Sunday 26th June 2016

SarahElliotGrowing up in Guatemala can be a tough ride for many children, but if you are born a girl the odds seem to be stacked against you even more.  The statistics of just how tough life can be for girls can be rather overwhelming and demonstrate clearly that girls suffer disproportionately.  The biggest threat to live for a young girl is death in pregnancy and with an increase in the number of girls ages 10-14 dying in pregnancy.  Every 7 minutes a young girl becomes pregnant in Guatemala!  Add to that the upsurge in general violence and murders of women with sadly fewer than 10% of all those crimes actually being fully investigated and even fewer prosecuted.  Furthermore, abuses against girls and women seeking to flee Guatemala to the USA via Mexico have increased by 70%.

Being and growing up a girl in Guatemala is a journey many find difficult and when two girls came to our Centre last week and sat in tears to tell me that they had received threats on their lives by a gang member I felt helpless.  Threats like this in Guatemala are always taken seriously and so some form of legal response is now needed but the 10 and 11-year-olds were fearful of the threat of being raped and killed.

Their situation is not unique but does highlight our need to find a safe place for these children to go when at most risk.  We are exploring the option of having a short-term protection home but this would require rather larger sums of money and to find a wealth investor to purchase a property for us to use.

In the meantime we need to find creative ways to keep them safe as well as investigate how making a formal complaint to the police will either make things worse or make things better.

One 11-year-old girl came to us last week and had been through a difficult time that resulted in her cutting her arms in order to feel something.  Another girl of the same age has been invited to come into the Centre because when she is with us she is not being abused.  She only goes home now when she knows her mum will be there and the rest of the time comes to us rather than having to face the man who abuses her on a daily basis.

Whilst on the streets this week we came across a little 7-year-old girl who was brought to us by her 9-year-old brother telling us she has a love bite on her chest and could we look at it.  Sure enough, she had a love bite from a family member.  What is a 7-year-old girl doing with a love bite on her chest? 

I could go on as there are so many girls in need of mentors and in need of protection that I wish we had a place we could put them all.  There is nothing more painful than saying goodbye and seeing them walking slowly up the road with a weight upon their young shoulders that is oppressive and systemic in Guatemala´s macho culture.

CleanupThe photo at the beginning of this article was taken this week when Sarah, Matt, Sam and Kori came to Guatemala to help work with us on the streets.  They are all part of the Forge Church in Suffolk and come every year now to offer some very practical support.  Onwe of those practical tasks was to hgejp us last Sunday when we got flooded out at the Centre.

Because of their help and support we have been able to be out on the streets more this week and the team have spent time with the children in the Centre each day.  THANK YOU to the team for coming and if you would like to read their own blog of the trip, you can do here here

Kate Bretherton wrote a very moving comment this past week about the suffering of Gerson, who seems to frequent this blog.  We fund Gerson on the streets last week in a state of almost unconsciousness and near death.  He was losing his sight and refused to come with us into hospital care saying that bhe preferred to die on the streets.  I advised the rest of the group to call the Bomberos (ambulance crew) as soon as he drifted into unconsciousness and knew they would take him into hospital.  It was a tough call but a few hours later he was rushed into hospital and is now recovering again from street life.  I will leave you with this comment from Kate.

Gerson3I’m a mum. I have four children. They are all and everything to me. There are times when life isn’t straightforward. There are times when I get it wrong. Spectacularly wrong. And there are times when a 9, 8 and two 6 year olds can be difficult. Incredibly difficult. But, however cross or upset they are with me, or I am with them, we are there. We are there for each other. Always.

I cried when I saw the picture above. Not crocodile tears. Deep, belly sobs of sorrow for Gerson. For a boy I barely know. For a boy I met three years ago, with a glint in his eye and joy in his heart. Who wept in my arms at the funeral of his friend. Who, for a brief period of time, relinquished his glue bottle – the crutch upon which he relies to blank out his daily life – to mourn for another life lost. ?

I am at a loss for words. For those of you who know Duncan Dyason, you might recall these words from May 2013:?“Often people ask me how I cope with all the things I see and hear, and I have not yet found a way to answer the question in a way that satisfies the way I often feel. Sometimes to be human is to enter the pain of another but not so deeply the pain overwhelms you so you become useless and unable to help.”

Saturday 28th May 2016

It took a while for me to adjust to being back in the UK as the culture shock can be quite drastic.  At least the sun was shining and the warmer weather would mean enjoying walking a lot more whilst enjoying the beauty of the English countryside.

BalfoursThere were many things I had come back to do this trip, fundraising, speaking events, assemblies, meetings, seeing friends and family and the commissioning of Mark and Rosalie Balfour who will be moving out to Guatemala later this year.

Mark and Rosalie have come from St.Peter´s Church in Maidenhead and are moving out soon to Guatemala as CMS missionaries to study Spanish and then help volunteer with the Mi Arca charity in Guatemala City.

Their commissioning service was a thought-provoking time.  Their commitment to leaving behind family, friends and their church in order to work in La Terminal in Guatemala City would be a challenge to most people.  We are looking forward to having them come and join the amazing team at MI Arca as soon as they possibly can.

