Monday 23rd September 2019

It seems like everyone is ill at the moment, mostly with dengue.  I remember having dengue on the first Camino por Amor walk and it came to my attention when someone asked me why my t-shirt was covered in blood!  Having dengue is not great to be honest and the virus can come back and haunt you further along the line and in some cases can lead to death if not treated quickly.

Jesus on dumpGiven the fact that the rainy season is in its last throws, the increase in the number of mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus has also increased.  We are visiting those affected and taking medicine and other things that will help with both the reduction of temperature and replenishment of lost fluids.

I was most aware of mosquitoes the other week when I went with Pete to visit Jesus and Marcos, as Jesus was keen to show me his new house.  The visit left me shaken to be honest as Marcos squatted down on the floor and just cried.  He was overwhelmed by his life and had got to the end and could not cope any more.  Their mum was crying and I was trying my best to comfort them knowing that as I was doing so I was been bitten by numerous mosquitoes.  Their little shack (photo below) was alive with them and so I went back a few days later with long lasting repellents that will mean the place is free from insects for the next few weeks.

Jesus is known to many as the boy who, thanks to Willie Reid, was given a camera to take photographs of his life on the rubbish dump.  Willie then produced a calendar featuring the photos and the sale of them went to supporting them for two years.

Jesus houseLife has hit Jesus, Marcos and his mum very hard and they lost all they had recently in a fire.  So now they start yet again with nothing, and that is distressing to see.

My frustrations at seeing just how they were living has led me to a personal crusade to find them alternative accommodation and to buy them beds, a table and three chairs.  This will dramatically transform their lives and thanks to those who had responded to some pictures I posted on Facebook, we might be able to help a little with the costs.  In the long term I believe they will need to be sponsored each month as there is no way the mum can bring up these boys on the little she earns on the rubbish dump.  Some days all they have gained from a hard day working on the dump, as I saw when I visited, is a small bag of tomatoes.

I know we can make a difference and being here and being able to respond to the needs all around is a privilege indeed.

Each year on the 15th September we celebrate Guatemala´s independence.  This year the celebrations have been as noisy and disruptive as always and I can only imagine what it will be like in two years’ time when we celebrate 200 years of independence.

independence dayThe kids just love the run up to the day, the 15th of September, and many are keen to be part of their school marching bands.  The discipline involved in the many hours of practice is something we encourage as it keeps them off the streets, in school longer and focused on positive cultural activities that can only help strengthen their feeling of being part of their society and something much bigger than themselves.

Our annual walk/ run from our mentoring centre to the central plaza not far away is an exciting event.  We gather with our torches and march or run down the cycle path on one of the main streets and meet hundreds on the way all blowing whistles and waving flags and then get our torches lit from the central flame.  The run back to the centre is just as much fun, but now with new meaning as we take the flame of independence back to our centre and celebrate together while coping with tired, but happy kids who are now covered in blue and white paint. 

Sunday 8th September 2019

I love my work and yesterday was one of those days when all the recent difficult times just disappeared when Lorenzo came to stay at the Protection Home in Guatemala City.

Lorenzo home1On Sunday evening I went with Pete Silverman, who is currently visiting from Tunbridge Wells in the UK, to see 15-year-old Lorenzo and to check on how he is doing.  I had been very impressed by his daily attendance at our mentoring centre, coming every day this year to do his homework in the morning before heading off at noon to school.  His grades had improved quite substantially, and all this despite Spanish not being his first language.

Lorenzo and his family are from Quiche, an isolated area in the northern jungles of Guatemala.  They came to Guatemala City, like so many have done over the years, to find work and follow the dream of a better life.  Mostly they end up living in marginalised areas of the capital, where poverty, violence and lack of resources begins to define their daily lives.

Entering into Lorenzo´s house is an experience that any visitor says they will never forget.  Their house is a tin shack, built alongside 20 others in a space most people would consider building one family home.  It is squashed and the lack of electric and water compounds the suffering of the families there.  But they are resilient and work hard to try and find ways to not only sustain their lives, but to find alternative accommodation.  In Lorenzo´s family, this won´t be possible for many years to come.

Lorenzo homeHis mum works when she can, as she has to look after a growing number of children, many of whom are now grandchildren, and find ways to entertain them in such a small space.  The home is about the size of two queen-size beds and with 13 people sleeping on the dirt floor, it does become a very crowded place indeed.

I sit with Pete on little plastic stools and explain to the family how Lorenzo will spend his time with us and why we are giving him the opportunity to enjoy a night in the Protection Home.  They all listen intently and Pete explains where he is from while the children become excited by the little games we play while we talk.

The conversation takes us to a discussion with Maria, Lorenzo´s (not much) older sister, who is breastfeeding her little baby.  She tells us that Alex, who is just 7 months old, is crying all the time and recently had to spend a short time in hospital.  It was while she was in hospital with him and with her 4-year-old son, who had been suffering from convulsions, that the doctor informed her that the baby has the genetic disorder Down syndrome.  She asked me what is was and went on to ask if the baby was like this because she used to argue with her husband.  There are so many tales of how indigenous populations, and Guatemala has a very high percentage of them, suffer from lack of information and tales passed down through the years.  I knew we would have to do something and so agreed I would look for a charity in the city that would offer her the support she needs.

Lorenzo tvWe return to the discussion of Lorenzo and his night in the Protection Home.  All the forms completed and signed, even though no one apart from Lorenzo can actually read or write, Lorenzo can prepare himself for a night in the home and then the following day to visit a friend of mine who is a doctor.  I am hoping this will keep Lorenzo focused on his studies and on his dream of becoming a doctor.

