Sunday 23rd July

The day begins with high expectation as we head of to AMG about 10 minutes drive from the soon-to-be Protection Home for high-risk children in Guatemala City.  AMG is an inspirational school for about 400 high-risk children and they opened up a special classroom for the most challenging young people who have missed out completely on their education.

We drive into the school car park and disembark the huge pickup I have for the week while my car is in the workshop.  I am very happy to have my dear friends James and Sally Hawes with me, together with their two sons Cadan, 14, and Afton who is 12.  They are from Nottingham and are visiting here for two weeks to volunteer on the streets and to se the scope of the work we do.

Walking into the school is comforting, as the 400 children here would not normally have the chance of an education if it were not for AMG.  It certainly sounds like school and year 4-6 are pouring out of their classrooms and heading to the sports field to play.  We arrive at the special classroom that AMG funds for some of our boys and are welcomed in and invited to see how the boys are doing before photos are taken and a few questions are asked about the two boys visiting from the UK.

AMG1All of a sudden one of our team comes into the classroom with a cake that has candles on it and begins singing Happy Birthday.  It´s Alex´s birthday and he is rather overwhelmed by the attention but I can see he is rather enjoying it.  I remember back to the first day we found Alex and am so pleased we persevered with him and got him away from the streets and into school.

We challenge the boys to a football match, England vs Guatemala.  The challenge is accepted and before we can count to 10 we are out on the pitch recruiting little children to join our squads and the match begins.  It is a huge amount of fun but the game only lasts for 10 minutes at 1-1 as we get a call that one of the young mums we are working with has been kidnapped and has called to tell us she has escaped her kidnapper and is hiding in a warehouse and could we go and rescue her.

The Hawes family are then driven to our Centre while I head of with Ben to meet Juan Carlos, one of our street team, and see what we can do to help.  I drive as fast as I am allowed to as we are all concerned about Cindy´s safety and discuss scenarios as we drive and approach to warehouse.  I was expecting to find some abandoned industrial unit where we might have to rescue her by force and have already called PNC, the national police, to ask them to join us when we arrive.

I was asked to take the pickup as it was large and had black windows and so this would help with the rescue.  It was still rather confusing about why she was there and what had led to her call saying she had been kidnapped.  Cindy has lived on the streets for many years and has a 10-year-old daughter who has grown up on the streets. Recently we helped Cindy find a children´s home for her daughter, as she could not look after her and keep her safe from a gang.  Cindy was doing well, had found a job and a neat place to live and now her life was in danger again.

BenonstreetsOn arrival at the warehouse it was clear that she would not need to be “rescued” at all as a friend had already arrived and taken her away.  Furthermore the warehouse was a working factory where over a hundred people were happily at work making sweets.  The factory boss came out and invited us in to look around if we wanted to after hearing the story and gave us bags of sweets for the kids before we walked down the road to one of the many government offices that deal with complaints about abuse, etc. from the public.

Cindy is inside and bursts into tears when she sees us and tells us her story.  She fell in love with a young man who became violent and started to abuse her on a daily basis.  She coped with the abuse as she had always been in relationships that were abusive and so knew nothing else.  But one day she told herself that enough was enough and decided to leave him.  Apparently he would not allow this to happen and so locked her up in the warehouse where he worked and it was from there she called us.

Her boyfriend was nowhere to be seen but her friend who had helped her leave the warehouse seemed a really caring man and said he was from the local church and they would help find her an alternative place to live while we explored options for the next steps.  At least she was now safe and thanked us for our support before heading off to the Public Ministry offices to make an official statement that would mean a restriction order could be taken out so her boyfriend can now longer have contact with her.

Ben, Juan Carlos and me drive back to our Centre to collect the Hawes family and head to the streets.  It has already been a full morning and we suspect the afternoon will also be eventful as street work is hugely exciting, varied but also the most challenging of jobs.

Walking down the 6th Avenue can overwhelm the senses as we pass by the various bars, shops and stalls and are enticed by numerous street vendors to buy sweets, fruit and newspapers or have our shoes cleaned.  It is a busy afternoon and the sun is hot on our heads and so we try and enjoy the bits of shade until we reach the place where it is safest to cross the busy road.  It is at the point where four young children come rushing out of a doorway and grab hold of my legs.  I bend down to greet them and they all want picking up.

joseDanielJose Daniel is 6 and he is child number three to be picked up and given a cuddle.  I am just about to put him down when his mum appears and tells he the boy is not well and could I help.  Without telling me what he has she pushes him back into my arms and pulls down his tracksuit trousers to show me he has a genital infection.  The poor boy must be in agony and so we go into their shack where we can examine him without having to do so in the street.  He is obviously in pain and it is clear from what I can see that he needs a series of antibiotics.  So I carry him to one of the local heath clinics accompanied by his mum, brother and sisters, Ben and the Hawes family.

