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I hate what poverty does to people

I hate what poverty does to people

Friday 9th June 2023

Poverty debilitates, it crushes hopes, robs you of dignity, makes you vulnerable to exploitation and violence and leads to greater social exclusion with its negative health outcomes. Poverty is not just a mind-set, but a day-to-day reality for all the children we work with.  Growing up in poverty will mean you can´t access good education, you will probably live in a home that has no running water, toilet or safe place to sleep. Your home is probably not yours and so are at constant risk of losing it. Children that grow up in poverty and from a single-parent family are far more likely to head to the streets or become members of a local gang.

I certainly know the reality of the world of children living in poverty as that is where I grew up.  It was my personal experience as a child who survived by eating plants and fruit from other people´s gardens.  I understand the way poverty limits your choices and entices you into thinking that life can never get any better.

Sunday was a great day!  I met the four teenage boys I mentor in Santa Faz on the outskirts of Guatemala City and, together with Carlos who now helps me run the group, we began to explore how our thinking determines our behaviour and life choices.  It was true, the boys confirmed, that your life will always move in the direction of your most powerful thoughts.  The more one thinks about something, the more likely one is to put those thoughts into action.

It was a rather deep session to be honest, but I could see that the boys loved hearing about my own childhood stories of having the voice inside saying “do it” and the voice of reason that makes you consider the consequences of doing it.  I am glad that my mistakes and failures can now be used to great effect and can help children understand how their thinking can determine their future.

We finished with the game Spite that the boys did not want to end and asked if we could play it next time we meet.  They were happy, had been challenged and had enjoyed their first mentoring session in the new centre in the middle of town.

We are now renting, for just £100 a month, a small shop that is so perfectly situated across from the park and next to the school and police station that only God could have made this happen.  The “CasaClub” centre will open more and more as we recruit and train volunteers and are hopeful that we could start a small business there in order to cover the costs of running this.

As always, Carlos and I walk the boys to their homes.  All have homes that are made of tin and the floor is just dirt and not one has a flushing toilet or running water.  But that is all they know and they are happy and just love the weekly sessions and can´t wait till we meet again.

On dropping home one of the boys we meet his little brother on route and I could see his was distressed.  He is 10, tiny and is the most at-risk kid we have here due to his high-connection to the street and the local gang.  He has never showed much emotion in the time I have known him and keeps a guard up that always seems so impenetrable.  Today, however, was different.  He was crying and when I stood next to him it was as if years of tears he had pushed down deep came to the surface.

I hugged him and allowed him to cry and tell me what was going on.  He is one of the few that has a mum and a dad, even though the mum feels very much like a single parent. Just four hours before meeting him his dad had been arrested and taken to the courthouse and sentenced to an indeterminate time in prison.  His world was destroyed and he had to face the fact that things were now going to be different.

We walked him home and his older brother was now in tears and both boys were struggling to know what to feel and what to do. They could not understand why their dad had been arrested and it seemed to be about a permit for him to operate a taxi, something that is rare for someone to be locked-up for here in Guatemala.  I knew there would be time to get to the bottom of this, but for now the boys needed support and comfort.

Their mum seemed to be in shock and had gone out to try and find some food for the boys, who hadn´t eaten much all day. Their lives, like all the kids we work with, rely on a daily shop for food depending on what has been earned that day.  They have no stock of food in their home, nothing to fall back on if things get difficult.  Things are always difficult and Carlos and I could see that we needed to go to the shops and buy them some food for the evening and for breakfast.

Later that evening I ate very little and was concerned for the family and how they were now going to cope.  How you feed two growing boys on less than £2 per day I just don´t know. Living in poverty greatly diminishes your choices and places you at the vulnerability of others.

We will do our best to support while they put themselves at the mercy of the local loan sharks in order to raise the £500 needed to pay the fine for their dad to avoid a jail term.  Furthermore, the arrest and imprisonment will be recorded and so this will further impede any progress the family wishes to make.  The boys will also live with the stigma of their dad being a “criminal” and I know that other children and some adults will shove that in their faces in the coming days.

I hate what poverty does.  I hate the way it treats people, crushes them and makes them feel they of no worth. What is does do in further cement my commitment to helping kids living in poverty and at risk of street life. Thank you for reading and for your support of our work here, it means so much more to me today.

Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.