My experience on the streets by Mark Carter
When Duncan first invited me to accompany him on his walk around the streets of La Terminal in Guatemala City I would be lying if I said I hadn’t initially been a bit excited and somewhat scared. I’d heard about the area before, a place best summed up by Duncan: “where Guatemalans don’t even go, especially not at night”, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
The three of us, Duncan, Juan Carlos and me set off from the mentoring centre just before sunset. From there we walked to a somewhat derelict multistorey building, where I followed Duncan and Juan Carlos through what felt like a maze of unlit corridors and stairways, until we reached the end of a dim hallway. We knocked and entered a room the size of my (small) bedroom at uni, in which there were about seven people sitting on a bed watching a TV placed on top of a wardrobe to save what little space there was. We spent around 10 minutes there chatting to the people in the room, who were almost entirely children. After that we made our way back down through the building to the street
This is how our night continued, walking from one home to another talking to parents and children in their “homes” which were little more than store rooms, as well as in the street. Between conversations with the families and people on the street Duncan would tell me about what he had seen and heard about in his 25 years of experience. From child sex rings run by other children, to children being shot by policemen simply because they had been cheeky to them earlier in the day, to how out of the original 60 kids he knew living on the street only 4 were still alive 25 years later.
The most shocking thing to me though, out of the whole experience and all the stories I was told, was how I still smiled so much that night; it was so easy to get lost in the moment. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget one particular moment when I was playing with Justin, a six year old boy, throwing him in the air and pretending to drop him, then attempt to put him down only for him to insist, ‘No’, ‘otra vez’ or ‘mas, mas’. Seeing him so happy to have this attention, it was impossible not to smile. But the moment I took a second to step back and realise where I was, the reality came crashing down around me and the smile disappeared; the reality that at least for the foreseeable future, every moment of Justin’s life is going to be an uphill struggle of a scale I couldn’t possibly imagine.
This is what I think is the most amazing thing about the Street Kids project- it has created, even in the most inhospitable world I have ever experienced, relationships between the volunteers and the kids themselves, that are both intensely personal and supremely hopeful and mean you can get lost in the moment and almost forget where you are.