Fortunately the mother is home this time. Eva and I had tried to visit her before: a 30 minute walk from the Ruach home to one of the poor neighbourhoods in Juigalpa. It had come to our notice that a family is living there: a widow with several children, and at least three of them with an intellectual disability. We also heard that the girl among those three is being abused by a neighbour, and that all children are being neglected. We wanted to quickly find out whether the Ruach Foundation could do something for this family.
The family has got 11 children. Fatima, the youngest, is 18. Five children still live at home, but are out during the day. The mother has irregular domestic work washing and ironing clothes for other families. That is common practice here, but the work is poorly paid. This is not a rich family and their house is small for so many residents.
Fatima has got Down Syndrome and attends the special school, but only if the school van operates, which regularly is not the case. After school and during holidays she is at home with her two brothers who also have a disability. The mother says they ought to be at home to prevent thieves from breaking in. When she introduces her sons to us it becomes clear that the mother does not have a realistic picture of what Abelardo and Miguel are capable of doing, because it seems to us they are more likely to be themselves in danger, rather than be able to prevent it.
Fatima, Abelardo and Miguel Antonio
Our first impression of Fatima is that she does not understand much and hardly talks, but she easily approaches us to make contact. Abelardo also does not express himself easily, but shows a higher degree of independence. In the past he was even selling newspapers in the street (as can be seen on an old home page picture of the Vivir Juntos web site!), but he stopped doing this some time ago as he was harrassed a lot in the street and was sometimes even robbed of his hard-earned money. Then there is Miguel Antonio. People say that he was able to function quite independently in the past. But for many years now, and for unknown reasons, Miguel is usually on his own, crouched down like a shy bird in the kitchen, which consists of three wooden panels in the garden. When I carefully walk towards him and talk to him and hold out my hand, he responds and shakes my hand!
We try of course to gain the mother’s trust so that we can ask some more probing questions, but she keeps us at a distance. No, everything is fine…. Abelardo and Miguel almost as a principle do not leave the house because they could be harassed in the neighbourhood where they live. Another brother who joins our conversation tells us that, to make matters worse, when an older brother is himself boozing, he sometimes gives alcohol to Abelardo.
The mother is prepared, if Eva collects her, to visit the activities centre to see what we are doing there. She says she herself is quite interested in making piñatas, and she actually did visit the centre, but that is where our interaction stopped. Because we cannot break iron with our bare hands we decide, for the time being, not to take any new initiatives towards this family.
Miracles still exist
Later, our landlord was visiting our community home with a carpenter to carry out some minor repair work, and it turned out that the carpentner knew this family, and he had taught Miguel Antonio some specific skills ‘in his better days’. He has good contact with the mother and is very motivated to work with us and try to get Miguel Antonio to attend the activities club at least twice a week. The carpenter also has a car and is willing to drive Miguel Antonio to our centre and back home. Is this coincidence? It’s almost too good to be true. Next week we will know more, but it’s obvious that only if we work together can we make a difference.
Astrid Delleman in collaboration with Stichting Vivir Juntos.