Transformation is incredible and even though I don´t always see much of it happening every week it is always when you look back you see the way people´s lives are being transformed and if you know you played the smallest part in that transformation you feel a personal connection and a sense of achievement.
I have just returned from another trip to Honduras where we celebrated the 15th birthday of Sayda at the Manuelito Children´s Home. The 15th birthday of a girl in Latin America is a really important one and is seen as a right of passage from being a girl to being a young woman.
Herbert accompanied me on this trip together with his daughter Rebecca as Herbert had been invited to speak at the celebration.
Despite the sun belting down on us Herbert and I were dressed in suits and all the kids and staff in the home spent a few hours getting ready and dressing up in their smart clothes. OK, when I say hours that does refer to the girls as the boys were made to shower and then dressed in under 3 minutes!
I remember the first time I met Sayda. She and her sisters had just come off the streets and was a tiny and scrawny little girl with matted hair and a look on her face that told a story of abandonment and neglect. It did not take her long, however, to become accustomed to the ways of living off the streets and enjoying showers, clean clothes, hot meals and being able to sleep in a safe and dry place.
This was the photo (photo left) I was given by Pastor Pinto, the founder of the home, to show me how the girls used to live. The smallest girl is Sayda and this was a report that came out at the time in the national press to highlight the situation of children living on the streets.
Now take a look at Sayda at her 15th birthday and see the young woman she has grown up to be. That is what I call transformation and she herself would say that God has helped her through all she has had to deal with in order to arrive at this momentous point in her life where we can all celebrate with her what she has achieved.
Visiting the home again was a joy and of course little Duncan was beside himself with excitement as his Daddy had come to visit again. There is much to do at the home and the needs, physical and emotional are glaringly obvious and I wish I had time to be there for 6 months with time to spend with each child and time to spend with my toolbox fixing things rather than just putting on more plasters! Sadly this is not an option and I always feel the plaster will have to keep being replaced until more funds are found to bring real healing to the kids and real repair to the structure of the home.
On my return to Guatemala I am in demand with phone calls from people on the streets needing support and help but this time I am very careful not to rush out to the rescue. It is the rainy season in Guatemala but the bright blue sky I can see out of my window is an indication of the change that comes in July when the rain becomes less frequent. Every time it rains I think of my friends on the streets and how an hour of rain impacts their lives in quite a major way. I think of Ana and Erika and how their beds in the middle of the 5th Avenue will be soaked and once again they will have to sleep on the damp pavement, I think of how the rain drives people off the streets and so those who have to beg have fewer opportunities, and I think of the places I know many of the kids have to take refuge under in order to stay dry. It is not a great time when it rains and we see an increase in the number of our friends on the street with feet that literally rot.
I receive a text message from Brandon who reminds me that I absolutely have to visit him in the next couple of days or I will be in trouble. Thankfully he has a cheap phone and can keep in contact with me and now I can also keep in touch with little Gerson who has now joined him in the home.
Brandon, as you will all remember, has now been in the home run by Mojoca, an organisation we partner with, for the last 3 weeks and is doing really well. Brandon continues to struggle with the temptation of going back to the streets to abuse solvents and so each day is his own personal victory and another step forwards towards reaching his goal of living an independent life off the streets and having a job. When I went to see him on my return from the UK he was trying not to allow a smile to show and begun by telling me that he had hurt his knee and so could not play in the football match that was organized that afternoon for all the young people in the home. Being the World Cup season everyone who could play football was out in the streets and in the parks trying to prove their skills and show their worth. Sadly Brandon could not play and so we sat and watch the game while I tried my best to make him laugh.
A couple of days later I went to visit Gerson in hospital, thanks to a special permit given because we had a contact inside. Visiting hours are limited to 2 days a week and this was not general visiting time but Gerson needed to have visitors as he was coming to the end of his treatment and ready now to allow us to help him not return to the streets.
We have been concerned about Gerson´s health for the last year, as I have seen how self-destructive his life had become. The last time he was rescued off the streets he was in a state of total collapse and the minute he felt better he escaped from hospital. When I say escaped I really mean escaped! Let me tell you a little about the hospital.
The San Juan de Dios Hospital has a long an interesting history dating back to 1575 when it was run by the Catholic Church to serve the wealthy Spanish families who had settled in Guatemala. The hospital we now know as the General Hospital of San Juan de Dios was officially opened in 1833 to the public and one could wonder if anything has changed since 1833!
On arrival at the hospital armed guards check you have a written ”permiso” and you are then allowed to access, from what it seems to me as, any area in the hospital without being asked who you are or why you are there.
Walter, who is volunteering with us at the moment, and I make our way up the ramps to the 5th floor as that is the men´s ward and Gerson is supposed to be there recovering. On arrival I pop my head into the Social Worker´s office and thank her for the invitation to visit during the “no visitors” time. She opens up and tells me how much we are needed and could she call me whenever she gets another boy in the hospital that has no family!
We are then greeted by four heavily armed police offers that are sitting on metal chairs, which are propped backwards against the wall. The four officers each have a machine gun on their laps and pistols strapped to their legs and look us up and down to see if they perceive us as a threat and we pass by to look for Gerson.
We find Gerson wandering around the open ward where men of all ages are lying on beds that are pushed so tight together it is almost impossible to squeeze in a chair to sit next the person you are visiting. His smile is instant and he comes over to greet us and, in his usual manner, begins to punch me on the arm and complain that I haven’t been to visit him. I explain again that I have been in the UK but that carries no weight at all and so another punch finds its mark. His physical affection is one that is normal for those on the streets and I remember Herbert once telling me that he knows one of the kids loves him as he has the bruises to show it!
Gerson has been in hospital for nearly 2 weeks as he was found in an almost comatose state on the streets and had been vomiting green vile for a couple of days. He was almost dead and hospital staff had to work hard to keep him alive and now I can see another transformation taking place. The last time I saw Gerson he was so thin you could easily play count the bones and was not open to reason but was fixated by his desire to sniff solvents. He was not eating, not drinking much and found it hard to walk.
Now he was walking around the ward and his face had filled out and it was clear from the way his hospital gown opened wide at the front that he was not all bones. He was well but had been left with a severe tremor that became more apparent when he took a drink of water, spilling some on his hospital trousers. I held his hands and they shook and I noticed how he was also talking with a tremor. My goodness, a boy so young and now I sit and look at him and it seems like I am looking at a man in his 80s. I am wondering if a private hospital could offer something to help with the tremors and so will need to look into this in the coming weeks.
It was great to see him try and run down the corridor and how pretending to catch him made him laugh, as it would any five-year-old, but Gerson is not five. He is just a kid enjoying being a kid again, a special moment in time.
Gerson has now moved into the Mojoca home and I will be visiting him and Brandon in the next day or so and seeing how they are doing and how we can help them in the process of leaving the streets. It looks like it will be a busy week ahead and I still have to tell you about the visit of the Minister of State from the UK who came last week to walk the streets with me. That, I am afraid, will have to wait until another blog. I think it might even ?call for a blog all of its own so keep your eyes peeled later this week.
Thanks for listening as talking to you via this blog helps me and I hope it helps you get a glimpse of what I am doing here. Cheers.