• Protection Home offers refuge to runaway child

Protection Home offers refuge to runaway child

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The doorbell rings at the Street Kids Direct Protection Home in Guatemala City and when Duncan answers it he finds little Kevin is standing there in the street and looking very hot, covered in sweat and looking down at his feet in embarrassment.

Duncan Dyason tells the story of how a young boy walked 7 hours to find protection: "Seeing him alone in the street triggered the alert system we all live with here and so I invited him in.  We climb the stairs into the kitchen and dining room and I ask him if he would like a drink.  He collapses down on the sofa we have next to the dining table and just nods.  It is clear he is exhausted and so I get him a cold drink of water and lean him forwards and remove his backpack while he tries to gulp down the glass of water and asks for more.

Kevin is 9 years old and lives in one of the marginal areas of Guatemala City, where poverty and deprivation is all too evident.  I have known Kevin for nearly a year now and he is one of the boys we have been helping stay off the streets, work hard in school and make positive choices about his life. But, why is he here now and on his own?

After a few minutes of rest and some water Kevin looks into my eyes and I can see this is going to be hard for him.  His eyes well up with tears and he tries his best not to show emotions as I ask him what he has in his backpack.  He tells me he has his clothes, something I was guessing as I was pouring him some water.  He asks if he can change his shirt as it is soaking with sweat and making him feel uncomfortable.  One of our volunteers, David, is in his room relaxing after a day of teaching and so I decide not to disturb him but to call one of our team, Frank, while Kevin heads to the boys´ bathroom to wash his face and change his shirt.

When we get back together, Frank has informed the team and I take Kevin out to buy some food and then return to the home where Kevin begins tell me why he has run away from home.  It is not always easy for children to tell you about abuse, but if you provide them with a safe place to talk and help them know you are on their side, they can begin to move from fear and secrets towards freedom.

Apparently, he took the decision to leave his home when he woke up today.  He took all his school books out of his rucksack and filled it with clothes.  While his sister watches him and wonders what he is doing, he leaves his little shack and starts to walk the 7 hours it takes to get to our home.  He has no money, has had nothing to eat or drink and so when he arrives, he is absolutely exhausted. I am still trying to get into my mind how a little 9-year-old boy can walk all that way along three-lane highways in order to get to us.  Amazing that he arrived safely and remembered where the home was.

Our policies and the local laws state very clearly our obligations to report what he is telling me and so Frank arranges for Social Services to come and collect him.  On their arrival I was rather shocked by their treatment of Kevin, treating him like some stray dog.  All they want is to grab him and bundle him into their van.  I was not allowing this and made it clear that we are to sit with Kevin and explain the whole process to him so that he understands what will happen next.

Kevin joins us at this point and when he sees the authorities sitting at the table, he begins to cry quite profoundly.  We explain to him the situation as Social Services ask him to tell them why he is here and then take some photos of his little body.  It is all rather upsetting to us and for Kevin, but eventually it is agreed that he has to go with Social Services even though he just wants to be with us, with people he feels safe with.  I can see that in his young mind running away from home and living with me is an easy option.  However, it is now getting rather late and I can see this evening will be rather long."

Duncan and the team attended the all-night court and eventually Kevin was placed in the custody of the court and taken to a children´s home where many of the younger children we rescue end up living.  The home is a loving home for nearly 70 children and visiting Kevin the next day we could see how safe he felt and how happy he was.  Now comes the longer process to bring the family back together again!


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