Sunday 23rd October 2016

pedro on streetsI could not get the image from my mind.  As I left the Terminal the other evening the last thing I saw was little Pedro with a scrunched-up rag in his hand that had been soaked in thinner.  He repeatedly placed the rag to his nose and inhaled the powerful fumes.  For a moment his eyes glaze over and he goes to some distant place in his head and then he returns.  He looks up and sees me waving goodbye and half smiles and then sniffs again.

Little Pedro is now spending more time on the streets every day and he and a small group of children who hang out with him have recently had threats from “The Angels”, (the contract killers) from the Terminal.  His options are few and he has been both dealing drugs and using them and has tried most things.  He is just 8 years-of-age. I chatted with him a couple of days ago when I took him and his brother away from the Terminal for a few hours and he seemed really open to the idea of going into a children´s home. 

At the end of our time he held on to me and said he just wanted to live with me and not go back to live in the Terminal.  Sadly this is not an option as I could fill my room over and over again with kids who need a safe place to live.  I see that when someone offers these kids genuine love and affection they then don´t want to loose it and find it really hard to return to their meager existence.  One day we will have the Protection Home (more about this next week) up and running and then we can offer them something more than just a few hours of care.

soden2The week has been rather busy with the visit of Russell and Joseph Soden from Amersham, UK, who came to visit us here in Guatemala City.  Russell offered us three days of team training, thanks to Giant.  The training really helped the team to identify their working preferences and how we can work more effectively as a team.  It has been a real time of team building and Herbert translated for Russell who works in the UK with Giant to deliver some amazing training for teams and businesses.

Visits to the streets have been somewhat traumatic for us but we continue to try and help make a difference where we can.  During one of the evening trips we found a young girl who needed her hand attending to.  The small cut was obviously causing her pain and so Russell got involved and helped me with a variety of first aid needs.  We must have treated about 15 children and a handful of adults with minor cuts, skin infections and wounds from being hit or from the arduous nature of life in the Terminal.

justinBen Soden has been working out here as a volunteer for the last two months and has been rather challenged by the number of children we are trying to help everyday and the overwhelming nature of the situations we find in and around the Terminal.  One boy Ben has grown found of is little Justin who is keen to come and ask for help with the numerous wounds and infections he has on a regular basis.  We have been helping his whole family who have been through some difficult situations recently and so Justin seems to trust us more to help him when he is sick.

Thanks to Ben for his incredible commitment to helping the children on the streets and we wish him well as he considers how he can come back in the New Year and help us again.

josue graduationOne of the highlights of the week was when we attended Josue´s graduation.  Josué is 16 and has made many really good decisions to not live on the streets and to focus on getting himself through his primary education.  It was rather a moving ceremony and Russell Soden came along with us and then I recorded this video at the end of the ceremony with Russell´s thoughts on the event.  Josué, together with his brothers, is fighting hard to achieve so much with little or no support from the family.  It is amazing to see how hard some kids work to just get through life but Josué has achieved so much and we are very proud of him.

The week finished with the news of a horrific sexual assault on a young girl in our programme and knowing her and her situation I am wondering how she will get through the next few weeks.  The good thing is that we will be alongside her and provide her with the help, counseling and support she will need.  This is all possible due to your donations, so a massive thank you for sticking with us because we appreciate it so much.

The coming week looks as busy as ever as I try and get three children, including Pedro, into a children´s home and head down to Honduras for a day of training for the Manuelito Children´s Home and recordings for Radio Christmas.  Then I head back to the UK and help the team prepare for the launch of this year´s live Radio Christmas from Amersham and will be travelling around making speeches and presentations, so will see many supporters over the coming weeks.

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.

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