Friday 10th March, 2017

This has been a tough week but also one that has had some very exciting moments.  I have decided it would be best to write first about the amazing things that have happened and then write another blog about the tragedy of the fire in the secure children´s home here in Guatemala City.

sleeping on the streetsOur visit to the guys in La Casona is always a mix of joy and sadness.  I find Brandon asleep on the streets and had expected him to be waiting for me because I had driven past an hour earlier and found him begging at the traffic lights.  He knocked on my darkened window for money and when I wound it down and he saw me he smiled and asked if I was visiting later.

Gerson was still unwell and was telling me again how bad his eyesight has now become.  He asked very respectfully is he could borrow my phone to play a game on it called Talking Carl.  It is a simple game but Gerson loves it.  I watch him squat down and play on the phone and interact with it like a small 6-year-old boy would with two actions figures.

JosueAfter our time there we head back to The Centre and I meet with Josué, one of the older boys in the programme.  Josué, is 16 and like so many his age, are now at school at the weekend and working during the week.  Saldy Josué had not been able to find work.  He is a hard worker and despite his slim build he is very strong due to the many lorries he has had to unload in La Terminal.  One day he worked all-day and late into the night and was exhausted by the end but was only paid $2!

I had spoken with one of the bosses at a local hardware store and asked if he would give Josué a chance.  Things had been tough for them, as a company, and they were not looking to take on another worker.  I knew that he would have a good job here and so offered the incentive of paying for the first few months salary if they would train him.  The boss was very excited about helping him and since it came at no cost for the time being he was willing to take him on board.  We hope this works out for Josué as I know he will use his salary to help support his family rather than spend it on himself.

MosesThe good start to the week continued with little Moses telling me how much he loved school and was doing well.  One day he had to go dressed to celebrate the day of the Indian.  Being in the mentoring programme means that we get deeply involved in the lives of the kids and have the joy of seeing how much they change as they grow.  Another one off the streets and in school!

Joseph Soden and me had been talking together about the next big project – the Protection Home.  We had recorded a short video and wanted to launch an appeal for funds to help us buy the home we are currently renting and transform it into a short-term weekly boarding home for the most vulnerable kids we work with, as well as develop a second mentoring centre there.  It is quite an exciting project and I am sure you will be hearing more about it as the weeks go by but there is more about this on our website.

Front houseThe purchase price is $240,000 and then we would need to refurbish the home in four different phases starting with the actual living accommodation for the children.  We had promises and one donation that came to between $40,000 - $50,000 and quite a way short of the money needed to buy it.  Then I had a phone call!

A couple called me one evening to ask me a series of questions about the home and how it would look and be run.  I know there are still so many things to work out and budgets to prepare and permissions to obtain, but we are excited about what we feel God wants of us and of this place.  As the questions were answered I was informed that they both felt before God that they wanted to help us and offered us a donation of $200,000!  It was one incredible phone call and we are thankful to them and to God for this amazing answer to prayer.

We are now moving forwards to buy the property and will soon be launching an appeal from now to the end of the summer to help refurbish the place, buy all that the home needs and see how we can make the dream come true.  Joseph Soden, from Amersham in the UK, has offered stay on and head this project up for us.  Exciting times indeed.

Sunday 5th March, 2017

dumpWe had been visiting the rubbish dump at the far end of the bustling Terminal – Central America´s largest market - and Diego, one of the young boys who works on the dump, came and threw his arms around my waist.  He smiled as I looked down at him and gave him a hug and he buried his face into my side and just hung on for a while.  “Can I come and talk to you later”, he asked.  Of course he could and so we agreed to meet up that evening as he said he wanted to tell me something.

It was already turning into another long day and we still had to move on to a notorious area of La Terminal where we had helped re-build tin shacks (homes) after the fire last year.  Even during the day the place is dark, but the sun does its best to penetrate through the maze of alleyways and tin shacks to provide spots of sunshine where hundreds of pieces of clothing are hung up high to dry.

I always greet the dogs first.  It´s a wise move and guarantees they get to know you don´t attack you.  They smell me, jump all over me and rub up against me while expecting a patting and some attention before they allow you to say hi to the many families that live there.

lonely in the streetsThree young boys appear from the shadows and two run and give me a hug while the third boy stands at a distance.  He is new to the scene and it takes a while before he trusts me with a street-style handshake.  The boy is 10 and has a baby face and despite sniffing solvents he looks surprisingly innocent.  His two little friends, who are also sniffing solvents, ask me if I have any games and so we step out into the sunshine and take out the game of Loto.  All three boys try and concentrate on the game, but the solvent is winning until Claire, one of our volunteers, tells me she has a bag of chocolate to give out.  This gets their attention as I explain that the winner of each round will win some chocolate.

There are still many young children with more skin infections and are constantly scratching and pulling at their skin while they play with us.  One little boy, who can´t be more than 18 months old, is wandering around on his own in cute blue pyjamas.  Am I the only one who thinks that this is bad?  He seems lost and looks to anyone around him for love and keeps lifting up his arms, but no one takes any notice until Joseph (another volunteer) and Claire try and give him some attention.  He wants more and begins to follow them around to the point where we are wondering what to do because, as we leave, he follows behind us.  Then his mother appears and drags him off by his arm and he is gone.

feeding boysThe three boys catch up with us and tell me they have not eaten anything that day and are now hungry.  We wouldn´t normally take kids out for meals but we wouldn´t normally do a lot of things!  Just around the corner is a canteen that is now serving budget meals and so all three boys sit down and enjoy a hot meal.  We say our goodbyes and head back to drop off Claire so she can get her bus home.  She is brave.  There are not many 19-year-old American females who would use the bus everyday.