The doctor takes one look at Jose Daniel and realises the medication he needs and encourages the mother shower him everyday, apply cream and give him two forms of antibiotics and that within 10 days he will be back to normal.  Normal is not something Jose Daniel has ever had and so I must go back and see how he is progressing and hope that the mum is actually going to give him the medicine and apply the cream twice a day.

Finally we head across the road and arrive at La Casona, a street where some 20 children, young people and adults are living.  We greet everyone and introduce the family visiting from the UK before conversations quickly turn to Gerson´s death and funeral.  Everyone was asking to see photos of Gerson and so I quickly find some on my Facebook page.  His death has made some decide to leave the streets including Luis, Vicky and Selvin.  We begin to explore options for each of them while playing cards and cleaning feet and attending to wounds.

Casona Police 2All of a sudden there is a huge amount of activity as one of the guys notices that the municipal (city) police have just driven past slowly whilst taking photos of us.  Heads begin to look around and we notice that a small group of police is gathering at the corner of the road.  Within minutes everyone is gathering up their possessions, as they believe they have arrived to remove them from the streets and confiscate their beds and belongings.  One man grabs a machete and tucks it down into his trousers and so I warm the family that we need to be prepared to take photos and ensure that no abuse happens.

Feelings are running high and everyone is on high alert and then two national police arrive on bikes followed by a patrol car full for heavily armed police.  It is clear they have not come to just talk and something is about to happen and so Ben and me walk to meet the police while James and Sally Hawes begin to record the moment with photos in case we need evidence.

The municipal police are first to talk and we realise that their agenda is quite passive, maybe because we are present.  The last few times we have not been present the police have weighed in hard and in one video one officer is seen kicking a disabled homeless person in La Casona while threatening the others with much of the same if they come to her defense.  It is vital we are there and being present is about all we can do at this point.

Casona Police1The spokeswoman begins to tell us that they have had many complaints from members of the public and neighbours because of the younger children that are present living on the streets and abusing drugs.  We listen carefully and respond with our own concerns for the welfare of the children particularly.  It is clear the police only want to talk and raise their concerns but with the number of police officers and the manner in which some stand by with their fingers on the triggers of the police issue automatic machine guns I am worried that anything can happen.  It does not help that Juan takes off his shirt and begins to shout at the police and tries to barge the spokeswoman before an officer gets in the middle and Ben and me pull Juan away.  It is a tense standoff for a while but we help keep things calm and a reasonable conversation begins about what to do with the young children living there and abusing drugs.

Our visit finishes with an agreement that the police will inform the appropriate authorities about the younger children and leave the rest alone to live, as they need to on the streets.  I head back with the Hawes family as it is now getting dark and leave Ben with the guys on the streets as another one of our team rushed over so that Ben is not on his own.

It has been quite an eventual day and we talk about the various things we have seen and done and how we will be helping those who want to leave the streets to start new lives and enter rehab programmes.

DonEdwinAs we cross the main road and turn the corner into the road where our Centre is we notice two police pickups and an ambulance in the road and wonder what is going on.  It then becomes clear as we approach the building where our dear friend Don Edwin lives and I see his grandson on the steps in tears and quickly know that Don Edwin has passed away.  A TV crew appears and climbs the stairs into the flat where Don Edwin has been found lying on the floor.

It is a very sad moment for me.  Slowly our team poured out of the Centre and gathered with us as we mourned the loss of this elderly gentleman who cared so much for the work we were doing.  All in the street knew Don Edwin.  He would spend most of his day sitting on a post in the road and watch all our vehicles and take time to greet every child that came past.  We would often invite him into the Centre for cake and to see how the children are doing.  It was the highlight of his day and all the kids would give him a hug on their way home.

Another loss and another funeral.  Another long day and another reminder of just how fragile life is and how we must make the most of every opportunity God gives us to help someone and make a difference.

Saturday 15th July

Being a street worker is certainly not the most glamorous or well paid of jobs.  Street work is hard graft, dangerous, exhausting and messes with your mind as you see so much suffering.  However, it is my calling and I LOVE IT!  I love the fact that you can make a difference to someone´s life and when I say difference that could be to actually save their life.  I love the banter of the street, I love the chaos, and I love the multi-faceted sub-cultures that are very evident in every visit.  I love the welcome I receive from all those on the streets and love their acceptance of me and their willingness to share everything they have with me.

