• +502 5522-3333
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Preventing child homelessness

Preventing child homelessness

Monday 17th July 2023

Saturday was a long day, but they usually are with mentoring and family visits.  But Saturday was a little longer than normal because we had been invited to visit a project that feeds homeless people the centre of Guatemala City.

I am always keen to visit and support new projects and see the heart local people have for those who live an excluded life on the streets. The project is open on a Saturday evening and runs from 6pm to about 9pm and has been running long enough for the city´s homeless to know where to go for a hot meal and some company.

The excitement of going and spending time with this group of committed volunteers, who seem to run everything on a budget of nothing, was topped by taking Kenedy with me and also having Sony and Juan Carlos join us to see for themselves what others are doing.

Kenedy (photo above serving food) has been trying to put into practice some of the things he has been learning in mentoring and serving others is very high up on his agenda.  He finishes college this year and is keen on taking a gap-year with us and serving young people in the Centro Opp mentoring centre.

Our evening began by preparing tables and chairs in the street for the serving of food and then the leaders began with a time of worship and a bible story.  Those gathered for a meal joined in with great enthusiasm and seemed very touched by the message before the meal was served.

My eyes were drawn into a few people who were not engaging in the activity.  A boy, around 8 years-of-age, came and watched and one could see that he hadn´t eaten much that day and was standing at a distance watching the food being served.  Thankfully one of the volunteers invited him to sit and eat and he did so with great enthusiasm, while at the same time was being vigilant to what was happening all around him.

I was not close enough to speak to him due to me now sitting across the street with two homeless guys.  One lost interest very quickly as a taxi driver, obviously known to him, handed him a phone and I could see that it was his family calling him to check if he was OK.  This left me alone with David.

David streetsDavid (photo right) was unable to walk and so crawled around and invited me to sit next to him and talk.  As I introduced myself and he told me his name we both stared into each other’s eyes as it was clear we knew each other.  I haven´t seen David in many years, probably about 10 years now, but his unmistakeable smile and voice reminded me of when I first knew him when he was a homeless 12-year-old and addicted to drugs.

Many years have gone by and there was lots to catch up on.  David just kept hugging me and telling me he has missed me and wanted to know all the things I had been doing and then went into great detail as he told me about mutual street friends and who was still alive and who is doing what and where they now sleep.  It was a very special time and one that really blessed the both of us.

Later that evening I receive a message from a friend of mine who works in La Terminal and wanted some advice about what we could do to help a 12-year-old boy who was in need of support and possibly a short time in the Protection Home.  We needed more information and so this took us into Sunday which is when I was able to respond to the plea for help.

The boy was not in immediate danger and so I could continue with the day´s activities of mentoring and then head to La Terminal later on Sunday evening to find out where he is and more about his situation.

I walked down the Quinta (5th Street) and found him with his sister, two younger brothers, his mum and dad, all sitting on the streets just watching life go past.  The mum got up now and again to make tortillas for various people who came by to get their supply for their evening meal.  Tortillas are the staple food here and an important part of every meal.

Joshua saw me coming and a huge smile grew across his face as he hugged me and buried his face into my chest.  He is small for his age and his two younger brothers joined in the hug and this made his mum and dad stand up and greet me.  His parents, obviously knowing the reason I was visiting, started by telling me “Yes we hit him because he doesn´t do what he is told and doesn´t complete his homework”.  I am now trying to work out what is going on from what I see, what I know and also the years of experience in working with this family.

It is clear his parents are frustrated and when they are like this they resort to the standard response with their children and that is to beat them.  Two of Joshua´s siblings are already in care, for the same reason, and it now seems to me that he will be heading the same way.

I ask his parents for permission to sit on the street corner and speak with him and they nod and return to watching the world go by.  Joshua skips alongside me and climbs up on a wall and taps his hand next to him, indicating where he would like me to sit.

There are no opening questions as he begins to tell me, without stopping for breath, what he thinks of his parents and how badly they treat him and how much they are beating him.  He lifts up his t-shirt to show me the bruises on his back and turns his head around to show me the other side of his face, which was purple with bruises he says and then points to other injuries and continues to say how he is feeling and not holding back on his colourful use of the Spanish language. The next bit leaves me staring into his eyes as he tells me three times of his father´s threat to kill him if he doesn´t do what he is told!

At this point his little brother climbs up on the wall and sits next to him and tells me that Joshua is being beaten and this brings tears into Joshua´s eyes which, in turn, makes his little brother reach out his arms and hug him.  It is all rather moving and overwhelming.

Joshua then goes on to tell me that a lady across the road befriended him and offered him somewhere to sleep last week as he was not willing to sleep at home anymore.  This annoyed his parents also, who later told me they didn´t like the idea of Joshua sleeping in a place that is also used for prostitution.

Clearly the situation is not great and I know that we have more of a picture of what is going on to act and offer him an alternative.  What that alternative is will become clear later today.  But just being here and being around means that Joshua, like so many boys his age and of similar circumstances, won´t need to take the street option.  We have a much better system in place now to respond to all manner of situations and prevent more young children heading the way of the street, like David did when he was 12.

We sit in silence for a while and I think about the parallels between the lives of David and Joshua and how one life can still be changed now to prevent another child heading the same way as David did when he was 12.

Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct and founder of Toybox Charity.  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.