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Creating space for feelings is vital

Creating space for feelings is vital

Saturday 10th February 2024

Javier (photo: pink football shirt) is 10 and last week I was with him in the mentoring centre in Guatemala City and commenting on his really cool football outfit.  His matching shorts and shirt together with his football socks made him look like a real pro.  I have known Javier since he was a baby and seen him grow up in the most challenging of circumstances.

Today he was happy and gave me a huge hug and told me how much he was looking forward to us all heading off to the local park to play football.  Football was his passion; it was his life and it continues to be his outlet for how he feels about the rest of his life.

Getting children involved in sports is not only good for their physical fitness, not only good at stimulating the production of endorphins that makes them feel good, but is a social activity that forces them to mix with and develop relationships with others.

Javier was buzzing and couldn´t sit down.  He wanted to leave right away, but we had to wait half an hour until all the other children had arrived and we could make the count, line them up, run over a few norms and then head off for the 10-minute walk to the park.  Today, he just had to be the boy who carried the football as he was keen to show us his tricks.

While we were waiting I asked him to sit next to me and tell me how he was doing.  I hadn´t seen him for a few months, due to being in the UK for the Radio Christmas project, and was wanting to tell him how much I thought he had grown in that time.  Kids love that, but it was true, he had shot up quite a bit and he smiled and looked down at his trainers.

I asked him again how he was doing and watched as he struggled to answer.  He tried to open his mouth but it seemed like something was taking away his words and he concentrated more on his trainers.  I left some time for him to think and feel and as I did he began to cry.

I was not expecting tears.  He seemed so happy about playing football.  But the reality of his world outside the mentoring centre must have come crashing back into his little mind and the emotion of it all also flooded over him as this wave of hurt, pain, suffering and rejection made him shake a little.

“That´s OK”, I told him.  “Sometimes it is good to cry and get it out”.  His football shirt was now being used to cover his face as he wiped away his tears and sniffed a bit and then started to speak.  His main reason for being upset was that he missed his older brother and sister.  They had both left separately for the US over the last few years and had gone through quite an ordeal to make it to the border alone.  They both now live with distant family but had been calling a lot recently saying they were unhappy and could they come home.

Because they had gone to the US he had to step up and help his mum run the family business of selling clothes in the streets whilst looking after his 5-year-old brother, who is also attending the mentoring centre. 

Javier talks about how hard he feels it is for him just to keep going each day.  He talks about the place where he lives and the many prostitutes outside day and night and how it makes him feel unsafe.  He sees many like his dad passed out in the streets, doing drugs or mugging people.  At least he feels safe in the centre.

The situation is complicated and the extreme abuse, neglect and suffering that his brother and sister went through before they left would make even the hardest person break down and cry.  Now it´s up to him and he feels the weight of it all upon his 10-year-old shoulders.  Sometimes he just needs to come in and cry and then he can cope again.

He hugs me once more and I stand up and encourage him to get to the front of the queue for football.  Half an hour had passed and we had shared a special moment.  He kept looking back and smiling at me as we walked to the park in the afternoon sunshine and upon arrival at the park was keen to show me his talents.

Javier is one of so many kids who just need that special time now and again and I am so proud of the team at the centre as I know it is not easy to be there day-in-day-out for nearly 60 children.  But they also have a passion and many skills and I just love watching them and seeing how they provide that much-needed therapy without even realising it.

Thanks to your support we will keep being there for them all and will continue to rejoice with the Javiers as they grow in resilience and become stronger to face all the world throws at them.

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.