Saturday 28th January, 2017

It was mid-afternoon in early December when I got the call.  I was sitting at a desk in the Radio Christmas studio when the phone rings.  I answer it and discover that Tom Carter, the British Ambassador to Guatemala, is calling me.  He begins his call with the words “I have some good news for you”, and I immediately think that he would like to offer his support for the radio station.  Both Tom and his wife Carolyn, who is the British Ambassador to Honduras, have been very active in their support of the charity and were going to record some special messages for us to play on Radio Christmas.

Tom goes on to tell me that his news is very exciting and that he and Carolyn are very proud of me.  He informs me that I have been nominated to receive an MBE for my work with street children over the last 25 years.  I sit back on the desk and try and take in the news.  He stresses to me that I am sworn to secrecy until it is confirmed in the London Gazette and the Times at the end of the month.  If I tell anyone then I would be locked up on the Tower of London!

MBE1To be recognized by Her Majesty the Queen for the work is quite an honour and I quickly reflect back on the last 25 years of work, the turmoil, the pain, the joy, the many deaths and those children who have grown into quite outstanding adults.  I am brought back into the real world and the needs of Radio Christmas by a conversation with someone who would like to have a show the following week.

It was early in the morning of the 31st December that I started to receive calls and messages from people who had read about the MBE from the national press and wanted to congratulate me.  It then went mad on Facebook and Twitter! I was walking, at the time, from Banchory to Aberdeen and staying with some very good friends in Scotland called John, Esther, Luke and Brianna Hughes.  On arrival in Aberdeen the Hughes family met me and had heard about my award and wanted to treat me to a great Scottish breakfast.  Thank you John, Esther, Luke and Brianna, it was a very special day indeed.

On my return to Amersham I discovered an email informing me that later in the year I would be invited to the Palace to receive my award by either the Queen or Prince Charles and that I could take three guests with me.  I began to plan and wonder what one wears on such occasions and how the day would play out.  I imagined myself sitting in the Palace chatting with the Queen about the work and her placing a medal on my chest.  Silly thoughts!

MBE2On my return to Guatemala I am told that I need to return to the UK to receive my award and so quickly plan the trip back and I am thankful to a friend who calls to say he would like to cover the cost of the flight.  I have now invited my sister Michelle, who is flying over form Australia, Alexis Curson, who allows us to use her home for Radio Christmas every two years, and Celia Banner who has been my spiritual mother since my early days of becoming a Christian.

The actual day begins with us arriving at the Palace, having taken the train from Amersham.  We hailed a cab and I was just waiting for the driver to ask where to go, and replied in a very casual manner, “to the Palace please”.  He seemed not phased but did ask why we were going there and my sister could not stop talking about how proud she was of her brother who was getting and MBE and all his work with street children.

We arrived at the Palace and, given the fact that we were obviously dressed to meet royalty, became the focus point for quite a few cameras!  After passing through security we are led into the inner courtyard and then up the main steps into the Palace.  We are invited to leave mobile phones, cameras and our coats (and my top hat) in the cloakroom.  At this point we continue to walk up a deep red carpet where those receiving awards turn right and guests continue forwards to be seated in the ballroom.

I am greeted by a kindly-faced lady who congratulates me on the award and invites me to have a drink and to wait for further instructions.  The room is decorated with large portraits, intricately painted ceilings and huge doors that seem to extend right up through to the ceiling.  There are three large TV screens and a previous award ceremony is showing, probably so you get the idea of how to approach royalty, how to curtsy or bow and then how to shake hands and leave so the next person can receive their award.

MBE3About 60 people are in the room at this point and then in walk Ant and Dec, two TV celebrities who are receiving their OBE´s today.  I manage to shake Ant´s hand and congratulate him and he in turn congratulates me and wishes me well.  All of a sudden everyone goes quite as two highly decorated officers come into the room and explain the morning´s proceedings and begins to call groups of ten people forwards.  They all march in line to the ballroom and then stand in front of HRH Prince Charles to get their award.

It is quite nerve-racking waiting in line and as the line slowly moves forwards I get a glimpse of Prince Charles and wonder if I will get a chance to talk and what he would say to me.  Eventually my time comes and I give the customary bow, move forwards as indicated while someone comes from behind him and whispers in his ear.  He smiles and learns forwards and places a medal on my suit. “So I hear you have just flown over from Guatemala”, the Prince says.  “Yes”, I reply, “it was a long journey”.  He thanks me for coming over and asks me to tell him more about the work I do with street children.  It is clear he seems interested and questions me further about some of the hard things I have seen and the progress that has been made and finishes by saying that what I do is “truly inspirational”.  He thanks me again for coming, congratulates me on the MBE and wishes me well.  His hand stretches forward and that is my queue to shake his hand, step back, bow and then turn and leave.

The day was a very special one for me and I felt a great sense that what I was receiving this day was on behalf of an amazing team of people who have worked closely with me to reach out to children that most people consider disposable.  I also wished that Jenni and Katelyn could have accompanied me as they remain a very special part of my story and work.

