Pedro is a small, shy, and very sweet 75-year-old man. He never married and has no children, and has been completely alone since his brother died several years ago. He used to scrape by with odd jobs (carrying bundles and cleaning), but due to diminished health, Pedro has had a lot of trouble finding work. For food Pedro has been relying on the daily lunch provided by Mayan Families’ Elderly Care Program, the few tortillas that he can sometimes afford, and the kindness of neighbors. The reason that I chose to profile Pedro, among all the other ancianos (elderly people) in our program, is because he is someone who we can, with relative ease, help tremendously. Pedro’s need–for a safe home–is urgent, so please see the bottom of the post, where I explain how you can help.
It has been quite a challenge to communicate with Pedro because he is nearly deaf and does not speak very much Spanish (his primary language is Kaqchiquel), but his Kaqchiquel-speaking neighbors have helped, and Pedro has always managed to communicate kind words and affectionate thanks upon our visits. From our first conversation I understood that Pedro had a hodgepodge of acute ailments that needed attention, and so I had him join one of the first groups I took to the health clinic.
The afternoon when we all arrived at the clinic, I gave the receptionist the names of the ancianos who needed to be seen. When she heard Pedro’s name, the nurse seemed surprised. Apparently Pedro had been at the clinic that morning. His symptoms were so bad that he had come over to the clinic (a considerable walk, especially for a man of his condition) on his own.
DON PEDRO, I yelled into his better ear, USTED FUE AL CENTRO DE SALUD EN LA MAÑANA? (Mister Pedro, did you go to the health center this morning?)
After some hesitation he said Sí (Yes). I didn’t understand then why he had wanted to go again.
ENTONCES QUE DIJO EL DOCTOR? (Then what did the doctor say?)
Pedro just shook his head.
EL LE DIÓ UNA RECETA? (Did he give you a prescription?)
EL REALIZÓ UN DIAGNÓSTICO? (Did he give you a diagnosis?)
I sat there confused for a few seconds and then realized: Poor Pedro had come to the health clinic and was just completely brushed aside—undoubtedly in part because his hearing and language barriers made it impossible for him to assert himself (the clinic operates entirely in Spanish). I spoke with the nurse as Pedro sat in the waiting area, feet dangling above the floor. As the ancianos got called in for their checkups, I accompanied each one to make sure that all the important issues were addressed and all the necessary medicines prescribed. When Pedro was seen, I was shocked by the number of conditions he was diagnosed with. Parasites, an eye infection, arthritis in his knees, and allergies, to name a few. He needed to get checked by three different specialists. This time Pedro got great attention, and it was obvious why: I was dropping the Mayan Families name. I was outraged that that was what it took to get good treatment, but simultaneously relieved to be there making sure that our program members weren’t getting the cold shoulder of a flawed public healthcare system.
Pedro was the last anciano that we were to drop off. He had received a lot of medicines and directions, so I wanted to go to his home and make sure that someone nearby could help him take/apply everything. We hadn’t been to Pedro’s house yet because he had been picking up his lunch from a neighbor’s yard. The reason for this became clear as we neared Pedro’s residence.
We stopped in front of a tortilleria (tortilla shop) and started walking through an alleyway, stepping over broken glass and trying to ignore the growling dogs. It had rained, and our feet got drenched because we couldn’t avoid the puddles. After a minute we came into a small courtyard with a shed in it. It was surrounded by piles, some as tall as 8 feet, of garbage and recycling. There was plastic and glass strewn about the whole place. As we passed by the shed, Pedro asked us to flip the light switch; he couldn’t reach it. That turned on the light inside of what we understood to be his home. Actually, only a corner of this rundown shed was Pedro’s space. He wobbled across a makeshift bridge of plastic crates to reach the door—but before unlocking the small padlock, he turned back at me and gestured with his fingers, embarrassedly, Es muy pequeñito (It’s very small). The photos (which I took many visits later, when Pedro didn’t seem uncomfortable and gave permission) should give you an idea.
The space isn’t remotely resistant to the elements: when there is rain, his home floods; when there is wind outside, there is wind inside. At night, despite his clothing and blankets, Pedro is cold. He has no nearby access to a bathroom or drinking water. It was very difficult for me to hide the impression that all of this had made on me as I carefully explained to Pedro and a neighbor the medicinal instructions.
A couple of weeks went on as we delivered (to the neighbor’s yard) Pedro’s lunch and medicine refills, but the image of his ‘home’ was constantly on my mind, and I was trying all the while to figure out a way to move him out of there.
Finally—just yesterday!—we got a terrific offer. Mayan Families’ managers Gloria and Julio reached a couple of Pedro’s especially helpful neighbors (who had been out of town) and learned that a rentable room in their home is about to be vacated. We can rent this room for Pedro, equipped with light and access to a bathroom, for $65 a month. Aside from the relative affordability of this offer (even relative to local prices), it’s a great opportunity because Pedro would be living with the few caring, familiar faces and helping hands that he knows.
If we could each give a little, it would make a world of difference for Pedro. A monthly or one-time donation of any amount would be so appreciated. (If each person makes just a $5 monthly donation, we would only need 13 people to give Pedro a warm and safe home!) To make such a monthly donation, please click here and enter “Elderly Care, Pedro” next to Other Program. To make a one-time donation, please click here and enter “Elderly Care, Pedro” in the other box.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration!