Saturday 18th March 2017
The long drive to Honduras is never a tiring journey as it is always full of incredible experiences and often opportunities to help people along the way. My drive from Guatemala to Tegucigalpa took just over 10 hours and I had the joy of having Joseph Soden with me this time. Joseph (photo with me at the border) is planning to move out here to Guatemala this summer and is here learning Spanish and seeing the work we do. He is a gifted jazz musician and feels called to help run our second mentoring centre and protection home in Guatemala City for vulnerable and high-risk children.
On arrival in Honduras we head towards Talanga, where the Manuelito Children´s Home is situated and are given the customary welcome by all the children (tons of hugs and kisses) and then meet with the Director and his wife before heading to our dorm and an early night.
Being at the home for three days means we will both have lots of time to spend with the children and staff and discuss how the Street Kids Direct mentoring programme could offer some extra support to those children who are struggling the most.
Waking up in the home is always full of surprises. The light is now streaming through the thin curtains in the men´s dorm and I can hear children outside and see little faces peering through the gaps where the curtains have not been drawn enough. I open the door and little Duncan and two other young boys rush in and give me a huge hug.
It is just gone 6am and the children are getting ready for breakfast as the school day starts at 7am and already some of the 115 children from the local town are arriving. One of the best sights at the home is watching the children arrive to the home for their day in school. Due to the local schools struggling to accept the children from the home, a decision was taken a few years ago to educate the children on site. This proved to be popular with the children as they were suffering from bullying and discrimination from children in the local schools.
I could see then what would happen. With so many children living in poverty and living in very vulnerable situations locally, and some living on the streets in the town, how long it would be before exceptions would be made and they would be invited to join the school! Time proved the gut feeling correct and slowly more children from the local community were included in the Manuelito School. I have spent time visiting many of the children in their homes and can see the desperate need to offer free but also caring and supportive education to children who would normally fit into a “normal” school. We now have 115 children from the local area coming to the school everyday and so watching them arrive is a precious moment.
Many wanted to know how my time with the Queen went and so I took along my MBE medal for the staff and children to see. Little Duncan could not resist the opportunity of having a photo with the medal on his chest and stood up looking proud and pleased to be a part of the special honour.
One of the afternoons I went with Lorena, the coordinator of the home, to try and find two boys who had dropped out of school and were not even coming to the home for food everyday as they used to.
We walked into town and followed the dusty road to the little house that sits a metre or so below the road level. The mum was in the “garden” washing clothes on a rough piece of wood that was precariously placed on top of a bucket of water. She smiled and asked us to let ourselves in, which was easy as the door was already open and we find one of the boys sitting watching TV.
The situation is complicated and we don´t need to go into detail here but the boys are at risk, particularly the older one (one the right of this photo). He is now spending more time in the streets and his innocent face hides the reality of the things he is getting involved with in the town. We are concerned for him as he can be easily led astray and despite being 15 he is still a little boy really.
The conversation I have with the boy sitting watching TV proves to hit home and he realises that if he wants a better future then it won´t just come knocking on his door. He promises to try and find his brother in the streets and bring him to the home that afternoon for a chat. The boys have a little brother who is attending the school and wants to try and study rather than end up on the streets.
Later that day both boys appear outside my dorm and we sit and chat and play with a new game on my iPad before they go and talk with Lorena about how they could recuperate their schooling. At last a positive outcome as both boys agree to starting a private night school to gain back the last year of education and Lorena rushes around to get them the books and uniform they need to start in the next few days. We encourage them as they have made an important decision today and one we hope will lead to greater possibilities for them and their mum.
Joseph and I then spend the last two days visiting he AFE project, who work with the children from the city rubbish dump, and two other projects. There have been some changes to AFE recently and the 140 children and young people are hard at work studying when we arrive. Jesy shows us around and we are excited by all we see. This is one inspirational project and it is often hard to comprehend all these kids have to deal with on a daily basis and when we went up on the dump that afternoon we were reminded of the reality that slaps you hard in the face. We follow a medical van as it winds its way up to the area where medical waste is dumped. Officially this should all be disposed of hygienically and probably incinerated rather than being dumped in the open and where dogs and people search through dangerous waste that will include body parts, abortions and all manner of medical waste. It is disgusting and the smell overpowering.
There are still two more projects to visit before we head home to Guatemala and the first one is a short visit to the streets of Tegucigalpa with Stephen, an American volunteer who works for the Micah Project with street children and youths.
Probably not many people see the work Stephen does and it would be a rare moment when someone would encourage him and tell he is doing a great job. Stephen wanders the streets of the capital and encounters young boys and girls sniffing glue while sitting in alleyways spaced-out and thinking of nothing more than what will happen in the next few minutes.
We find this girl, who is about 5 months pregnant and will, I am sure, loose her baby when she gives birth as the hospital will realise she lives on the streets and so her baby will be given to the care of the social services. Due to her drug use the child might be born drug dependent and so will need extra support in the early stages of life. It is a very sad moment indeed watching her lie there alone.
The last visit is to support Teressa and her work with one of the gangs in the capital. We accompany her to visit two prisons where young boys are held until they reach the age of 18. All are from one of the most powerful gangs in Central America and all have committed all manner of crimes.
Before the main door is opened the boys are told they have visitors and so they call out a warning to the lookouts posted around the prison square. There are heavily armed police outside who are wearing what I can only describe as the type of kit you would wear in a war zone. The last time I saw someone wearing a much lighter version of this equipment was when I last went paintballing.
We walk into the square and over 100 boys gather around us. There are no guards inside; it’s just us and the gang. We are invited to meet in their hall/dining room out of view from any of the guards or police and we start to talk with them about who we are and what we do. I am invited to give a little talk to the boys and share something of how God changed my life at the age of 21 and how I felt rescued from my teenage life of crime.
Time runs out, as we have had to fit so much into a day and have already had a visit to another children´s prison earlier in the day. Before we leave Joseph tries his best to get the boys interested in drumming and does achieve something special where the boys begin a beat on the table. If these boys were not in prison and were not sold into gang life I know they would be more interested in music, art, games and play. For now though they are boys who have had to grow up quickly and have had to discard their childhood in order to stay alive, support their family and serve the gang.
It takes me a while to get to sleep that night as I wish I could do more to help all those I have met on this trip. I wish we had more people working with us, I wish we had more funds; I wish we could just do more. Finally I get to sleep and begin to think of returning home to Guatemala.