Thursday 12th October

The last couple of weeks have been rather stressful.  I think psychologists say that moving house is stressful but when you add that to the many other things that have been going on its no wonder I feel rather drained at the moment.

I decided to move out of my room at the Centre in Guatemala City to make way for a medical clinic we are preparing there, thanks to the funding and support of AFE and Grace Honduras.  The move was quick but having everything once again boxes and black rubbish sacks is not easy to deal with as I don´t seem to have the time or willingness at this point to unpack as I will be heading to the UK in three weeks and so it doesn´t seem much point really.

I have moved into the house we are renting for the new protection home we would like to launch in 2017.  Ben Soden, who is visiting from the UK and Frank join me in the house at the moment.  The house is rather large and very well situated for a protection home and so we are rattling around in it for the moment until we get the funding sorted to buy and refurbish the home.

Ben streets1Talking of Ben, I thought you would like to see this short video he made yesterday.  We had travelled out to the outskirts Guatemala City to visit two children we are trying to keep an eye on.  12-year-old Dyana and 8-year-old Jorge lost their mother earlier this year when she was gunned down in the streets whilst begging at traffic lights.  He tragic death has affected both of them who now they feel drawn to live on the streets themselves.  I am not sure if it is just to get away from abuse or if its to feel a connection with their mother, but the course of action they are taking is now leading them down a very dangerous road.

We spent time with them and their cousins and then Ben recorded a short video.  Little did we know that a few minutes after we left a battle began between police and one of the prominent gangs here kicked off.  One of the gang members ran from the police and passed by the front of the shack where Jorge and Dyana live.  Jorge looked into the man´s eyes and says he can recognize him should he be asked by police.  The man turns to him and says “if you say anything I will come back and cut you into small pieces and leave them out in the streets”.

Their grandparents, who also have the wider family and their children living with them, care for both Dyana and Jorge.  They tell me of their fears for them both and how a lady up the road is recruiting vulnerable young children and taking them into her home where, according to them, “really bad things happen”.

Later that same day Dyana goes missing and then Jorge goes out to look for her and returns having been beaten up.  Being a child here is not always the best time of your life and these two little ones are suffering greatly and we need to do something to help them move into a happier place.

Moises birthday

After the last 24 hours and the pain we feel of knowing how things are with Dyana and Jorge (Dyana returned a few hours ago and then disappeared again) I need to remind myself that with some children we are seeing success.  It would be helpful to me, and hope you enjoy reading this also, to hear of some good things going on here in Guatemala City.

Little Moses turned 9 last week and I have now been his mentor for the last two and a half years.  Despite setbacks and tough situations at home and school he has made it to 9 and so I took him and his family out for pizza.  Moses loved the attention and the two presents I bought him and spent two very happy hours eating pizza and running around a play den inside the pizza restaurant with two friends who he wanted to invite to his party.

ashly alisonThe two friends turned out to be Ashly and Alison who come to the centre most days and have been in the mentoring programme for nearly a year now.  I know how much they appreciated being part of this party and how different their lives are when they are with us.  Two days later I take them, and a small group of kids, to the local park for a few hours.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the children so happy playing together and this photo was just one I grabbed as they played, ran around and ate ice cream.

 

 

 

juanito y diego

Back at the Centre I find young Juanito with a huge smile on his face as he is having his weekly mentoring session with Diego, a newly trained mentor.  Having a trusted adult in his life is making a difference and the conditions in which his lives means he is at very high risk of taking to the streets, so this prevention work I know will help support him make good choices and enjoy just being a child in a safe and encouraging environment.

 

 

 

 

  

 

carlitos bikeCarlitos is doing well and having got through the recent fire and loss of his home and possessions he continues to go along to my friend´s restaurant each week to learn the skills of being a chef.  This is Carlos in the photo securing his bike after I drop him off one day last week.  He is happy, fulfilled and cycles back later that day with some food he has cooked for me.  It´s delicious and he takes real pride in telling me what he has learnt and is so happy to see me enjoying the food.  It’s a start and one I hope will lead to greater things for him.

And finally to Go Guatemala.  This inspirational project in zone 18 of Guatemala City working with high-risk children and youth offers a packed programme every Saturday for around 120 children.  I have missed coming here and the walk through Central America and trip to Honduras recently meant that most Saturdays I was unable to visit. 

go presentation

So with a Saturday free I headed down to this conflict-ridden zone and arrived to a welcome by many children who hugged me and told me they missed me.  I wanted to come and present them with a cheque from the funds raised during the summer´s sponsored walk together with a framed autographed t-shirt from Jeony and me.

The work at Go Guatemala continues to inspire me as they reach some of the most vulnerable children in that area and offer them hope.  Some of the stories of how these kids have survived can overwhelm you but when you see them just being kids, enjoying the games, the talks, the worship and the food you can´t help but think it was worth walking 1,400km from Costa Rica.

I appreciate your support for our work here.  Lives are being changed and we need to hold onto that truth, especially when we are faced daily with so much desperate need and sadness.

