Entry by Zami Tinashe Hyemingway
Today’s travels brought us to Tierra Nueva 1 and 2, a small community about 30 minutes outside of Guatemala City. We traveled to Tierra Nueva 1 and 2 this morning from Antigua, a very beautiful, tourist town in Guatemala. The contrast between the visual aesthetics of Antigua, with fancy restaurants, an alluring market place, and local baristas for people to roam in and out freely; to Tierra Nueva 1 and 2 where some of the stores have bars in front of them to keep people from stealing, streets are unpaved and at times of the year not walkable, and the communities view is of the riven that has become the graveyard of homes lost to the last mudslide, felt almost too much for my senses and my heart.
Our day with the community included greetings, dancing, singing and a community lunch. After we ate, we heard the history of how Tierra Nueva 1 and 2 were created (due to displacement and natural disasters), we were beautifully serenaded by some of the children in the community, and also learned about the different programs offered. But what struck me most, was the personal narratives shared about the children in the programs.
There were two stories told about two little girls in Tierra Nueva 1 and 2, who are survivors of sexual assault/abuse. As a result of the abuse one little girl developed violent, behavioral patterns and the other became HIV +. As I listened to the women presenting on the programs, and the work that they did with these two girls and the other children in Tierra Nueva 1 and 2 I felt overwhelmed with emotion. At the end of the presentations, everyone stood up and the community led us in song. As a social worker, I’ve experienced and have worked with youth who have been sexual assaulted and abused several times throughout my career, and in 6 years of being a social worker, my heart continues to break at these stories just as much as the first day I ever had to hold space for a client sharing their story.
After the presentation we were taken on a tour of Tierra Nueva 1. During our tour, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the community members who worked in Public Health prior to her retiring. I was able to ask her questions regarding the HIV care here in Guatemala and transmission rates. She shared that many youths are contracting HIV in their communities as well as many women due to not regularly or ever using condoms. She also shared that there are a few places that people can get free condoms, but that there is a big stigma around handing out condoms and doing street outreach in their communities. The community member also shared that youth are contracting HIV mostly through unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners, and not feeling comfortable enough to speak to parents about their sexual health needs.
I’ve worked with several youth and adults who are HIV positive, and have lost a few clients due to AIDS related complications as well. Listening to today’s narrative made me think of one youth in particular, who will have died from AIDS related complications 2 years ago this February. My client who passed contracted the virus as a teen because they were kicked out of their home for being gay at the age of 13. In order for them to survive, they became a sex worker and began using injection drugs as a teenager and contracted the virus. They were never sure which method they contracted the virus through (sex or sharing needles), but they went several years without care and eventually it led to a very early death. This youths story, and how they touched my life sat with me throughout the day today.
At the end of the tour, we all met back at the church in Tierra Nueva 1 and closed holding hands, reciting the Lord’s prayer in unison as well as in our respective languages (English and Spanish). The sound of the Lord’s prayer in both English and Spanish in unison, was so beautiful, that I felt a sense of peace and calmness, and I felt and saw the beautiful spirit of the people in this community. Tierra Nueva 1 and 2, may not have the aesthetics of Antigua, but the love, commitment and passion that this community has for one another, is so magical, that words cannot describe the exquisite beauty that resides here.