AssembliesThe last week has been full of meetings and presentations and it has been great to be back in local schools in Amersham and encourage the children with the progress being made in the projects we support.  The big news was the soft launch of the sponsored walk I am planning this summer from Costa Rica to Guatemala.  The 750 mile walk will take me through 5 countries, walking 30 marathons during 30 days spread over 5 weeks with the aim to raise funds for the projects in Central America and try and highlight the work we are doing to make a difference to the lives of hundreds of vulnerable children.

I just need to work on the website and then you will be able to check out the route, sponsor me and join in by walking the walk.  The Walk the Walk challenge is for supporters to choose a day during the summer holidays when they can walk with me, choose their own walk, this could be a local long distance walk, and then to tell me via the website so that I will be encouraged each day to see that someone, somewhere is walking with me.  It might be you can only walk around your garden, or from one town to the other or a short walk in the country, but I would hope everyone could find somewhere they can walk on one of the days of our sponsored walk from the 25th July to the 27th August.  Information will be on the website soon.

Vicky sellingMy last few days in Guatemala were as hectic as usual and there were moments of real excitement.  Vicky (photo) decided to leave behind the streets a couple of months ago and when we went to see her and her children they were in a desperate situation.  Leaving behind the streets is not an easy option and if there is no employment readily available it is easy to see how many fall back into street life.  Vicky was determined this was not going to happen to her.

Vicky had a dream of running her own business, no matter how simple, and was determined that she would support herself and her children and that all her children would remain in education through to the end of secondary school.  Her idea was to sell sweets and other items in the centre of the city.  She had already found someone who could sell her an old supermarket trolley and had the plan to use the trolley as her mobile shop.  When she came to me with the idea and budget I thought it would be cool to help her bring it to reality.  So for £250 we invested in her idea with the commitment to pay the money back over the next 6 months.

Within the week Vicky had the loan, had bought her shopping trolley, spent a couple of hours cleaning it up and then bought all her supplies and was ready to hit the road.  We helped her as much as we could and then she set off one afternoon with a huge smile of pride on her face.  It was her dream, her energy and her commitment that was rather infectious and it was her children who would reap the benefits.  Just love it!

Moises with cerealFor those following us on Facebook you would probably have read the story of the day we ran out of cereal at The Centre in Guatemala City.  Our Centre for children and young people in the mentoring programme is run under the banner of Mi Arca and we don´t have spare funds to offer food to the children each day but have been able to provide a bowl of cereal for those who come hungry.  I remember the day we ran out of cereal and I was wondering how we would now supply the kids who came later that day with something to eat.

Amazingly in the early afternoon of the same day a supporter dropped by the centre with a donation of cereal.  He knew nothing of our need and his car was full of boxes of cereal.  It was another miracle and we were thankful to God for all he provides for us every day.  The kids were happy and all went away full that day and every day since.  This is little Moises with his arms full, helping us store the cereal into our cupboards.

street boysIn the midst of our rejoicing there was sadness as the doorbell in the Centre sounded and three boys who live on the streets stood there smiling and holding out their arms for a hug.  Brandon, together with Josué and Quennel had come by to chat with us about many things including their willingness to eat anything that was going spare.  Frank, our coordinator of the mentoring programme, spent nearly an hour with them, sitting on the pavement, sharing jokes and listening to their stories and looking for opportunities of speaking love and acceptance into their lives.

As I took this photo I wondered where these boys would go if the Centre was not open and available to them.  So, thanks to all of you who have got behind this project as it really is changing lives and keeping children safe.

Saturday 14th May 2016

I have just finished a chat with a 16-year-old boy who is struggling with making good decisions in his life and was seeking my advice.  He is a drug dealer and user and has been involved in local robberies and other crimes and feels lost, lonely and that his only option is to self-destruct.

I feel his pain and can see exactly where his mind is taking him as I was at his stage as a teenager and so tried to explain to him where his life will end up unless he makes the decision to allow us to help him.  His presence on the streets is increasing now and two nights ago was completely out of his mind and trying to provoke fights with other boys on the streets.  Another lost boy who is not yet desperate enough to receive the help he clearly needs.

Life here does not allow us much time for reflection but this blog enables me to think through the discussions I have had and what I have experienced, and then share this with you in the hope you will understand more of the world I live in.

Girl illSoon after my return from Honduras one of the girls we had been helping in our mentoring programme became very ill with severe stomach pains.  Due to the time of day and the severity of her pain I took the decision to take her to a local private clinic rather than the main government-run hospital.

The poor little girl was in a lot of pain and with both parents in prison we had to act in her best interests and take control.  Many hours and tests later we left the emergency room at the clinic and headed back to the Centre.  We made the decision, under guidance from the doctor, to allow her and her siblings to stay at the Centre for the next three days until she started to feel stronger.