Waiting for me at The Centre, our first mentoring centre on the edge of La Terminal, are two boys who want to ask me to help them setup a business selling fruit in a market on the outskirts of the city.  They would like to make good choices and be productive with their lives instead of being on the streets.  I can only help with a small loan but they leave happy and determined to make something of the loan.

Then Diego arrives and asks if he can come in and talk with me.  He is fresh from the rubbish dump and so the smell of the dump is still quite pungent but this does not stop him having a hug and he sits in the kitchen and asks me how I am.  I talk about my last trip back to the UK and he is full of questions.  Despite being 10, Diego does seem wise beyond his age and I love the way he asks deep probing questions.

As if it was part of a conversation we were already having, Diego blurts out: “and I am not living with my mum anymore”.  This is clearly what he wanted to come and talk with me about and so I let him continue, as I feel there is a lot more to come.  Last year Diego had got into all sorts of difficult situations including us trying to have him removed from his mother´s care and getting involved with a man who he wanted to live with as, in his words: “he is kind to me and kisses me a lot”.  Diego is a boy at risk but is packed with intelligence and potential and I look into his little ruddy face and just wish he could have been born in another part of the world or in different circumstances.

There is a beautiful moment of silence where we sit and look at each other and there seems no need for either of us to talk.  After a while I ask Diego where he is living now if he is not with his mum.  “The same place”, he tells me.  He little chin starts to wobble and tears well up in his red eyes.  He continues to sob but says: “I am there with my sister and brother but mum left us and now I feel alone”.  I ask him if he would like a hug and he throws his arms around my neck and cries.

I always wish I could take them all home and care for them and moments like this are so hard to move on from.  I can´t just say: “well, I wish you well and hope your mum comes back”.  At the same time I can´t make a promise like: “come home and live with me”.  I try and navigate somewhere in between and will commit myself to keep visiting him and helping him cope with the tough hand he has been dealt.

Going home to bed is hard tonight, as I know I have a bed to rest in and food to eat and know that I will be safe as I sleep.  There are so many who won´t. 

Friday 24th February - Just an average week!

My week has been rather eventful and so I thought you would like to know of the progress as well as the frustrations of living and working in Guatemala City with high-risk children and youth.

Feb. Streets2Apart from having four people with us from the UK and one from the US, I have seen new mentors join the programme and enjoyed the squeals and laughter from the children coming to our Centre in Guatemala City.  I can never underestimate the impact the Centre has on the lives of these children and young people and know that, in the years to come, many will give great testimonies of how this place has impacted their lives.

Out on the streets the reality is just so starkly different and the contrast as we walk from the Centre to visit the children at risk in the streets and those living there full-time takes some getting used to.

We head down the 5th and find a small group of young adults abusing solvents and engage them in a conversation while three of their dogs sniff us out and check that we are not a threat.  Having passed their test, we sit and hear the stories of how their week has gone.  I am always sad to hear just how boring it all sounds as I know that each person is packed with potential but those childhood dreams of a happy future seem to have been robbed from them many years ago.

As we move down the 5th we walk into a brothel and begin to say hi to the adults and children, who are all very happy to see me and ask how my Christmas was and if I had brought them anything from the UK. My standard response is “yes, I brought you a hug”, but despite this provoking smiles they live in hope that one day I will come back from a trip with something very special.  I have this before but not many remember and whatever I bring is either lost or traded.

Sitting chatting with the children I wonder how long it will be before they are involved themselves in the business of prostitution.  One 9-year-old girl sits at the entrance and takes money from clients and hands then a wad of tissue paper and then returns to a conversation with me about her schoolwork. 

Feb. Strteets 1Moving on to visit another group, we head to La Casona and I am expecting a negative reception as I have been away a lot recently and I know, from all the missed calls on my mobile, that some have been desperate to talk with me.  However, as we turned the corner into the road where around 20 young adults and children live it was comforting to be welcomed like a long lost friend with hugs and a huge smile from Gerson.

Mark, Rosalie, Claire and me begin to wash feet, attend to wounds, play games and chat about their lives.  Gerson tells me that he is losing his sight and that he was struggling to focus on objects and people as they became blurry more often now.  He sits and sniffs on a small rag that he clenches in his sun-scorched hands and looks at me and smiles and tells me it is good to have his dad back.

Our last visit is to a group of families living in the heart of La Terminal.  We come across an 8-year-old drug dealer, a little 4-month-old baby with her young teenage parents, little Justin (photo with me) who was suffering greatly last year with impetigo and various young children crying and hitting each other.  I knew this would be a challenging time!

The talk was of one of the young girls who had apparently been arrested last year for running a child prostitution ring in La Terminal.  When the 13-year-old girl was placed in a secure home we thought that the situation was under control.  But sadly I was told of how the business was now continuing and how people were worried for the young girls they knew who were being tempted into the trade.

Feb.Terminal 1It breaks your heart and you can´t help but look around at the faces of the children and see the loss of innocence and I wish I could just take them to a much happier place where they can enjoy swings, toys, rolling around on green grass and a hundred and one other things that I would love to see children doing.  I wish the world could be a safer and kinder place for children.

I pop into a shack where two boys are waking up and preparing to wander the streets and abuse solvents.  One of them is keen to see me and that is surprising as the last time I saw him he wanted to hurl rocks and abuse at me for not taking him on a special outing.  I would have taken him but his behaviour was just too risky.  Anyway, he smiles and is so blown away that I had remembered to bring him something back from the UK – a small toy double decker bus.  For a few moments he knows that someone has been thinking about him and you just can´t wipe the smile off his face.

It´s now time to complete our street work and head back to the Centre for a meeting with a group of boys who would like to start their own business rather than get into, what they term, “bad behaviours on the streets”.  And then home to bed!im if hishaves and m if he have t me for not taking him on a special outing.  I would have taken him if he hadnethem is keen to

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