We have been testing out our systems for when children start coming most days into the home and this will be a great test as it is only one boy and one who I know will pose little difficulty for us.  

Lorenzo arrives at the home and is taken through the short induction that includes how to use the bed, the toilet, the shower and the rest of the house.  This will be his first night in a bed and so we want it to be very special for him.  When I showed him how to use the shower he was keen to try it out and discovered the joy of hot water for the first time.  Most things from this point on are a first for him!  About 40 minutes later I need to check on him as it seems a rather long time in the shower.  He is just having fun and enjoying the experience and then comes out and changes into the pyjamas we bought for him.  It will also be the first time he has not slept in his day clothes and shoes!

Lorenzo docWe move on to cooking dinner and then have a great evening watching a movie that makes him laugh and relax.  He is enjoying all the attention and we finish by settling him into bed and praying with him.  This will also be the first time he has slept alone, but with three guys just up the corridor he does not seem that bothered and, in the morning, wakes looking like he has just returned from a long relaxing holiday.

The home will soon be open all the time, as soon as we have found the funds, and then many more girls and boys will be able to benefit from enjoying all manner of things for the very first time.

His time with us ends with a visit to the doctor´s clinic where he learns what it means to be a doctor and how to treat patients.  He tries his hand at ultrasound treatment on my knee and is full of questions about injuries and healing.  I think his heart has been greatly encouraged and I am hopeful this will lead to many more opportunities with the doctor when school is over in October.  I drop him back to our centre and he gives me a hug, something he could not do last year.  His smile is infectious and I am grateful that I can serve these kids a see real change in them.  Thanks for your support.

Saturday 24th August 2019

I had to laugh this week with Damaris who told me that she was getting annoyed with her little sister Jackie for waking her up early in the morning.  Damaris is 14 and lives with her mum and dad, two young sisters and two younger brothers in a room that her parents rent at the rear of an alcoholic bar.  It is not a great place to be honest, but it is home and is safer than being on the streets.

JackieI discovered, as I have already written about this in a previous blog, that the youngest child, 4-year-old Jackie, was working in a restaurant for 10p a day.  Thanks to the support of a person in Amersham, we were able to get Jackie into a private nursery and this has obviously changed her life quite dramatically.

The only issue is that Jackie has to get the school bus before 6:45am every morning and Damaris has to drop her off and then rush to school herself.  Jackie, all very excited about being in nursery, has been waking up before 5am, getting dressed and then waits by the door to be taken to the bus.  Damaris complained that she wanted to sleep a bit longer and was annoyed with her sister for waking her up.

It was all quite funny, but I could see she was annoyed and so sat down with her and held her hand and said: “remember the day we found you all on the streets?”.  She had been wandering around with her four younger siblings all day in La Terminal in order to stay safe and find food.  She worked hard as an 11-year-old girl looking after her siblings and began to cry when she remembered how hard she fought to keep them all alive.  Surely taking Jackie to the bus was a big step forward and she agreed that it was a trivial complaint given the desperate conditions they used to live in and was crying and newly committed to helping her little sister have the chance she wished she had at that age.

My weekends usually start at lunchtime on Friday when I pick Moses up from school and from then on it is full-time mentoring till Sunday evening.  It is one of the three things I enjoy most about my work here and one day I hope to dedicate more time to this area of work when Alex Denton moves out here for a year in January to help me with the admin load.

aventureros1The Saturday gang, self-named “The Adventurers” have been mainly hanging out in the Protection Home on Saturdays and resting as their school weeks have been much more demanding as the school term comes to an end in October and many are involved in the school marching bands (more about this in the next blog).  The boys enjoy getting out of the city and so a climb up the Pacaya volcano, an active volcano an hour drive from the capital, resulted in their energies renewed and because it rained and they all got wet it was “the best time ever”.

Sundays are usually spent visiting individual boys and every other Sunday a visit to Santa Fas, a slum area on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  My trip this past Sunday was a challenge as the two boys I visited there were desperate for us to accept two other boys in the mentoring programme.  So, I had to visit their families and begin the evaluation process as well as a social study we do of each of the families we work with.  It is hard to say no to new children, but when I met them and heard their stories I could not say no and so the group has now grown to four!  

ludvinThe first boy I visit is called Ludvin (photo right with his mum) and he is 9 and lives with his mum, dad and younger sister in a shack that is so close to the edge of the mountain I found it hard to look down at the ground below.  If this side of the mountain ever gave way… well, I don´t even want to begin to think about what could happen.  Ludvin is a vulnerable boy to be sure and his living conditions are not that great.  The most urgent thing is to see how we could help repair his roof, as he and his sister get wet when it rains in the night.

The other boy is called Jonatan, which is easy to remember as the second boy in the group is also called Jonatan and the first is called Jonny.  It would be cool if Ludvin could change his name to Jonatan, but since I have told him about Ludwig van Beethoven, he prefers to keep his name and enjoy me calling him Beethoven.  Jonatan is more on the margins of the risk scale and his connection to the streets is not as great as the others, but we begin the evaluation and see if we can help him also.

The first Jonatan, and I understand this might cause problems now with the number of boys with similar names, has done so well in school this year and has really focused on getting exceptional grades and making positive choices in his life.  However, his living conditions are not that conducive to study or to a stable life, but he does have a caring and supportive mum.  We just need to deal with the abusive uncle living next door!