I was reminded again this week of the way street work can and does affect one personally.  I don´t think you can be a street worker if you are not prepared to be hurt.  A friend of mine who runs a project in Honduras for street boys wrote to me this week and said: “doing this work with a broken heart helps us get a better glimpse of our Father´s heart for them”.  How true his words are and they arrived when I was at my lowest and trying to make sense of all that has happened this week and questioning God about why so many of those we work with die so young.

Gerson5I have been grieving the loss of Gerson and so as part of my therapy I am writing to share his life with you in the hope that it will mean something.  I hope too that out of his death will come a renewed passion to help the many who still live on the streets of Guatemala City.

Gerson was born on the 28th May 1997.  His mum was just a teenager and clearly didn´t relish the fact that she had to now bring up a baby boy.  Gerson´s grandmother told me that she remembers visiting him one day and found him lying on a mattress caked in his own excrement.  He was only 4 years of age and so the grandmother tried to offer him an alternative family.  This arrangement didn´t last long and Gerson soon went back to live with his mum.

At the age of six Gerson´s mother decided that enough was enough and that she wanted to do away with the boy.  She tried to give him away to various people and then eventually found a lady in La Terminal who was interested in him.  That was the last contact she had with him and he was handed over to a total stranger, but at least she felt free and, according to Gerson´s grandmother, never felt anything towards her son at all.

Gerson grew up with this lady and quickly learnt why she was interested in him.  He was taught all sorts of things that children should not know about at the age of six and so suffered many years of sexual abuse and neglect before running away to live on the streets.  The authorities must have picked him up at some point as he was placed in a children´s home for a couple of years before escaping and finding his way back to La Terminal in Guatemala City.

How was he expected to be a good boy?  How was he expected to go to school and live a normal life after all he had experienced during those early years?  He was alone, angry, and bitter against his mum and wider family and really hurt by how he was treated in the children´s home and so began to look for belonging on the streets.  That is where I met him.

The early days of knowing Gerson were a mixture of fun, sadness and frustration.  The frustration came from me as I could see a boy who had been through so much and, as a result, was closed to being helped and could not bring himself to trust an adult.  I tried many times to help him consider another home but after hearing the horror stories of how he was treated when in the children’s home I could only hope that he would explore the option of living with his grandmother.

Gerson6My connection with Gerson became stronger after every visit as he would often come and sit with me and look at me with those penetrating eyes and say that I was his Dad.  He never remembered his father, who was killed when he was a much younger boy, and so latched on to me.  He would beg at the traffic lights on the 6th Avenue and when he had a 25c coin he would call me.  Often the conversation was about him asking how I was, what I was doing and when I would visit him next. This photo was taken a few years ago on what, gerson told me, was the happiest day of his life.

On my return from the UK in mid-June I visited the streets where Gerson was living because he called me the night I landed and asked if I would come to see him.  He was angry with me for not being in Guatemala to celebrate his birthday and asked if I had brought him a present.  Gerson was had just turned 20 but he still looked like a 14-year-old boy.  I went to find him and eventually he came running to meet me and gave me a big hug, telling me he loved me and why did I miss his birthday.

It was clear to me that he was ill again and so I asked him if he would allow me to take him into hospital.  It was a scenario that we played out many times.  Gerson would get depressed, refuse to eat and then sniff solvents to the point where he would eventually collapse and, when he became unconscious, then could we take him into hospital.  I can´t remember how many times I took him to hospital, visited him and helped arrange for a new life once he was thinking clearly.

The hospital visits increased and not just through solvent abuse.  He was stabbed so many times one evening that we all wondered if he would pull through.  When released he was hit by a car, which left him with difficulties in walking and talking and his hands would shake so much he could not drink from a cup anymore.  His life took a turn for the worse and, once again, was rushed into hospital the day after I returned from a recent trip to Honduras.

Gerson3

The day began with me receiving two phone calls from people on the streets telling me that Gerson was seriously ill and could the street team come and take him to hospital.  Ben Soden and Sony rushed to where he was while I went to collect Moses from school and then we would assess the situation.  Ben told me later that day how distressing it was finding Gerson almost unconscious on the streets and how emancipated he looked.  Ben and Sony (our administrator) asked the Municipal Bomberos to rush him to hospital but at first they were not interested.  After pleas for their help they arrived on the scene and decided to take Gerson to hospital.