May I take this opportunity to thank everyone who is taking the time to read this blog, for your love, support and prayers.  Some have joined the journey recently and others have been with me for over 56 years.  It has been an honour to serve God and I am always amazed that I can be used to help vulnerable children and young people.  Here´s to another 25 years!

 

Wednesday 28th December

Every two years a team of very dedicated people joins me to plan, prepare, build, run and clear up a festive charity radio station called Radio Christmas.  The station was born in 2004 because a few friends and me had experience with a radio project called Cracker Radio in Amersham.  The idea of a charity radio station that broadcasts at Christmas was one I was keen not to leave in the vaults of good ideas in history.

This year´s production involved 530 volunteers, many of whom were children and young people.  Together we put out 18 hours of programming per day from the 1st to the 24th December and, at its peak, we had 45,000 listeners per day on our online stream together with many hundreds listening on 87.7FM in the Chilterns.

radiochristmasA huge amount of work goes into getting the station ON-AIR and thanks to the tremendous commitment of the team we managed to raise nearly £30,000 during December together with a further £20,000 in match funding.  The money raised will impact the lives of hundreds of vulnerable children throughout the coming year and I will ensure that I keep you updated with stories of lives changed through the use of this money.

The goodwill from local people and their willingness to host us (thanks Alexis Curson) and the great care presenters put into producing some incredible shows is a testimony to what happens when our local community comes together to make a difference over the Christmas period.

Next year I am hoping to produce shows from Guatemala and Honduras and so stay in touch with www.radiochristmas.co.uk for more information later into 2017.

Thank you again to all those who helped build and dismantle the studios, to our sponsors and to all producers, presenters, newsreaders, those who answered the phone and emails, to our hosts and to those who did so much behind the scene with programming, recording, visiting advertisers as well as a host of dedicated people who I will forever be grateful to.  THANK YOU.

Friday 4th November 2016

My final days in Guatemala have been eventful to say the least.  With more disclosures of horrific child abuse and a team of very committed staff and volunteers shaken by the children´s stories we planned the strategy to manage while I am in the UK with Radio Christmas.

diegoSometimes it is easy to help a child but often this proves to be more difficult by those people you would think could offer the most support, love and care – the parents.  One child who we helped just before I left for the UK was Diego.

Diego lives in Guatemala City and is a boy we deem to be at high risk of leaving home and living on the streets.  His story is common; as he has grown seeing things thankfully many of us would never see.  Diego is often beaten and abused and is sometimes seen sitting in the road outside his shack, sobbing and wishing he could chose another life.

Just the other day Diego came to our Centre and it was clear that he was in a lot of pain.  He complained that his arm was hurting and told us how he had fallen.  On further investigation I felt that his arm was fractured and that he needed urgent medical attention.

We called his mother, who was working selling produce in the streets.  She informed us that she was too busy and needed to work.  We made contact with Diego´s father and he came to the Centre saying that he was busy and also needed to work.

broken arm

I must admit I got angry and approached the father and explained to him in no uncertain terms that, at this moment in time, his 8-year-old son was more important than anything else.  Furthermore, if he didn´t take his son to the hospital right now I would make a formal complaint of child abuse.  I left him with no option and called and paid for a taxi to take them both to hospital.

The following day I visited Diego and found his arm still broken and the boy in a lot of pain.  His father told me how there was a long queue at the hospital so they came home!  We took the boy away to a private clinic and found that Diego had a severe fracture but within a few hours he was admitted to hospital and got the attention he needed.  I wished his parents had visited him while he was in hospital but sadly this was not the case.  Later Diego´s sister told me how her father had beaten Diego and that was how his arm got broken.

Diego´s story highlights the need to maintain a constant presence on the streets and do whatever it takes to keep children safe.

On a brighter note, soon after I left Guatemala the British Ambassadors for Guatemala and Honduras, Tom and Carolyn Carter, visited our Centre again but this time joined the street team on the streets in order to understand our work and meet the children and young people we are trying to help.

embassy visitTheir visit was of great encouragement to the children and families we work with and Tom and Carolyn were very moved by what they saw.  They then recorded special Christmas messages, which we will be releasing on Radio Christmas.

I am so very encouraged by the support the British Embassy give to me and to my work together with the children on the streets and those at high-risk in Guatemala and Honduras.  In the New Year Carolyn, British Ambassador to Honduras, hopes to visit the two projects in Honduras that we support.

As soon as I land in the UK I will be full-time on Radio Christmas.  There will be lots to do, including building the studios, presentations to schools, churches and interested groups and generally promoting the festive charity radio station.  Last year £18,000 was raised on Radio Christmas, which came from Guatemala City.  This year we are broadcasting live from studios in Amersham and we will be going live from 6:00am on the 1st of December and going through till Christmas Eve.  I really hope you can tune in and enjoy the festive music and fun.

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