Sunday 24th July
I am sitting in Costa Rica in the middle of a huge thunderstorm and writing up my blog before the sponsored walk begins tomorrow. For those who have just joined us here, I will be walking 760 miles from Costa Rica to Guatemala in order to raise funds for the projects we support in Honduras and Guatemala with street-living and high-risk children and youth.
Just before leaving Guatemala for Costa Rica I was invited on another TV show called “Interesting People” and they featured the work and me with Mi Arca in Guatemala. The name of the show takes me back to a Monty Python sketch and I´m not sure that I am that interesting, but two programmes have now been made of me on this show and the second one focused on the walk and finished with me being presented a special recognition plaque for the team at Mi Arca.
So, a quick look back over the last week just in case you have been thinking I have spent the week resting up for the trip! That was the plan, by the way, but too many situations demanded my time.
I can´t say I enjoy celebrating my birthday, never have really. But others got to hear about it and then the kids at the Centre started to make me cards and the Mi Arca team bought me a cake and we celebrated together. What was encouraging was coming home at the end of the day and finding three cards on the doorstep of my room at the Centre. Three of the girls had obviously spent a long time working on these and then left a note stuck to my door with an arrow just in case I missed the cards.
A few hours before I had been given an amazing cake by Cindy, one of our volunteers, and had decided to take this out to one of the groups of street youths we work with and celebrate with them. The guys were very excited and said that they all wanted to pray for me before we ate the cake and to say thanks for our support. It really was a special time together and the two youngest boys were rather taken aback by us wanting to share such a beautiful cake with them.
The following day we had a ton of things planned by all that took a back seat to the need that was presented to us. One of the boys who comes most days looked rather glum and when I asked him if he wanted to talk he said no and so I left it expecting him to open up a bit later. A couple of hours later one of our team came to me and asked me to talk with him and his younger brother.
We get to hear some tough things from the kids each week and often it can be overwhelming. This time it was another story of abuse at home and abandonment to the degree that the boy just could not contain the pain anymore and just melted into a heap and sobbed profoundly. One of our team comforted him as I sat with his little brother to hear his story and listen to more tears. No school or college can ever prepare you for this stuff but at least we could be there for them both and be available to listen.
It was clear we needed to take action and report the abuse to the authorities. On our drive over to the courthouse in the late evening traffic I began to wonder if this time we would see results. The Guatemalan care system for children is not that great but we are hoping that new initiatives and relations with the PGN (Guatemala´s legal service for children) will lead to a much brighter future for those kids who are currently suffering intolerable things.
On our arrival at the courthouse we are told that for today the judge would not be available to hear cases regarding children and were sent to another court that is open 24 hours a day. We checked in and began to explain the situation to a seemingly caring representative of the childcare system. The process began with us hand writing a report of the situation and then the worker telling us that both boys would now need to be kept under the protection of the court until a place could be found for them.
An hour later and as we headed towards midnight the boys were complaining of being hungry and bored. The worker at the court had been going through her list of approved homes and calling each one to see if they could take the boys. All declined and so her only option was to send both boys to the children´s prison saying that it was not ideal. That was an understatement! Both would be put into a secure unit with hundreds of boys who had been arrested for numerous offences including abusing children, drug dealing and gang membership. I knew both would suffer so much more abuse there and so we decided to withdraw the allegation and leave.
Until we could find a place for both boys our only option was to alert the family to our intentions and seek some form of support for both boys until a home could be found. It is so hard when the oversaturated children´s home system can´t take in kids like these and offer them protection. I can understand why so many say they are safer on the streets!
The evening´s events made me continue to pray for the need we have for a protection home. We already have the building for the moment but need the funds and the staff and volunteers to make it all happen. It will become another project for fundraising but this will increase our annual financial commitment to Guatemala quite considerable. But we just can´t do nothing.
I had the chance to visit two children and their family this week that have been through some tough times. The two children had been left as orphans when their mother, Maricela, was gunned down on the streets a few months ago here in Guatemala City. One of the things Maricela asked me to do a week before she died was to help her take care of her kids. When I met them both I was aware they were in a situation of risk and if no one took care of them they would soon end up on the streets.
The road to the little shack that is precariously clinging to the side of a hill is not an easy drive. On arrival little Jorge, who I find walking in the street, meets me and asks for a lift to where the road ends. The short 50m drive brings us to a point where I have to leave the car and pray that it will be still there when I get back, as it´s an area that sees its fair share of violence and gang activity. We walk down a dirt track and I find a dog right behind me trying to bite my legs. Eventually we climb down the track where the stench from the contaminated river makes me want to heave, but the boy seems to have got used to it.
I spend time with the children and those caring for them and explore options and then two large cards are produced and presented to me. The children give me ample supply of hugs and beg me to come back and visit them ASAP but I have to explain that I will be on the walk for the next five weeks. Our team will keep an eye on them and hope for a better future for them soon.
The news that the girl we had rescued a couple of weeks ago from a very abusive situation is doing well in a loving home is of great encouragement. We have been asked to give her the space she needs to recover and realise that the abusive life that she was so used to day after day is not the norm and that another life can exist for her. We wish her well but are now focused on the other girls in a similar situation. I can´t go into details due to a legal clause that could put her, us and others in great danger. All I can say is that we are doing all we can to keep them all safe from harm.
Finally, I spent time with the two boys I am mentoring, Oscar and Moses. Both are doing well in their academic life but I have been concerned by the challenges both are facing. Little Moses (photo) confides in me that he is unhappy with his life and asks again if he can come and live with me. He is only eight and really needs a constant male presence in his life. I know he will suffer a lot over the next five weeks with me away and I know I will also find it hard, as I have grown fond of the boy. I pray that God keeps all these kids safe and that the team has the wisdom to help support them.
Thanks to everyone who has got involved in the Walk the Walk Challenge this summer and if you have not signed up to walk with me on one of the days over the next five weeks then please do so. Thanks also to those who have sponsored me and are organising all sorts of events in Honduras and Guatemala for when I arrive at the border. I hope I don´t disappoint and make it all the way to Guatemala City.