Azaria Spencer

Addiction and dreams!

It was Tuesday morning when Ben arrived at the centre as normal and found him sleeping across two chairs at the dining room table. He woke, his eyes were bloodshot and exhausted, and there was a deep sadness in them. As he told Ben about the night he had just had both of their hearts were heavy. His addiction had caused him to become secretive, to lie and to make bad decisions. Decisions that led him to another night on the streets. Ben sat and listened as he told him that last night he had walked to the airport to watch the planes. To the exact place where Ben had taken him only a few weeks before. He dreams of one day becoming a pilot and in the depths of one of the worst nights of his life he had found himself drawn to that dream once more. Weeping and under the influence of solvents he had returned to ‘la terminal’ to sleep on the streets. Thankfully one night was enough to make him realise that things needed to change.

But before the story can continue the question, ‘how did he end here?’ needs addressing.

To understand how he ended up spending this night on the streets we must first backtrack in his story.
Four years ago, he lived on the streets for a full year, only a teenager, with no family and no home. The drugs had pulled him in and had kept him there. But he knew that was not the life he wanted. With the support of some people who were worked with people living on the streets at that time he was able to leave. He moved to their volunteer’s house outside of the city. From there he lived with a family and found he could be happy, that he could have a ‘normal’ life. During his time living with this family he went out to work at the pacific in construction. Unfortunately, whilst there he was in a motorbike accident which landed him in hospital for over a month. When he returned to live with the family he relapsed and ended up taking paint stripper. Filled with shame he ran away, back to ‘la terminal’ and spent a few nights in a hotel there. That is when he came to us. He had met Ben and some of the other people who work with us here from his time in the volunteer’s house and with this family. So, in February when he showed up asking for help Ben and the team were more than happy to support him. He went into a rehabilitation home and whilst he was there Ben visited him and spent time getting to know him more. Finding him to be a very genuine, clever, motivated young man. A man who had big dreams and who wanted to work hard to make them happen.
Things were going really well, and he was enjoying learning more about God and was managing to live without the drugs.
Sadly, one day while he was in the bathroom the metal in his leg snapped leaving him in agony and in desperate need of medical attention. The rehabilitation home called Ben and explained that they could not take responsibility for him and the paramedics did not turn up. Ben arrived with another team member and took him to hospital, where he had an operation. On leaving the hospital his options were very limited, so he went to stay with members of the street team for a couple of weeks and then onto the protection home, where another family from our team was living. He was cared for and shown love. It was not the best environment for him, as the house was under construction at the time and he was still on crutches, but he was happy to be there and be part of a family. He was motivated to study hard and focus on his recovery.
However, addiction is a complicated captor and in May, on mother’s day, he relapsed. He sought comfort from the pain of his mother’s death in drugs and the shame caused him to run away. It is hard to imagine the kind of pain he was suffering, a pain he felt could only be softened or forgotten through drug use. When the team found him and brought him back his shame was met with forgiveness and love. He was allowed to stay at the house while his leg continued to heal. Ben continued to visit him, spend time with him and take him to his appointments and counselling. Again, thing were looking positive as routine set in and he continued to heal. Everyone found him a joy to be around and liked having him at the house and the centre.
Unfortunately, earlier this month, August, the smell of solvents from his room and on him lead to the discovery of drugs in his room.
When asked about the drugs, he was so honest and open. He admitted his mistakes and was very remorseful. He was clearly ashamed and very sorry. Ben and the team didn’t want to put him back into rehab, he had come so far and was doing really well. After a lot of thought it was decided that he could stay at the home and a full program would be made for him, accounting for his time and to keep him focussed. This program included his counselling, looking for a mentor and support classes. There was no point in focussing on the past, it was about looking forward and focussing on his future. Everyone knew that another relapse would mean his only option would be a rehabilitation home. No one wanted that, everyone loved having him here with us. He is such a delight to be around, he is so warm and friendly and always ready to help and serve.
Well, that brings us back up to the events of this week.
And that smell, that distinct smell that reveals an addict’s secrets.
On Sunday night Ben had taken him to church and had wondered, had thought maybe he could smell that all too familiar smell. But his perfume was strong and Ben didn’t want to believe he would have gone back to the drugs so soon. Yet his behaviour had been odd and a little distant. When Monday came around and another team member smelt that same, strong scent questions had to be asked.
Ben, along with another member of the team, approached him with love. Only desiring to know the truth. Reassuring that they only wished to help. He denied it, insisting that he was not using again. They could even check his room if they wanted. His eyes darting and his voice panicked. It was getting harder to believe him. He was told that it didn’t matter, no one would be upset or angry. We just needed to know, so that we could find a better option for him, get him the help he needs. He persisted in denying his relapse. But at the house, the evidence was blatant, the stench in his room undeniable and drugs hidden in the same place as before.

So, his options were laid out before him, he could go to a rehabilitation home, he could continue to have our support as he recovered and post recovery too. Ben reassured him that we would be there to support him. But he could no longer stay at the house because it was not working for him and was not what was best for him. He would not listen to reason anymore, he was ashamed. He told Ben that he would never be able to change, he would always be an addict. Ben would not give up on him, but he insisted he needed time away from the centre to think. He said he would stay with a friend and come back the next day.
Trust may have been broken at this point, but hope was not lost.
Ben didn’t want to let him go and stay with his friend, but adults make their own decisions. All Ben and the team could do was hope and pray. Hope and pray that he would come back.
Pray that he would make the right decisions. Pray that God would keep him safe.
Ben continued his work that night on the streets, constantly wondering how he was, if he was safe, if he would come back.

Now we find ourselves back at Tuesday morning, with Ben coming to the centre and finding him lying there asleep across two kitchen chairs. Having just had one of the worst nights of his life.
But ready to make a decision filled with hope.

The night back on the streets showed him that his only real option was to go into a rehabilitation home. A place where he can be free from the addiction. A freedom that will in turn allow him to live his life and be free to see his dream of becoming a pilot realised.
By Tuesday afternoon he was on his way to the rehabilitation home with Ben and other members of the street team. Filled with emotions, ashamed and deeply saddened. It would take some time for the joy to return to his heart and eyes.
Addiction is a crippling and dark possessor, taking hold of a person with a tight grip. Even when someone’s life if going well and they are happy and have support around them the addiction draws them in, it lies to them. It must be torturous to feel something having such a strong hold on your life and knowing it isn’t healthy or good yet feeling trapped by it.
We trust and know that freedom is attainable and can be reached. And for this young man a future free from addiction and filled with hope and dreams is possible. It is possible, but we are not there yet, and the honesty of this account shows the reality of life. Along with all it’s uncertainty, failures and pain.


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 drew 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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