Ben watched as one of the Bomberos tried to grab hold of Gerson like he was a dog and drag him into the ambulance.  This, according to Ben, was very distressing and made him angry and so pushed the Bombero away and, as carefully as he could, picked up Gerson and placed him gently in the ambulance.  Sony then accompanied Gerson to the hospital and later that day I went to see how he was doing.

I know I have written about the main city hospital here in Guatemala City so many times before and so will spare you the stories.  It takes me a while to eventually be allowed access to Gerson as I am told he is still in Emergency and that I would be allowed 10 minutes to visit him.  I walk into the emergency room, which is absolute chaos, and step over a pile of blood and begin my search for him. It is a miracle this hospital can actual function as government funds are limited and most doctors tell me they don´t have painkillers or much in the way of basic medicines.  The hospital makes you feel you have travelled to a war zone in the 1950s.  Hope does not find a home here as I look around at the many on stretchers and even one patient lying on the floor with various family members trying their best to keep their loved ones alive.  It´s distressing but eventually I find Gerson lying on a bed.

Gerson8

My first impression is that he is in a bad way.  He is a bag of skin and bones and is being kept alive through a ventilator and has a concoction of drugs being fed into him through a vein in his neck.  I have no idea where the drugs have come from, as I know how short they are and, according to one of the male nurses, would not normally “waste” drugs on someone from the streets.  It is clear he is in a really bad way and so all I can do is be with him, hold his hand, pray with him and whisper in his ear.

Gerson spends the weekend in the hospital before I visit him on the Monday afternoon and see if any progress has been made.  This visit I actually meet a doctor who knows Gerson´s situation and tells me that he does not think he will live for much longer.  His words seem to come out really slowly and the thought of losing him begins to dawn on me.  I manage to tell the doctor that I will contact his family and come back later or tomorrow to see how he is doing.

It takes a few hours to arrive at his grandmother´s house and I pass on the news and ask her to help provide us with legal papers should Gerson not pull through.  If no legal papers can be presented when someone dies then they are disposed of as XX and you never have a chance of a funeral or to visit the place the body is “buried”.  His grandmother tells me she will leave early in the morning and get copies of his papers and meet us at the hospital.

Gerson4

I arrive home exhausted and heartbroken and remain in prayer for Gerson and still hope he would once again pull through.  Sadly this would not be the case and later that night he passed away and the next day I went, with legal papers, to collect his body from the hospital morgue.  Dying in the hospital means he did not need an autopsy and then funeral arrangements were made and all those we knew who knew him were informed.  It was a difficult time for us all, especially for Ben who had recently joined the street team and was only one year older than Gerson and had seen three deaths in the last 15 days. What a way to begin his work with us in Guatemala!

Gerson´s life was a troubled one and he saw his fair share of suffering and I hope that now he is at peace and with God.  I knew that speaking at his funeral would be almost impossible and so I kept my words short in order to hold it all together and help the family know he was loved indeed.  All I could say was etched on a plaque that was placed on his tomb: “You were never alone in this world Gerson even though the world hit you hard.  I love you son and trust you to the mercy and love of God”.  It was a tough day and one I know we will be repeating again unless a miracle happens and all those we are trying to help leave the streets.

Gerson7

I tried to be a Dad to Gerson and, in part, I succeeded in demonstrating to him that he was loved just for who he was.  I will miss his phone calls and toothless smile and will now use my grief to fuel my determination to help many more Gersons.  One such boy rang me today and asked how I was doing as he had accompanied me to the funeral.  He told me he didn´t want to die on the streets like Gerson and like his Dad and was now ready to go into a home.  I tell him I will see him later and will remind him of the words he said to me at the funeral and how Gerson´s death has made him want to change.  Hope rises and I will keep you posted of his progress.

Dedicated to Gerson.  A boy I loved as much as I could.  A young man who knew he had a father who cared for him but who increasingly lived with a desire to be released from this life.  I trust him into God´s mercy and hope that one day I will see him again.

Tuesday 27th June 2017

The phone call came through around 6pm as Ben and me had just started to work with the children and their families in a place called Las Casitas in La Terminal in Guatemala City.  It was Frank, the coordinator of the mentoring programme and he was calling to ask for help as a lady and her 7 children had been brought to our Centre and were in desperate need.  We decided to return immediately to assess the situation.