Having three children living at the Centre was a challenge and those of you reading who are parents know the hard work that is needed in getting three children through a day.  Thankfully we saw how the rest and medical support has helped her back to full health and when I invited the three of them to watch a video with me last week and saw how the girl jumped on her brother for play fighting I realised she was back to her normal self.  Despite being back to full health the family situation is one that we will need to invest a lot more time over the coming weeks in order to keep all three safe.

Brandon woundsTalking of health, Brandon was back on the streets this week after two weeks in the Mojoca refuge.  He was doing well and so we visited him and he was told us all about his desire to go into carpentry and learn the trade.  Then one day he appeared on the streets and was exceptionally high on solvents.  His health had deteriorated dramatically and when I was asked to treat his gunshot wounds I could see how fragile he was as every touch to his chest left him in great pain.

Thankfully another organization has offered to take him in and try and invest time in his rehabilitation.  We wish him well and hope not to see him on the streets as two days ago he was coughing up blood and not eating at all.  This boy seems to have something about him that means that despite the many attempts on his life and his constant health issues, he remains alive.  We are hoping these next few days will help him realise the precious nature of life and to take the opportunity given to him.

While I was on the streets this week with Hector, one of our full-time volunteers, we found ourselves with a line of boys all wanting their feet cleaned and then dusted with anti-fungal powder.

street work

It was then I noticed Pablo and Omar, both 11 and both looking still very innocent and vulnerable.  Their baby-faced smiles appeals to anyone with a heart and so they do quite well at begging on the streets.  I took the opportunity to isolate them from the group and with Hector´s help we began to discuss with them about how to stay safe on the streets.

Last week I had seen one of the boys say goodnight to me and collapse on a mattress in the streets and within seconds was fast asleep.  A few minutes later, as we were saying our goodnights to all the guys, a prolific child abuser who lives on the streets climbed in next to the boy and pulled a large blanket over both of them.  Everyone knew what was about to take place and there was little we could do as the boy has refused our help to get him off the streets.  The government agency charged with keeping children safe already has 4 written reports from us about this boy and where he is living but as yet have not acted.  It has only been 9 months!

I found it hard to sleep that night knowing how he would be the next day and so when the topic came up both boys listened intently but wanted to know the name of the person we knew was behind this.  Another boy reported abuse by this man last year as he woke up with love bites all over his body.  He has refused to give evidence and decided to move away instead.

Our conversation with the boys led to them realizing who was behind the abuse and then we gave them some advice about how they can stay safe.  They seemed in shock and we tried to offer comfort and one of the boys said he would leave the streets this weekend and so I am hoping to meet up with him tomorrow and take him home and explore options with him and his mum to keep him off the streets and hopefully start school.

Selvin MaySelvin has just called me and asked if I would go and visit him again.  I am very impressed with how he has taken to rehabilitation and when we went to visit him last week we found him happy and excited about the programme he is on.  For those of you who read this blog regularly you will remember just how bad a condition he was in a few months ago, but now is a changed young man.  His friends on the streets were shocked to see how much he had changed and put on weight and this, as always, has a positive affect on those still on the streets as it makes them think of what their life could be like away from the streets.  We continue to trust that he will stick at this programme and to dream of life when the nine months of rehab are over.

My visit to the dump this week left me feeling helpless.  The obvious need can become rather overwhelming but to see how much the rubbish had been growing each hour, due to the lack of Municipal transport, reminded me of the news that 2 weeks ago a large section of the main city rubbish dump caved in and 19 people were buried alive.

city dumpWalking on top of hundreds of tons of rubbish is not for the faint-hearted but we needed to do so in order to visit some of the families we are working with.  One family has decided not to send their boys to the mentoring programme at the Centre anymore as they think we are making a ton of money out of them.  I don´t know where that came from but in the end the amount of support they have received far outweighs any donation the charity has received over the last year.  The other family is keen for us to allow their two boys to start the mentoring programme rather than seeing them spend their days on the dump and in the streets.

Ambassador VolunteersBefore I come to an end and tell you about today I want to give a mention to the British Ambassador to Honduras, Carolyn Davidson.  Her husband Tom is the British Ambassador to Guatemala and so they live here in Guatemala City.  Carolyn started as a volunteer with us recently and came to offer to teach the children at our Centre some basic English.  From what I could see the children were learning lots and enjoying sticking notes all over things.  We are grateful to all our volunteers and when we looked through our list last week we realised we now have 50 local volunteers helping with the work in the Centre, in the office and on the streets.



David MarcoToday was a relaxing day as I had planned to celebrate the birthdays of David, who turned 13, and his brother Marco, who turned 10, two weeks ago.  I am mentoring both boys and soon after their birthday we made a chocolate cake together and then sat and talked about what we could do to celebrate this year.  Since both have grown up in La Terminal and have rarely left in they asked about going somewhere.

The somewhere led us to taking a short trip to the calm and safe city of Antigua, the original capital of Guatemala.  The city has the feel of being locked in a time gone by and is now a national heritage site and is a massive hit with tourists as well as locals all heading there for the weekend.

David and Marco thoroughly enjoyed a day out of the city and the break away was good for me also.  But I am reminded it´s all about the children so have tried to focus the fun on them today with only one indulgence when it came to buying ice creams!

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