Saturday 9th July

Having had one year now to reflect back on the official start of our mentoring programme I am so encouraged to see the results and how the simplicity of intentional friendship changes lives.

It has been a busy time since my last blog as we have had more people join the mentoring programme, some serious abuse disclosures to deal with, a trip down to Honduras and lots of preparation and training for the sponsored walk this summer.  So I will take you through the events and thank you now for your interest and hope you get through the blog without falling asleep!

David Marco2David and Marco are two brothers and live in La Terminal in Guatemala City. David is 13 and Marco is 10 and both are in a situation that necesitates some of my time each week until we can find mentors for them.

On a recent special visit we went to Antigua, it was their first time here and their second time out of La Terminal.  For those new to the blog, La Terminal is the largest market area in Central America and where hundreds of children live in poverty and at risk and where we focus a lot of our time and attention.  They could not contain their excitement during the car journey and less so as we wandered around Antigua where everything was “amazing”, “cool” and new for them.

Both boys are doing well at school and not involved in street life but could easily become so as most children in the block where they live have already started that journey.  Prevention is easier at this stage and will mean fewer children living on the streets in the years to come.

I meet them every Monday and we usually spend some time cooking together as they enjoy this activity and then have the joy of eating what we have cooked but will always save some food to take back home with them.  Their basic diet is not that good and so I tend to spoil them a bit.

David EmmaTwo week´s ago Frank, who coordinates the mentoring programme, asked the boys to help him complete an evaluation form about how they felt about mentoring and then I was sent their replies.  I had no idea Frank was doing this but was very touched by what both boys had to say.  David had written in the comments section “Duncan has always been there in the most happiest moments of my life”.  He went to say his happiest day in his life so far was going with me to Antigua.

David has been in need of a bit of extra help with a speech difficulty and I was able to ask for Emma Perez´s help.  Emma (photo) and her husband Hector live here in Guatemala and volunteer full-time for the Mi Arca project and work with us on the streets.  Emma just happens to also be a speech therapist and so got stuck in with David who is already speaking much clearer and enjoying the fact that we can understand him better.

Mentoring is costly as it takes up a lot of time.  You need to prepare for the mentoring session, be in the mentoring session and then feedback through the diary your thoughts of how it went and what could be improved.  As issues come up in the lives of the kids you have to get involved and that means taking them for check ups, rushing them to hospital, visiting their home and school and being available for them as and when they need to talk or just turn up and cry.

So, seeing new children and mentors begin the journey together is of great personal encouragement.  We are nearly half way through the year and still need to find another 25 new mentors in order to help the 25 most vulnerable children enjoy this experience and get the support and encouragement that they need.

OscarOn Father´s Day recently I was given a rewarding surprise from 16-year-old Oscar who had worked very hard in the week in a tyre factory to earn money to support his family and the little he had for himself he brought a football shirt.  When I saw it I thought he looked great in it and then he turned around to show me what was on the back.  Words cannot describe what I felt and am very grateful to God for what I am seeing of how the lives of these kids are changing.

One of our newest mentors is Sergio, a very successful businessman in Guatemala City who showed great interest in the mentoring programme at the beginning of the year.  Recently he signed up for the training programme and then was paired with 12-year-old Lorenzo.  We are in early days but I can see how Lorenzo looks forward to spending time with Sergio each week and reviewing his schoolwork.  Sergio is totally focused on Lorenzo and it is great to see how this mentoring relationship is developing trust between them and keeping Lorenzo off the streets and in school.

Embassy chequeOn a different note, a few months ago I was informed that the British Embassy had decided that all the funds from their charity ball this year would go our work with Mi Arca.  I had to give a speech in front of hundreds of people, ambassadors, government officials, heads of business, etc. and seemed to have won many over to our cause.

When all the funds were counted we were invited to the British Residence with eight children from the mentoring programme to receive a cheque for Q82,000, that is about £7,000.  We are so grateful for this money as it will help us keep going over the next few months and help fund our mentoring programme and the prevention work on the streets.  I wanted to take this opportunity of thanking the British Embassy and community for their support this year and in particular Tom and Carolyn Carter, British Ambassadors to Guatemala and Honduras, for their enthusiastic support of our work.

Last week I had to pop down to Honduras in order to prepare the Manuelito and AFE projects for the sponsored walk this summer.  On my arrival at the airport I was met by a TV crew who wanted to cover the story and was then invited by another station to be featured on a TV programme that evening.  It felt somewhat surreal but managed to get through the interviews and plug the walk.  We had instant responses from people who offered to walk with us and one cycle group said they would cycle with us part of the route.  The TV station offered to cover the story daily when we arrived at the Honduran border.

Honduras TVThe AFE and Manuelito projects both have their own fundraising pages and so please do consider donating to them directly if you feel an affinity with their projects specifically or please do support me through the Street Kids Direct giving page as all the money I raise their will be distributed to the various projects we support in Guatemala and Honduras.

Yesterday I hobbled back from a 73km walk from Guatemala City to Antigua and back again.  I will be walking only 40km a day from the 25th of July, from Costa Rica to Guatemala.  The 1,200km journey will take me through 5 countries and will mean me finding a “safe” place to camp each night, but I will have two support vehicles now thanks to a friend in Guatemala and the AFE project in Honduras.

Danilo walkRecently we invited four of the fittest kids in the mentoring programme to join me walking from Antigua to Guatemala City.  At the halfway point two had left us for football training and two soldiered on.  Only one boy made it all the way to Guatemala City and is seen here in this photo with Herber and me.  12-year-old Danilo (photo) has had his life changed around through the mentoring programme and so wanted to walk as his way of saying thank you.  He trains everyday and so managed to keep up with us all the way and was of great inspiration to us as his total determination to finish brought us all to tears.

Today the Centre is full of kids running around, having fun, painting fingernails, cooking popcorn, watching TV, playing on the computers and just enjoying being children.  Their squeals and laughter are all around me as I write this blog and I am grateful to Frank and Jonathan who continue to give up their “free” time to organize events here together with the growing team of volunteers.  It´s all going really well!

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.

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