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!

Thursday 28th April 2016

solo vinoLet me introduce you to Manuelito´s new resident – Solo Vino.  This stray dog made his way into the Manuelito Children´s Home recently and is now firmly attached to the children and the children to him.  He was named Solo Vino and when I asked the children why he was named that they told me because solo vino means “he came alone” and because he came alone then that is his name.  Can´t argue with that!

My few days at the children´s home were rewarding as always and one little boy was thrilled to see his “dad” come to be with him again.  Yesterday morning little Duncan came to knock on my door before school and I was expecting him to ask to borrow my phone for a game of plants vs. zombies.  He came in and I sat down on a chair and he just hung around my neck for about 10 minutes and then went off to school with a big smile on his face.

Duncan peepingI realised that life for him and many others in the home is often disrupted when a family member has promised to come and visit and then doesn´t turn up.  In Duncan´s case his mum had promised to come and visit on Saturday but, once again, she has not arrived and once again a little boy is crushed and feels alone in the world.  It is wrong, it´s tough and you do all you can to provide a safe and loving environment but in the end all children just want to be with a mum and a dad.  He followed me everywhere and even when I was in meetings would sit outside the buidling or look through the window (photo) and wait patiently until I was finished.  He has a strong connection with me and in his eyes I am his dad.

No mater how much you plan some special moments with the children there is nothing like a storm to disrupt plans and, at the same time, create new ones.  Last night a furious storm landed in Talanga and I could tell by the black sky and the way the wind had increased dramatically in seconds that something big was on its way.

AFE2

All plans for some activities in the dining room were replaced with everyone running for cover as objects were flying around in circles and the rain fell like bullets.  It was quite a storm and a massive lighting strike obviously hit power lines, which left us without power for the rest of the evening.  We all took shelter in the dorms and this led to some quality time of chatting about things that seemed more appropriate to darkness.  A couple of boys opened up to me and their vulnerability was comforting as they started to discuss feelings that might normally remain hidden.

I left the home with a sense that I had only started to scratch the surface of how the children are really feeling. 

My day at AFE, the project working with children from the rubbish dump in Honduras, was inspiring as always.  There seems a constant building programme going on and the current building extension is for the nursery (photo).  With numbers at capacity AFE would like to double the places they can offer to babies and toddlers who would normally spend their day on the rubbish dump.

AFE1

Since Street Kids Direct has helped to fund this programme in the past I was keen to help provide funds to help complete the work and so please do help us by making a donation online today.  This work is incredible and so many precious lives are saved through the nurture and care the AFE team provides for these young ones.  The alternative is growing up on a pile of rotting rubbish in 38 degrees of heat together with violence, abuse, contamination and neglect. 

PLEASE do share this need and help us make a difference in the lives of these vulnerable children.

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Thank you.

Sunday 24th April 2016

How do you tell a 16-year-old boy that there is a contract on his head and the killer hopes he will be dead within the week?  I suppose my world can seem strange and different to many people but each week we have to deal with some extremes and the joys and frustrations of helping vulnerable children always comes at some form of cost. 

The week passed with us saying our final goodbyes to Maricela and Miguel.  At the time of writing this we still have been unable to find Miguel´s family or any official paper that can prove his identity.  Sadly, it looks like we will have to allow the authorities to dispose of his body as XX and in Guatemala disposing means just that!

Brandon hospitalBrandon continues to improve and his recent operation was a success, so we are very grateful that he is still with us.  We have been working with him to put a plan in place for when he is released and are hopeful this time he will actually take the bold step of saying goodbye to the streets for good.

I managed to be in touch with his mum again and she agreed, with some persuasion, to visit him.  After an initial rant a beautiful moment of having mother and son reunited was experienced and I believe this will have helped Brandon to consider the option of leaving the streets.

This is the third time someone has tried to kill him and we are amazed at how he just keeps coming back to life and each time I have been with him and helped him through the operations and recovery and his early steps to leave the streets.  So here we go again and will never give up fighting for his life despite his many failures.

Coin Race GuatemalaLast Sunday was superb fun as we organised out first ever Coin Race in Guatemala.  The concept is new to the team here and even though I went through the idea of how it runs in Amersham each year, most could not grasp it until they saw it in action and were amazed by the way people were so generous.  The girls´ team had a clear win and we managed to raise over Q3,000, which was great for our first attempt.

While we were busy collecting money a man approached me who I know from working on the streets.  He came to tell me that he knew the person who shot Maricela and Miguel last week.  This time he was looking for one of the boys we work with on the streets, a 16-year-old who had apparently stolen a phone.  He went on to tell me that Brandon was involved and that he would be found and killed also.

We always take these threats seriously and so went to find the boy in question (will leave his name out here for obvious reasons), as we wanted to inform him of the threat to him and to the rest of the guys he hangs out with.  I think the word had already got out as the guys on the streets said he had not been seen since the last killings and so we warned them all of the threat.  Another concern was Brandon who was recovering well but now in danger all over again.

Just when you think you make some progress then something comes along to try and dampen any confidence you have that change is possible and that you can help these young people and keep them all safe.  At the time of writing both are safe but we pray for their safety and for them to make the right choice and leave the streets.  We hold onto hope and won´t give up until they are living the fullness of life we talk about so much these days.

Oscar and mumOn a brighter note, on Wednesday I accompanied Oscar, one the boys I mentor, and his mum on a trip to a beautiful town called Panajachel.  Oscar and I had been exploring what it means to be family and how he has been keeping his mum safe and making some really good decisions to help her during a recent stay in hospital.  It was clear to me that he had done so well and when I asked him about his mum I discovered that she had never had a day off.  This led to us planning a special activity for her.

The day was memorable as we enjoyed a boat ride, a walk around two villages that specialised in local crafts and then a great meal at a restaurant that overlooked the lake.  While we ate Oscar told his mum how much she means to him and his speech led us all to shed a tear.  It was a special moment and I know his mum appreciated the talk and went on to thank me for the support we have given to Oscar.  He is one incredible person and has overcome so much in turning his back on the streets.  Hope indeed does not disappoint us.

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