As we opened the door of the Centre we found Doña Cecilia sat on the stairs and her 7 children playing in the entrance area with various toys.  Looking into Doña Cecilia´s face I could see that desperation and sense of abandonment that we often see when people begin to give up on life.  I introduced myself and Ben and was informed as to why they had been brought to us by Doña Judith who had found them sleeping in the streets.

It´s a story that will continue to be told over the next few weeks I am sure but one that was hard to hear and tough to get out of our heads last night.  I later discussed the various situations we faced during last night with Ben as we stopped for dinner around 10:30pm.  We were both exhausted and needed to talk and make plans for what we would do tomorrow for the children and families we came across tonight and the need was far too overwhelming for us both.

Doña Cecilia had taken the decision to leave her home in the early hours of Sunday morning with her 7 young children and head to the city centre and eventually La Terminal.  It was not an easy decision but she knew she had to protect herself and her children who have suffered years of abuse by her husband and his parents.  Her own family lives nearby, but according to Doña Cecilia, they are all drug addicts and “dangerous people”.

DoñaCeceiliaI invited her to the office to talk more about the situation while Frank and Ben entertained the children.  Doña Cecilia was understandably cautious with the information but eventually Juan Carlos, one of our team, and me started to piece together the bare bones version in order to offer some immediate help.  Doña Cecilia told us stories of her abuse at the hands of her husband and his parents and how he had hit the two older boys (9 and 7) in the face on Saturday and left all of them in such a state that caused her to abandon the home and take the children with her.  She told us how she was often forced to forage for food for them as her husband provided very little for the children, spending any money he earned on drink.  Sometimes she was forced to sleep outside in the streets and on various occasions lived in the forest in order to stay safe.  It was a captivating and depressing story but we now needed to act and do something.

The immediate need was to find them safe place to sleep for the night and thanks to Juan Carlos a room was found in zone 1 with two beds, a toilet and shower.  The next would be to work with Doña Cecilia in getting all the papers of the children in order so that they could be taken to the authorities, as it was clear she could not look after them.  The children would be placed in a home and she would then have visiting access while she found work and established a home for them. 

The reality of the situation was starting to dawn on her and she begun to cry.  Her oldest, 10-year-old Damaris, came in and comforted her mum and started to tell me how she felt when she knew they were all going to have to sleep on the streets: “I was so scared”, she said “and worried all night about what would happen to us”.  She is a brave soul and it is clear she is a huge support to her mum and helps with the care of her younger siblings.

CelciliaFamilyEventually we managed to fit them all in the jeep and take them to their room where they were so happy to see two beds and where the children began to shower and change into cleaner clothes.  Ben had gone with the family and Juan Carlos to the room while Frank accompanied me to Las Casitas as Ben and me had gone there to look in on three young children who have started to spend more time on the streets.  All three were in their shack when we first visited but we had to leave them when we got the phone call and so informed them would be back ASAP.

I knocked on the door of the shack and since there was now answer slowly pushed the door open to discover a young child asleep on a pile of clothes, a fire smoldering to my right, which is where the mum had been cooking earlier, and the room filled with smoke.  As I pulled the door closed the mum arrived carrying two large pieces of cardboard and scuttled past us and into her shack.  A few seconds later she appeared and tried to greet us but it was clear she was very drunk and was struggling to make sense and stand upright!

We spent time with three other families before leaving to look for the three children that should be with her in the home.  We knew that they would either be in “las maquinitas” (game machines)or en La Casona and begun our search.  We walked further into La Terminal and then two girls came to tell us that we needed to go with them to help an old lady who they had found was living on her own and in a bad way.

Accompanied by the two girls we hurried along the dimly-lit passageways that is a haven to drug dealers, market stall vendors and contract killers.  Eventually we found her shack and knocked on her door for about 1 minute before she called out and asked who it was.  On hearing the voice of the two girls she opened the door and invited us in. 

Doña Rosita is 80 years of age and was one of the very first people to build a shack in Las Casitas for her and her son.  Now her home is a crumbling mess of burnt and rotten wood that props up sheets of tin that always leak when heavy rains come.  The floor is just dirt and everywhere there is evidence of rats, cobwebs and a layer of dust has formed over everything but her bed.  Doña Rosita shows us around and tells us she asks God to take her every night but would he do so during the week so that she would not be left for dead over the weekend because she didn´t want her body to be left to decay and just be eaten by worms.  She told us of how her neighbours have told her she should die so that they can take her shack and benefit from the space she currently occupies.

