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Making good friends

Making good friends

Monday 18th September 2023

I was reminded yesterday of one of the outcomes of the mentoring programme when Linda, a visitor from the UK, and I dropped 5 excited boys home after a mentoring session at the CasaClub centre in Santa Faz, Guatemala City.

Like many first-time visitors to Santa Faz there is the challenge of walking back up the mountainside afterwards, as the altitude and numerous steps really take their toll on even the fittest of folk.

The last child to be dropped off is 10-year-old Jefferson, who lives with his large family in a tin shack on the mountainside. His innocence and gentleness has won the hearts of the other boys in the group he is in for Sunday mentoring, as he was the last one to join the established group and I wondered if he would be accepted and understood by the other boys.

One thing I have seen over the years is how isolated so many of these families are, despite them living near each other.  Trust is not easily won in Santa Faz and given the violent history of the area it is no wonder why many work hard to keep themselves to themselves.

This past week has been extremely violent with 5 young people being killed over a 24-hour period, the last one a 15-year-old boy shot right behind our mentoring centre. Growing up here is not easy and every child will tell you of the latest killing like they are telling you that it rained yesterday.

Jefferson spends his time playing in the dirt outside his shack when he is not in school and was too shy to make friends or trust in others locally.  Today, however, is different and a pleasing sight to see as one of the boys in the group calls round Jefferson´s home not long after we had dropped him home.

Linda and I were still with Jefferson´s family as I needed to check on the health of his younger siblings due to a huge increase in dengue fever.  Linda was quite taken with the family and they proudly showed her their new cooker.  They have never had a cooker before and have been saving up for a long time and got a second-hand gas cooker and connected it to a small gas cylinder.  It has changed their lives and the children tell us that their food doesn´t smell of smoke now when they eat it.

The discussion about the benefits of a gas cooker stopped when Jose Antonio arrived.  He is also 10 and is in the Sunday mentoring group.  I have been concerned for him for the last two years as he spent increasing amounts of time on the streets due to his mum working long hours and not being able to get home in the afternoon to let him into their tin shack after school.  Thankfully that situation has dramatically changed and now his parents are back together and he is much more stable and wanted to invite Jefferson to his home to play.

This is a new concept for many of the children but one that we are used to in the UK as kids invite their friends around to play after school or stay for sleep-overs.  Here in Sana Faz the fear of others tends to prevent such invitations and children get used to isolation.

But the new friendships that have been developed in mentoring are breaking down those barriers and helping the children see that trust in others is possible and so Jefferson, with a huge smile on his face, is given permission to head off with Jose Antonio and his mum.

I watch the two boys climb up the mountainside and you can see the joy and contentment and one can´t help feel proud.  Friendships like these are not easy to build but I can see so many more discovering that having trusted friends is a good thing and is another one of the developmental assets we hope to see the children become stronger in over the next few years.

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.