Sunday 16th April 2017
I could quite get into this idea of resting! Yes, I have actually taken some time off over Easter and took a few people with me on one incredible journey to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Read more about our adventures at the end of this blog.
It was a crazy two weeks that led up to Easter and so I will have to select a few stories that I would love to share with you as they represent very well the work we have been doing before the country closed up for Semana Santa (Easter).
One of the biggest encouragements for me at the moment is seeing how young Josué has responded to his first ever full-time job. Josué is 16 and studies in school on Saturdays and has been working in La Terminal for the last 3-4 years unloading lorries and accepting work that only paid him about £1-2 per day. He is also living away from his family now but trying to earn something so that they can eat and pay their bills.
When I managed to negotiate a job for him with our neighbours CEFESA I had high hopes for him as he has proved he can be trusted, is reliable and works really hard at any task given to him. Another boy away from the streets and occupied in something he enjoys. He is already planning to travel to Mexico at the end of the year with money he is now saving each week. I love seeing him I his work uniform with a huge grin on his face even though he is very shy when the camera comes out!
Joseph Soden is still working with me and it has been one of the greatest blessings this year to have him come out from the UK and work alongside me here in Guatemala. At the time of writing Joseph is lying in his bed with a stomach upset and so I will probably have to cope without him on the streets for a while.
The week before Easter, Joseph and another volunteer, Claire, came with me to the streets and we found a small group of young children, some who were just celebrating their success in walking. One of the little boys, 18-month-old Alvaro, had taken a shine to Joseph as he always plays with the really little children. At one point Joseph had invented a good game where they get carried around in a cardboard box but today no cardboard boxes were available and so his arms had to do.
Little Alvaro is a very cute looking boy and who wouldn´t want to scoop him up and cuddle him. He is now in Jospeh´s arms and does not want to leave. It was at this point that his mother brushed past me. When Alvaro saw his mum coming he reached out his arms to her only to be rejected and spoken to harshly. His face told the full story of his neglect and abandonment. A small tear appeared in his left eye and just hung there while Joseph gave him a cuddle and some extra love.
I know Joseph has found situations like this hard but has come to understand why the work we do is so important.
Another encouragement to me was receiving a video message from a boy called Gerson. Gerson has grown up in the notorious zone 18 in Guatemala City and has suffered tremendous amounts of loss and had threats against his life from local gangs. Every week he has been attending one of the projects that Street Kids Direct supports called Go Guatemala. Gerson wanted to record something to say how grateful he is for the support Go Guatemala have given him. I know Gerson and have helped train him to be a young leader in the activity club that is run in zone 18 every Saturday. I hope you will take a couple of minutes to listen to his testimony.
There is more encouragement before we head to the Easter break with a very special time with two young boys called Marcos and Jesus. Little Jesus shot to Radio Christmas fame a few years ago when he was loaned a camera by Willie Reid and encouraged to take photos of his life on the rubbish dump. 12 of his photos were then turned into a calendar we sold over Radio Christmas and the money that was raised by the sales have helped keep him and his brother in school for the last 4 years, buy them shoes and uniforms and help with medical bills and other needs.
Marcos and Jesus continue to live at high-risk and so the team has begun to target the boys in order to get them interested in the mentoring programme. My task with Joseph was to pick them up one Saturday, take them back to the soon-to-be protection home for breakfast and then to Go Guatemala for a day of fun activities. Both boys were overly excited and when they saw that Go Guatemala has bikes they were desperate to borrow them. It seemed a rather overwhelming day for the boys and we ended up in a swimming pool and a enjoying a slice of pizza together before taking them back to the rubbish dump. The taking them back was the hardest bit, not just that we had enjoyed their company and would miss it, but that we had to take them back to a rubbish dump.
I am pleased to report that they have now begun the mentoring programme with Joseph and me trying to look after them until we find mentors for them. At least they will now be able to come to the mentoring centre each day and get the love and support they need and since their mum does not read or write we can help them each day with their homework.
Further encouragement came when Lorena visited us in Guatemala. Lorena is the coordinator of the Manuelito Children´s Home in Honduras and has always shown a key interest in our work here and when she heard about the success of the mentoring programme she asked to come and see for herself.
Lorena was so good on the streets, even though she found some parts of the work threatening and challenging. The work she clicked with the most was our work with high-risk children and the mentoring programme. Lorena was trained in our mentoring programme and was keen to return back to Honduras and get things started. Only a few days after she arrived back home she had organised and delivered training to 30 volunteers who are now prepared to mentor 30 high-risk children in Honduras. It´s all very exciting!
Just before we closed for Easter and for staff and volunteers to have a break we invited the children who come to the mentoring centre to come together for an afternoon of food, games and water fun. It was an exhilarating end to the term and it was just the most special moment watching the children jump up and down with excitement, squeal with joy and run around getting us all wet and seeing them just being kids for a while. Thank you for your support that makes all this possible.
Finally, I thought I would share with you the testing out of an idea I have had to provide outward bound experiences for the children as a form of prize for outstanding school results and making good choices in their lives.
Joseph and I took the two boys I mentor to an outstandingly beautiful part of Guatemala called Rio Dulce. Rio Dulce means sweet river and we had discovered a log cabin on an island with access to the river and so settled back to plan 5 days of water activities, exploring and relaxing. I feel it was a real time of growth for both boys as they were challenged about their fears of swimming in the lake. Little Moses learned how to row a kayak and at the end of the holiday said he had learned to never give up despite finding new challenges difficult.
We would love to be able now to invite mentors and the children they mentor to enjoy long weekends away at the cabin and begin to develop a programme that will bring challenge and fun experience together and help the children see that making good choices and working hard at school really does bring exciting benefits.
In the meantime my role is to “get out there more” and bring more children into the mentoring programme that are at that point of real risk of taking to the streets. Looks like a challenging few weeks ahead before I return back to the UK at the end of May for a couple of fundraising events.