Today Dick and I, accompanied by Katie and Heidi (a nurse from Hermano Pedro) finally make a trip to visit Sam-Sam.
Sam left Hermano Pedro about two and a half years ago, to move to a psychiatric facility in Guatemala City. Sam was one of the reasons I decided to move to Guatemala. Sam is also very special to Dick. We had heard conflicting reports about the place he was moved to, and frankly had been apprehensive about seeing it for ourselves. If we thought it was not a good place for him, both Dick and I knew there was nothing we could do about it. How would we deal with that?
What finally tipped the scales in favor of going was my desire to check out this home as a possible placement for Francisco, the little boy with autism who I met recently at the National Hospital in Quiche. I was hoping maybe this home would have an opening for him. So we have come. . .
When we arrived (unannounced) at the gate of the home, we were warmly welcomed by Marcia, the facility social worker. When we explained that we were from Hermano Pedro, and knew Sam, Estuardo, and Mohammed she immediately took us to see them.
The kids were just finishing lunch, and my heart dropped to my knees when I saw Estuardo sitting in a wheelchair with his arms covered by a sheet. Marcia must have seen the look on my face, because she immediately explained that the doctor had ordered this partial restraint for Estudardo because he would otherwise refuse to eat and bat at his food.
The staff brought Sam and Mohammed to us, telling us we were free to take them to play in the large play area. Estuardo soon joined us. (All three of these boys are able to walk—a large part of the reason they were removed from Hermano Pedro.) The boys looked healthy, happy, and it was apparent that at least Sam and Estuardo were much calmer than they had been at the orphanage in Antigua. Estuardo had obviously gained a substantial amount of weight, too, since moving to this home almost a year ago.
Dick was immediately drawn to Sam, and they walked away hand in hand. Shortly, Dick came back with tears in his eyes. He said he had bent down and Sam had stroked his beard (as he had so often at Hermano Pedro) and suddenly planted a “big juicy kiss” on his face. After all this time, Sam-Sam had remembered his old friend. I could see that this moved Dick to his very core. If he ever wonders if what he is doing here makes a difference, this should prove to him that he makes more of an impact than he knows. It brought tears to my eyes watching these two old friends get reacquainted.
I was especially pleased to see how much calmer Estuardo is. At Hermano Pedro he often screamed in a pitch that could shatter the strongest eardrums. Today, he was “clucking” and making his “happy noises.” He made no attempts to head-butt or bite as he had in the past. It was a joy to see him able to run freely in the grass, coming over every once in a while for a hug before he was off again to explore on his own.
We played together for quite a while, just swinging, and running and hugging. I was touched to see Heidi just sitting holding Sam. I am grateful to her for her help in bringing us here. She is now working in the malnutrition area of Hermano Pedro, but continues to love on the kids in Anibal. For her, working with these special children is more than a job, and she has become a good friend to us as well. It was good to see her enjoying being with these boys again.
Marcia returned and offered to take us on a tour of the facility. Our first stop was a visit to the office of the director, who sat and visited with us, and explained some of the needs of the home. Though it is run by the government, we could see that these folks care about the children they serve. We could also see that they are lacking many resources, though make the most of what they have.
As we began our tour, we discovered a little boy sitting outside the “day room” area, all by himself. Marcia explained that he had just arrived at the home at 1 o’clock this morning, having been found alone on the streets of Guatemala City. He appeared to be somewhat shell-shocked, not responding when talked to and sitting huddled on the curb. Dick immediately sat down next to him, and I told Marcia I knew he would stay with this little guy while we continued the tour.
This place was much better than I had expected. It was clean, bright, and the staff friendly. We were introduced to the physical therapist, occupational therapist and some of the teachers, including some students doing their practicum from a local university. What impressed me most, however, was seeing, posted on the walls in the school/therapy area, pictures of the various children, along with a page stating the strengths was well as their needs. I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere else that I have visited in this country.
We returned from our tour to find the newest resident walking hand in hand with Dick. Soon he was on Dick’s lap, responding more and more to the love Dick was offering him. Watching them together, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and the children. Today, Dick was Jesus to this frightened, lonely little boy.
Did I like everything I saw here? Not in the least. There were some beds without mattresses. We had been told about this by the director—some of the kids tear at the mattresses until they are in shreds and they don’t have the resources to replace them, so the kids sleep on a number of blankets piled on top of each other.
What has bothered me the most, though, is the “day room” where the residents just wander around aimlessly until someone comes to take them out to work with them individually or in small groups. The facility is severely understaffed. Marcia explained it is hard to find people willing to work with these patients, who sometimes can become aggressive. I know I will be haunted by these children and young people calling out and reaching through the windows—longing for some measure of human affection and attention.
Do I believe these folks care about the people they care for? I do. Before I pass “final judgment” I’d like to see more of this place. We were invited back any time we want to come. They have a volunteer program—though only have a single volunteer who comes in regularly.
I do think, however, that this would be a better place for Francisco, and spoke with the administration about the possibility of him coming here. While they are already overcrowded, the director encouraged me to have the hospital in Quiche contact them. I’ll be following up on this shortly, and hope to go back to Quiche the middle of August to try to begin working with the staff in helping them care for Francisco.
And I do think that Sam and Estuardo are happier here than I had known them to be a Hermano Pedro. While we will continue to miss them, I believe being here is in their best interests. It was good to see them here, and I hope to come back to visit them in the future.
Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:41)