The girls begin to tell me how they try and pop by during the week to see how she is doing and bring her food when they have some spare.  This leads us to discover that her son pays for her electric meter and gives her £1.50 a week to live on! Doña Rosita begins to cry and tells me that some days all she has to eat is two small tortillas, and not fresh ones either - these are tortillas that others have discarded.

The harrowing story gets worse as she tells us her fears of going to sleep at night.  “I have to leave the light on all night”, she tells me “because the bat comes in and tries to feed on me”.  Rather startled by what I have just heard I probe a little more and discover that a bat has taken up residence somewhere in the shack and comes out at night and bites her face for blood.  The thought of what is happening is like something from a horror movie but Doña Rosita shows me how she cups her hands to collect the blood that streams down her face from the last attack.  If it´s not the bat it´s the rats and with her makeshift mattress on the dirt floor this situation is not going to get any better.

We pray for her and promise to come back when we have decided what we can do to help.  I tell Ben later that I don´t know what we can do but we must do something.

Frank and me continue our search for the three children and as we look among “las maquintitas” and we are told they have not been around for the last hour or so but then come across 13-year-old Jonathan.  Jonathan is now working full-time on the streets selling sweets like his father and is now resting from his day of walking the streets and pleased he has something to take home to help with the family income.  He is sitting on one of the now closed market stalls and introduces us to his two young friends Marvin and Lucas, 10 and 12 respectively.

The three boys then introduce us to other young boys who have been selling on the streets all day and now were looking to start a game of football in the streets.  I call them all together and explain who we are and what we do on the streets and that if they ever needed to talk to anyone about anything then they could talk to us.  The boys thanked us, gave us the customary hand punch and then walked with us as we dropped Jonathan back at his home as he told us he had to be home by 9pm and it was now 8:55pm.

BenSoden1Ben joined me now and Frank went home and we both accompanied Jonathan to his home followed by his little mates.  We chatted about their lives and Ben was desperate to tell me how it had gone with the family but that would have to wait as we had now arrived at La Casona and needed to say goodnight to Jonathan and the boys before greeting the guys in the streets.

Before we could cross the road to say hi to them all Vicky came over and grabbed onto me and started to cry.  She had called me earlier in the afternoon in a state as she was once again behind on her bills and needed support, advice and comfort.  Vicky has lived on the streets for many years and then took the very brave decision to leave and look after her 4 children.  Life hit her hard as her husband was arrested for theft and is now in prison.  Tonight her 4 children will once again have to spend the night alone without their mum as Vicky hangs out with her friends on the streets and tries to beg at the traffic lights in order to take something back to her family.

It was at this point that 3 young boys came over and sat next to us and begun to compete for our attention.  Ben and me had gone out earlier in the evening with the plan to visit the boys but when we got to one of their shacks they were not there and so we headed for the game machines to look for them.

All 3 boys were sniffing solvents, the youngest, Danny who just 9, is holding his grubby hand to his mouth and trying to gain some form of comfort from his solvent-soaked rag.  The other boys are Jon who is 10 and Carlos who is 14.  Tonight they all look so small and vulnerable and Carlos grabbed hold of my arm and wrapped it around his neck whilst dropping his head into my shoulder.  His show of affection encouraged the other two to reach out in various ways whilst trying to look cool and hard at the same time.  It was both funny and desperately sad.

As I tried to finish my conversation with Vicky the boys slipped away and walked to the other side of the street where they squatted down next to one of the guys who had a bad accident that had left him with a very swollen leg and foot and two large open wounds.  The boys kept calling me over to look at his leg and do something for him.  The streetlights illuminated a scene that could be from any city around the world – young boys squatting down in the streets, scruffy, dirty and with that desperate look of abandonment that is comforted by the abuse of solvents.  They are nobody´s children right now and it breaks my heart to see them like this.

I cross the street to help Juan with his leg the discussion quickly turns to what happened earlier that day to Geovany.  Geovany is now in his mid 30s and I remember meeting him 25 years ago when he was a small boy on the streets of El Hoyo, in La Teminal.  He is one of the very few who have survived the streets and found a job recently and was hoping, yet again,  to start a new life.  For some reason someone poured solvent over his face and then set it alight.  He had severe burns and walked back to La Casona shaking with shock and so the guys helped get him to hospital.  He remains in a critical condition and we pray he will come through but what next for him?  The street takes everything from you; it wears you down, crushes your spirit, robs you of your humanity and leaves you desperately clinging on to another pulse of life.

Sleeping tonight won´t be easy and Ben and me will hope to have some energy to work another day.

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