Group Leader at the San Blas Fire Station, Madrid; and President of the NGO Bomberos Ayudan
“We believe that hope helps the healing process”
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: BOMBEROS AYUDAN
The greatest tragedy imaginable for a father was a real turning point for this 43-yearold firefighter who has been in the service for 14 years. After two years of continuous efforts —countless therapies and a very powerful antiviral— to get his son to overcome a congenital cytomegalovirus, the little boy passed away when he was just two years old, in an accident in a swimming pool. That terrible event turned Hugo’s life around and, “after the great dark night of the Soul,” as he describes it, he and two other colleagues, José Andrés Mora Molina and Antonio Poncela, decided to start an organization to help other people. “Personally, I felt that helping without expecting anything in return was one of my life’s missions.”
Because of their work, the three firefighters realized that many households were facing really dramatic financial situations and that they could use all the potential they had as a group to offer social assistance. That is how Bomberos Ayudan came into being.
What does your work in the NGO involve?
I am the president of a board of directors, which is made up of three other members and which decides and organizes the actions of the NGO. But I am also a volunteer and I help collect and deliver food, visit hospitals and I get involved in other activities and projects. I am particularly invested in the Ayuda Pequeños Guerreros (Little Warriors Aid) project, which really motivates me. In this project we sponsor and maintain an ongoing relationship with sick children. We believe that hope helps the healing process. This is something we have seen in our visits.
Where did the idea for Pequeños Guerreros come from?
By a magical coincidence we met Yago and his family. He had a rare cancer that kept him in Hospital 12 de Octubre for five years in strict isolation without leaving his room. According to his mother, hearing the firemen’s siren was so exciting for him it became part of his medication. We also received a request from a volunteer for a firefighter to deliver a story to a sick child. That child was Yago and the fireman was me. This project was born out of the connection between the two of us.
At first, we went to each hospital once and never went back, but after 40 visits, we realized it was a shame not to see the children again. They loved us going to see them! One mother told us it was the first time her son had laughed in three weeks and that gave us food for thought. Now we visit them once a month. It’s a way of keeping a presence in their lives.
Do you remember a particularly moving time in the years you have been with the association?
When Yago was finally disconnected from the machine that provided him with chemo for 18 hours a day, it was a really emotional and joyous moment for all of us.
Also, all the Epiphany parades in Madrid have been very special and a wonderful gift for the firefighters and non-firefighter volunteers who give everything they have throughout the year.
But there have also been some difficult moments…
Especially when Pequeños Guerreros pass away, like Smailer and Maria, who touched the bottom of our hearts. I am sure they are helping us from wherever they are.
Pequeños Guerreros is not your only project?
We also help other associations and NGOs that have difficulties in assisting third parties. We check that their project is real and that they are directly and immediately supporting those most in need, and we offer them the logistical help that they cannot provide, if they lack personnel, vehicles, informational campaigns, training, and so on.
What is the most gratifying thing, in general, about what you do in the NGO?
Without a doubt, meeting so many people who help selflessly. On a personal level, I feel how, by collaborating in this, each volunteer heals their inner child, how they embrace and take care of them to bring out all the human potential they have inside, that we all have inside.
How much time do you dedicate to this each week?
For the first three years it was many hours, both physical and mental. We spent around 15 to 20 hours a week on it. But as everything went well for us and we have always been supported, we kept getting enough energy to keep going at full speed. The next four years, with experience and more volunteers, have been more manageable.
Is it difficult to reconcile work, volunteering and private life?
Thanks to our schedule, where we work 24 hours straight but then rest, we have been able to make the time to organize everything. I dedicate more time to it while my wife is working and the children are at school. But yes, over the past seven years there have been moments of family stress due to the intense activity of the association and my continuous involvement. But when you devote yourself from the heart to your child, everything works out well.