Azaria Spencer

Fire at the dump

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I woke up to the news that there had been a fire at the rubbish dump in La Terminal.
Once at work I quickly found out that thankfully no one had died or been hurt.
Along with three of my colleagues we decided to visit the dump and the families affected by the fire.
We greeted people that we knew as we approached the dump. The fire had destroyed four small homes constructed with wooden planks and sheets of corrugated iron. Everything inside was burnt and ruined, the make-shift walls and roofs fallen, in truth an absolute mess. It was sad to see. Although we haven’t directly worked with or known the families affected before it was still difficult. I can imagine that they did not have much to start with and now they are left with practically nothing at all. 

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Among the rubble we could see the metal springs that used to be a mattress and what were once plastic storage boxes and a few other still distinguishable items. Surprisingly some of the wood although burnt was still standing tall.  
Saddened by the situation this left these families in, we made plans to help in whatever ways possible, looking for new accommodation, donations of beds, clothes and basic household items.

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However, seeing the fire damaged homes was not the most difficult thing for me this morning.
The thing that I found hardest to see was something else entirely. When we were close to the entrance of the dump, talking with an ‘old’ friend I noticed two small children stood close by.  The girl approximately 8 years old and a younger boy. The girl was systematically rummaging in a bag, pulling out a can and crushing it beneath her foot. She did this over and over again. As I looked and smiled, she smiled back at me. Clearly shy of this strange white lady before her. Every chance she got she would look at me again, curiosity and intrigue in her young eyes.

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The reality of our location hit me all over again, that although we were there to help after a fire, we were there on a dump. A dump where people live and work, and not just adults.
I looked around and saw that many people were continuing life and work as normal. People carried on with their daily tasks and chores, including this little girl. And of course carrying on life as normal is all good and well but what isn’t is that normal life for some children, for this little girl, is working on a rubbish dump.




Art and Creativity

 Estás invitado a una mañana de arte y creatividad

A few weeks ago I was sat with the children in our centre, it was a Tuesday afternoon when they have an art workshop with two of our volunteers. I was sat pretending to colour in a picture, but really watching the children around me. I am creative and artistic by nature and it always brings me joy to watch children express themselves artistically. As I watched, something caught my attention. One of the boys, Jonathan, was tapping his marker to spay ink on his picture the way you might with a paint brush. He was creating beautiful splatters of colour across the image of a peacock. It was such a simple thing, he wasn’t doing it because he had been told to or taught how to. He wasn’t doing it for extra attention or praise. He was simply expressing himself through art, trying something new and seeing how it looked. This moment spoke to my soul. I knew him and his brother to be very gentle and creative boys. This confirmed it for me.

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I can imagine a teacher in school stopping a child in a moment like this. Telling them that is not how we use markers, or to colour within the lines. I was never one restricted by lines and rules, especially when art was concerned. I told him how beautiful his picture looked and how much I liked how he had used the markers. He blushed and said thank you.

I was left inspired.
I had already been thinking a lot about exploring art and creativity workshops and I have been reading about art therapy too. So, after an encouraging conversation with Dunc and with the new space we have at Casa Alexis, our protection home and future second mentoring centre, I decided to start with Jonathan and his brother Freddy. I made them personalised invitations to a morning of art and creativity. I planned an activity where they could try new mediums and have space to simply create.

art class

So far, we have been able to have two sessions of art and creativity together and it has been such a huge joy and blessing for me and them, I hope.
I have seen them open up creatively and express themselves in new ways and they are truly very talented. It is great to see them using new types of medium and just as a duck takes to water it comes naturally to them both.
How amazing is it that as part of my ‘job’ I get to help children explore their creativity and learn new artistic skills? Children that normally don’t even get a fair shot at school never mind extra activities like this. But through Street Kids Direct they not only get a much better education and support with homework, but they also get noticed for their talents and are given opportunities to grow and learn more. This kind of thing right here, speaks to my soul.

Under the blue tarpaulin 

It was the time of evening when the sky starts to turn dark and the air begins to have a slight chill. We were walking down la Quinta towards the small side street where we have our weekly prevention activity with between 40-60 children.

Normally as we approach the last corner, we are greeted by a hoard of children running towards us arms open shouting our names and ready for hugs.
Today we were only halfway towards our usual spot when that same group of children came running and jumping!
They stopped us in our tracks and after initial, and rather rushed, greetings and hugs I noticed that there was police tape across the street to the left. Before I could finish asking what happened they all told us at once that a man was dead. Pointing they showed us the spot where he lay beneath some blue tarpaulin. A chill ran up my spine, but I was not as shocked as I perhaps would have been two years ago. Sad yes, I hope there will never be a day where something like this does not make me sad. But, you do become desensitised and that explains my lack of shock at the situation and sight before me.

We took the children hand in hand and walked away, down to our usual spot. Of course, I am used to seeing children without parents, but it hurt me to think that these children were left so unsupervised as to see things like this alone. That there was no one but us to take them away from it.
Throughout the duration of our activity we heard different version of what happened. One boy told us he had been a drunk and simply drank himself to death that day. Another told us that he was shot in the head. Sadly, both could be true. La Terminal is a place filled with depravity and immorality, along with that comes alcohol abuse and violence. It is easily believable that the man beneath the plastic sheet had drank so much that he had simply died in the street. And unfortunately, it is just as believable that he had been involved in the kind of life that had landed him getting shot dead.
I asked how old the man was, and a little voice responded, ‘oh he was old, he was 25.’ Well, firstly if 25 is old I am passed it. Secondly, I hope that this child simply, like most children, just thinks all adults are old. But the truth is that 25 might be considered quite old in this context. I imagine the average life expectancy is much lower than we would care to think in this specific context.

I felt sad for this man, who I am going to say was young, a life ended far too soon either by violence or alcohol abuse. Either way his life can not have been easy for one of those options to have been his end. But the thing that really gets to me is the normality of it for the children. They did not seem phased or disturbed by the dead body lying only meters away, covered with grotty plastic. They spoke of it so openly, so normally as if we were talking about what they did that day at school. How sad that the context they live in has meant that death as a result of violence and murder or extreme alcohol abuse is just something that happens. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair. My childhood certainly didn’t involve things like this, death and loss yes, but not this.
I wish I could write that it was the first dead body I have seen here, but it is not and as much as it pains me to say it, I imagine it will not be the last.
I can’t change everything about the context these children grow up in. I wish I could, but I will keep on trying to little by little help these children know that their futures do not have to be defined by events of their pasts or even their presents.
I hope that experiences like these make them stronger and make them not want to end up like that poor man. I hope that transformation comes to La Terminal and all the people there. Because I know that life can be different.