her mind to being able to do things she never thought she could. She had started the day by saying ‘I can’t do that!’ but by the end of the day she had learned how to ride a bike and climbed a high-rise obstacle course. She became a girl who can. It was truly moving to watch this transformation as her confidence grew.
The following Monday I was in the centre with the children and she came up to me to say hi with a hug and a kiss on the cheek as usual. Afterwards she whispered to me that she wanted to see me in private, she was acting all shy and giggly. We went into the office and she rummaged through her bag, finally pulling out the cutest handmade paper box I have ever seen. The base was turquoise and the lid a bright red and pink spotted pattern. She had delicately folded the colourful paper to make this delightful little box and inside was a single sweet, coffee delight. I couldn’t believe that she had taken time to make me this pretty little box and bought me a sweet to go inside it. How thoughtful and generous. A thank you I will cherish.

Everybody knows that a cheeky smile on the face of a small boy can soften any heart. Well we have plenty of cheeky little boys here and my heart wasn’t hard to begin with, but now it is a bowl of jelly. I have developed a particular soft spot for one of our youngest boys, and with just one look he can make me want to give in and let him have that extra treat, which his eyes indicate he wants so much. Of course, I have to be strong and not give into his sweet face and not show favouritism. He knows he is a charmer and that one quick smile and I melt. It is so nice when you can have that connection with a child in this environment, when they seek you out and want those extra hugs and cuddles. When you know that his home life unfortunately means he is deprived of that love and affection. This little boy is one of ten children, to several different fathers, and he has to fight for any attention he can get. It is obvious that he and his siblings are undernourished and have some stunted growth potentially through drug abuse during pregnancy. But when he comes here, to the centre, he can have all the love, affection and stability he misses at home. He can have hugs, stand and hold my hand, sit and lean on me while we all watch a film. He can have opportunities to learn and be cared for. He can be shown the love that every child deserves. A love we are all deserve.

These are the kinds of moments that you want to freeze and keep forever. To hold onto and never let go of. They are the moments that bring light and joy to a world where there can be so much sadness and darkness. The children featured in these short stories are real, their difficulties are real, they come from complicated and unstable family backgrounds they suffer things most of us cannot even imagine. Through the help from the centre and the amazing team we have here these children have a safe place where they can learn, play, grow and be children. I feel extremely blessed to be able to be a part of this amazing team and to be welcomed into these children’s lives.

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Guard dog

As Laura and I walked back to the centre after picking up lunch, the earlier downpour had turned to drizzle, and the sky was beginning to brighten. We turned up the street to the centre and there he sat. Rex is a dog I know well, he is a gentle soul and belongs to one of our families. He follows the grandma (abuela), and girls everywhere and today was no different. He was sat by the door patiently waiting, guarding, protecting.
My heart grew heavy as I knew that earlier there had been an accident involving the grandma. We went inside and up to the office. Inside we found Frank sat with Lucia and Elena, two beautiful young girls who adore their grandmother dearly. Their eyes were red and damp, I placed my things down and approached Elena. I bent down, gently embracing her in my arms and she burst into tears, heart wrenching sobs left her body and I looked at Frank, desperate to know. Had their dear abuela died?!!!
Finally Frank’s phone call ended, and he spoke, their abuelita was stable and well. A deep sigh of relief and wave of hope passed over me.
This family have suffered much in their lives and their abuelita is the glue that holds them together. She cares for her grandchildren on her own and welcomes others into their home when they are in need too. She has a generous and compassionate heart and is loved by many.
I continued to sooth Elena as Laura sat with Lucia, they called a friend to pass on a message to their brother, Jonathan, to come to the centre.
Elena's sobs increased as Frank spoke gently, expressing that we were there for them and that they are not alone. Through the cries I heard her saying that all she wanted was to see her abuela.
Tears pricked my eyes as I fought the urge to join her as she wept. I knew that without their abuela these children would be without any family to care to them, with both parents in prison. 
Jonathan arrived and as he embraced his sister his eyes searched the room. I could see the worry, the fear. He asked what had happened and Frank explained calmly. Jonathan sat and explained how he had felt a pain in his chest earlier in the day and knew that something was wrong. He was hurt and worried, and angry too. He kept on asking about the car, the car that had hit his beloved abuela. 
I know Jonathan well, he is a happy, sweet, gentle and kind young man, who happens to also be on the edge of a dangerous life within the gangs. His anger was apparent, and I prayed in that moment that he would not act recklessly in response to this accident that had hurt his family. 
Our attention turned to the TV screen where we could see our security cameras and there sat outside the front door was Rex, still waiting and watching. His devotion apparent. Jonathan commented on this and Frank said that Rex knew something was wrong, he could sense it. Loyalty runs deep. While his beloved owner is in hospital Rex will guard his girls. It is a comforting thought to know that these children will be well looked after by us, and of course Rex, while their abuelita recovers. Here at SKD Guatemala we are a family, dysfunctional like any other, but a loving family non the less.

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