Guatemala part two

I remember parts of my first night with the street team, we went to a usual square where we hung out with the kids, mainly in their teens and twenties, for an hour or so. We mainly just chatted, the team knew the gang well, there were a few wounds for me to clean and bandage, if I recall rightly, one of the girls had a wound that the team were dressing regularly to assist healing. Life on the streets was dirty, wounds often got infected and blood poisoning was relatively common.  I remember being shown a covered market area where some of the girls slept at night, being introduced to their ‘partners’ and looking into the glassy eyes of 4 or 5 year olds sucking on dirty rags soaked in solvent. So many of the kids were either in a solvent haze or had that general dullness of speech and alertness that comes from chronic solvent abuse. There was a skit the team did with some of the kids, one of the characters was called “Solventina”, they thought this was hilarious!


During my time there, I didn’t get to stay at the girls home as it was under reconstruction. I spent a few weeks at the boys home though, helping out generally, making hand puppets with them and helping to make the place a little more homely by making curtains for the living areas and some of the bedrooms. It was a real privilege to have the space to spend time just hanging out with them;  life gets pretty stretched when you’re the house parents for 13 boys between the ages of 3 and 14, so they didn’t get a huge amount of down time. In fact, the last 10 days of my stay in the country, I looked after things while the house parents had the first holiday they had had for a couple of years. I remember taking them all to a water park, which they LOVED!!


Other things I recall about Guatemala are the colours and the food. When I think of Peru I think of bright primary colours, the traditional clothing, the markets, the themes were always very colourful. In Guatemala though, the colours were those deep, rich, vibrant browns and reds – everywhere! I don’t usually go for browns, but these were stunning! The food on the other hand…. well I was expecting something along the lines of Mexican fare, rich, spicy and colourful, but no!! I was amazed as to how bland to the taste and sight it was…. disappointing!!

I loved the 8 weeks i had in Guatemala. i havent returned to Central or South America since then, but i look forward to the day when i do return, hopefully for a longer term stint.




Guatemala 1998

After finishing my ‘house jobs’ (internship / medical house officer posting) I took two months out and went to Guatemala with the Toy Box charity. The Toy Box charity works with street kids in and around Guatemala City, the capital of the country. On landing in the country I was met by the founder of the charity who took me and guy who was also visiting, to Antigua for a few days. Antigua’s main industry is language training, and that is what we had come for. Hundreds of people flow in each month from North America and stop on their way to South America for anything from a couple of days to a month, and on any street there might be up to 6 or7 language schools that offer one on one or class tuition in Spanish. I only spent a couple of days but I would go back in an instant and spend a few weeks there, the training and experience was amazing!

The average life expectancy for a child who ends up on the streets in Guatemala is four years. Due to abuse and prostitution, many babies are born to the teenage girls, and so some children know nothing other than life on the streets. The Toybox Charity had four phases in their work at the time I was there, phase one involved connecting with the kids on the streets themselves, phase two was a half way house where kids could come in for the day for a shower, meal and school classes, phase three was a boys home and a girls / teenage mum’s home for kids who were ready to make the shift away from life on the streets. Phase four was a newly developing area, working with kids at risk of becoming street kids. I went prepared to train in first aid, sexual health and HIV, as well as to do fun craft activities with the kids.

I had shared what I was to be doing in Guatemala with one of the nurses at work and as a result I ended up lining my suitcase with hundreds of condoms and a trusty condom demonstrator! So, loaded down with these and an array of arts and crafts supplies, I have never been so nervous going through customs!!!

To be continued….