Thursday 24th July 2018
I had hoped that after three days of rest, which included washing two weeks’ worth of clothes and running around shopping and clearing up everything from the sponsored walk from Honduras, I would be ready to take on the challenges of the day-to-day work. The opposite seemed to be the case as I met with our team and then headed out on the streets with Ben and had to deal with a few situations that will, I am sure, probably depress you while making you aware of the challenges we all have to face in the work here each day.
My day starts by collecting Juan Carlos, one of the boys in the mentoring programme with me. Today I will be walking him to school and using the opportunity to talk about his schoolwork, commitment to studies and the obvious benefits for those who have completed their primary and secondary studies and then go on to university. Meeting his teacher and talking through his educational needs, whilst being swamped by other children wanting to come and say good morning, was helpful for us all and a new commitment seems to have been made.
On return to our mentoring Centre, situated in the boundary road of La Terminal, there was lots to do including the shaping of the manual and protocols for the new Protection Home. Once completed the home will be able to offer short-term protection to children and their families in crisis as well as offer support to the most vulnerable children in the mentoring programme while they are going through a challenging time. Our hope is that the home will be completed by mid-August and ready to take in children from September this year.
Its days like this that, when I eventually get home, I wonder how it is possible for children to cope with all that is happening in their lives and still manage to function, let alone smile. The building of resilience due to childhood crisis, neglect and abuse is something that I know all too well and also know how these early adverse childhood experiences can build that same resilience and lead to either great hope or great sadness.
I first hear about one of the boys in the mentoring programme that has just returned from a neurological scan and the first results have showed that his brain development has been altered due to abuse and neglect and how this could easily lead to him becoming more violent or taking his own life. Luis is a ruddy 11-year-old boy who wears the same clothes every day. He looks like he has the word “abandoned” written all over him and the whole team would love to see him take a long shower where he can be scrubbed clean, given new clothes, a big hug and a good meal.
Luis has grown up in the care of grandparents after his parents were killed and he and his younger sister have tried to cope with the way life throws you one challenge after another. Luis is becoming more violent and fuelled by, we believe, his abusive childhood, possible brain damage and a frustration that no one really understands him and his needs. He told the neurologist, after he had studied his first scans, how his grandfather would beat him and then hang him up from their little shack perched on top of a small shop below that sells alcohol all hours of the day and night. Once, he said, he was left hanging there all night long. His view of life is rather different from ours and he sees everyone as a threat and so becomes aggressive or runs away to the streets.
Spending a few moments with some of the children helping them build lego structures is cut short when I am asked to come into a meeting with one of the younger boys in the mentoring programme whose mother works on the rubbish dump. He is unable, as usual, to sit down and wanders around the office moving chairs and touching computer screens till I walk into the room and greet him. His mother and brother are all now sitting down around the team meeting table and have obviously been talking for a while.
The mum thanks me for coming and the little boy comes over and places his head on my side, takes my arm and places it on his chest and then snuggles in for the rest of the time we talk together. The story unfolds of how the three of them received death threats and the explanation of what happened is followed by the mum bursting into tears and the little boy holding me even tighter while his 14-year-old brother buries his head in his arms and disassociates himself from the conversation. It is hard to listen to the reasons why a person would want to kill this seemingly loving, hard-working mother and her two boys, but listen we must in order to take this further and offer whatever protection and support we can.
When the meeting is over and the older boy heads home on the bus and his mum returns to her work on the rubbish dump while the little boy tells me how worried he is and starts to cry when other children come up and say hi to me – usually with a huge hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek. He is struggling to make sense of his life and wonders how long it will continue. It is hard to say goodbye at the end of the afternoon but goodbye leads to the next part of the day – street work.