Friday 23rd September

Being held up at gunpoint is a regular thing for many people who live in Guatemala City.  For poor Ben Soden, who is visiting here from the UK, it was a frightening experience.

Ben arrived at our Centre last night together with Frank, one of our team, and was obviously in shock.  He and Frank had been at the traffic lights a couple of blocks from the Centre when a guy pulls up on a motorbike and slaps his gun against the car window demanding their phones.  They handed over their phones and Frank´s watch and then the bike took off.

We called the police who were particularly unhelpful and so used the ´Find my iPhone´app to locate the phone.  We then head off in the car in search of the phone and the guy who stole it.  When we arrived at the location where the phone was the guy took off on his bike.  So we followed and arrived at a street where he and three other guys were sitting.

It became clear, as we observed them for a few minutes, that two had guns and was exchanging money.  Since we didn´t have guns we drove off in search of a police patrol car.  We found one just down the road and flagged it down and was greeted by two very helpful National Police Officers who treated us with care and respect.  They called for backup and then we took off and returned to where the guys had been sitting in the streets.

gunmanWe think that the four guys who, by this time, had hidden the phones and watch as they must have been spooked by our large black car with dark windows.  Ben´s phone was still showing close by, probably in one of the buildings behind where they were sitting and was still turned on and taking calls.

The police pulled gently into the curb where the four were sitting enjoying a drink and quickly pull out their rifles and asked all four to stand up against the wall while they were thoroughly searched.  Two of them had guns but had licences for them and so there was little the police could do as they were not in possession of the phones or watch.  Despite the phone showing in the building behind we could not enter as we didn´t have a warrant and so had to leave it.

Ben wanted to confront the assailant (photo) and so I accompanied him while Ben began to explain, in his best Spanish, how bad he was to rob someone who had come out to Guatemala to help people.  There was little more we could do but we have clocked him, know his face and his bike.  He informed the police he works in La Terminal, which means we are sure to cross his path another day!

Life is cheap here and people are killed everyday just for a phone.  A life is not measured in material values and we are thankful that we all returned home safely last night.  Ben and Frank will be in shock I expect for the next few days and we pray the experience will not deter them from the bigger picture of what is happening here.

Thursday 22nd September

terminal fire113-year-old Carlitos tells me how he and his little brother and sister were trapped insiude their tin shack and they thought they were going to die!  “The smoke started coming in and, at first, I thought my mum was outside burning something”, Carlos explained. I can see it is hard for him to tell me his experience but he goes on to tell me that: “when the flames started coming through the roof and I couldn´t get out of the door I thought he was going to die.”  Moments later the volunteer fire service broke through and rescued him and his brother and sister. Thankfully they are all now safe.

The fire consumed the homes of 16 people.  Each home measures about 6´x 6´and can house up to eight people.  All those living here exist on less than $2 a day and their physical poverty is just the tip of one huge iceberg.  We are in contact with all the families and have many of the children in our programmes.  Carlos, for example, is in the mentoring programme and doing really well and making some excellent decisions for his life. I maaged to get him an excelent work experience opportunity this week in a freind´s restaurant.  Watch the video of him here.

terminal fire3As I arrived at the scene of the fire a few hours later, having seen it on the local news, it was clear that something urgent had to be done.  The families were still going through the charred remains of their precious few material possessions.  The local TV news crew covered the story and in this video you can clearly see how Carlitos has climbed up on the family bed (four people sleep here) and tries to see if any of his schoolwork can be salvaged.  Watching this was just too distressing for me as I know him and know what a blow this will be to him.

The urgent thing now is to make the area safe and ensure that what few possessions are left can be kept safe and that all the children stay away from the still-falling shacks.  I meet with the families and allow them time to tell me what happened and then hear their solutions to rebuild their shacks.  It is clear that without outside help their homes will never be rebuilt and so I take the decision to mobilise the Mi Arca team and return to the office to send out appeals via Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to friends around the world.

An hour later we have helped clean the site and have bought the wood ready to build the structures for 16 homes.  As the hours tick by and it becomes dark some of the structures are going up and being covered in plastic as a temporary solution till the shops open on Monday and we can buy the tin for the roofs and walls.  We are grateful it is not raining and trust that God will give us a few days of break from the rainy season, which has battered us non-stop since my return from the walk through Central America.

terminal fire2Over the next few days the walls and roofs go up and families start to take possession of their homes again and we deliver hot food, clothes and blankets.  The rebuilding work was made possible by your donations, the solidarity and efforts of the 16 families and to the volunteers from Mi Arca, including Ben Soden from Amersham in the UK who is here working with us till the end of October. As the last sheets of tin are nailed into place and all are safe within their homes the rain starts to fall again.

At the time of writing this blog the homes are almost complete and we are about £500 short of funds to complete the project.  We still have donations of clothes and food to deliver later today or tomorrow and then these humble families can get back to their lives and we can get back to supporting the children and help keep them safe.  Watch the short update video we made towards the end of the rebuilding.

It´s been quite a week!

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