Ben and I head with heavy hearts to a place called La Casona, a corner of a busy intersection that has become home to around 80 street children and youths over the last 8 years, but now the population is no larger than 10 young adults with a few hang-around-the-edges children. We meet Vicky who is back on the streets after her boyfriend is released from prison and has become violent again, Manuel who is clearly not happy on the streets and is always talking of another chance to leave it all behind and start a new life, Mauricio who is still homeless and still looking for work, Jenny who has been beaten again and needs first aid on her infected leg and swollen face, Marcos who has lost his job and been thrown out of home by his wife due to his behaviour and lastly Selvin who tells me about how he stabbed his brother with a broken bottle and was now waiting for the consequences.
Our attention, if this was not enough, was caught a little later by what was transpiring across the road. Ben noticed that the family we have been helping over the last few weeks with accommodation in the builders’ mess of a Protection Home, was sitting on the steps that lead to their home. They had needed help due to their carer/grandmother being hit by a car, which had left her with fractures, bruises and in a great amount of pain. She is nearly 70 and spends her days on the streets looking after parked cars in the hope the owners might give her a few pennies at the end of the day. The three children she is looking after don´t know she was rushed into hospital and the news is broken to them by our team when they come out of school. They have nowhere else to live and so we take them into the downstairs part of the new Protection Home while the builders continue their hard work of getting the first floor ready for the grand opening in August.
Sitting on the steps and looking around means one thing - the pickup that has been booked to take their treasured possessions to a new apartment in the centre of the city has not materialised. The team had spent a long time finding them alternative accommodation as part of a new plan to look after them after the grandmother´s accident and release from hospital because they were unable to continue living in the home they had camped out in for the last few years.
Ben tells me he is worried and so we walk over to see what is happening and are told that the transport has not come and that it might come tomorrow now. This is frustrating for us and for the family who have packed up their meagre possessions into various rubbish sacks and have them piled up by the communal door that leads to the main street. Their trusted dog, Rex, stands guard over it all and wags his tail at us as we enter into the door and climb up the rickety wooden steps that lead to the room they have lived in over the past 10 or more years.
The building is crumbling all around them and the room they all live in is now fairly bare and a few wires hang down from the ceiling. At least the light works, but the water has been cut off a long time ago due to non-payment. The children don´t want to leave despite the awful conditions as they don´t know the new place at all as it had only come up the previous day and we had to say yes right away. We have no idea where the money is going to come from to pay for the rent or how we will now get the children to school each day and help support them while the grandmother recovers, but we can´t just do nothing and so decide to move forwards in faith that it will work out somehow.
As the minutes pass we have to decide what to do as the family need to move, but we have no transport. So, a quick walk around the terminal at 7pm at night leads us eventually to a man with a pickup who, for £15, will transport the family and their possessions to zone 1. We help as much as we can and at least our little jeep can accommodate the children and their grandmother while Ben clings onto the back of the pickup till we get to their new home.
The two girls and teenage boy carry in their bags of clothes, pots and other various household goods while the two beds, which look like they have been rescued from a rubbish dump, are taken into their new two-room house. There is a mix of sadness and excitement and I wonder how awake the children will be for school tomorrow, as it is now late and they still haven´t eaten. I drive with Ben to buy an easy meal solution of pizza while they try and accommodate themselves.
The good news is that one of our team is living just down the corridor and so is on hand should the family need help. This also will put pressure on our team member who used to go home to relax and be with his wife but is happy, as always, to put other people´s needs first and comes out to see all is well. I am surprised to see him as he had spoken to me in the early hours of the morning, which now seem like a week away, to tell me his wife has just miscarried and they have lost their first child.
Going home tonight will be tough for both Ben and me. It is not easy to accept that we have a bed to sleep in and food, albeit some fruit and bread, in the fridge. Whatever we thought our problems were at the beginning of the day have been dismissed and we are grateful again to God for allowing us to serve those whose lives teeter on the knife-edge vulnerability. Thanks to your support we can do this work, because without it I can´t begin to imagine what it would be like for those we love to serve. THANK YOU.