Friday 1st March 2019

I grew up enjoying movies about pirates and always had a romantic view of them until my adult life told me a very different truth. Modern-day pirates are ruthless killers and devastate lives and communities and this is no different from the piracy of the late 1600s.

Roatan1Why, you ask, am I talking about pirates in a blog on street kids?  Well, I have just spent 5 days in Roatan, a small island of the coast of Honduras. When I say small, it is in fact 36 miles long and 5 miles wide, with a population of 109,000 and 48% is under the age of 18. Roatan is an idyllic Caribbean island that most would expect to see featured on the front of any travel magazine.

The outstanding natural beauty and golden sandy beaches can easily hide the communities of black indigenous people living in poverty. The history of Roatan is one of pirates, the slave trade and then much later the British and Spanish conquistadors who settled on the island and began to develop it into a retreat for those with the money to enjoy such an island of paradise.  In 1920 Archaeologist Mitchell-Hedges moved to the island and began to explore.  He found several pirate chests gold and silver and snuck them off the island and sold them in England.  Many still believe there is treasure to find on the island, but few would consider that the greatest treasure there today are the children.

Roatan2Steve Poulson and I had been invited to visit the island to help advise a young family - Justin & Ashley Guest and their two boys - who have moved there as missionaries and were keen to explore how the Street Kids Direct mentoring programme could help vulnerable children on the island.

Our Sunday arrival meant that the roads were quieter and we are driven to the east end of the island where very few tourists venture. On arrival in the area of Punta Gorda we came across a group of people cleaning the beach.  Justin explained how these were the new community leadership group they had helped bring together to look at the various issues the local people felt were their major concerns.  With an extremely high level of diabetes, 85% unemployment, youth and children at high social risk, pollution and lack of drinking water, there was certainly a great work to be done.

Roatan3Walking around the less-developed areas of Punta Gorda, which is almost all of it, you start to meet people living in the most basic conditions.  Many come out of their little shacks and wooden-built homes that perch on top of large supports driven into the sandy ground to greet us or just to see what we are doing.  The interesting mix of three languages, English, Spanish and Garifuna, means communication is fun and often takes you by surprise when young children blurt out an hilarious mix of all three.

It becomes increasingly clear that there are many needs in this community and helping the most vulnerable children is what Justin and Ashley are keen to do.  Together with the stories of many male abandoned homes and statistics of children living with numerous risk factors (abuse, neglect, violence) in their lives it leads to discussions about whether the mentoring programme will be able to change the outcomes for these children.

Roatan4We are invited to meet a small group of leaders in the community and explain the mentoring programme and what is needed to put it into effect.  Then we are invited to a much larger meeting of around 35 people, all of whom are keen community leaders and with a passion to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable children in their community.  When Steve and I stood up in front of the group to explain the 10 adverse childhood experiences we use to help define a vulnerable child and asked each person to think of one child in their community they know to be at risk. All those present said that every child they thought of had at least 5 of those factors in their lives, which suggests that their future health outcomes are not that good.

We would like to begin a series of studies to help identify the demographic and understand the social needs of the population and how many vulnerable children there that would benefit from the mentoring programme. This will mean Steve will have to return there at some point for more formal evaluations and training, but for now the ball has started rolling and we are excited that more children will soon benefit from having a caring, consistent adult in their lives.

Your support makes this possible and it exciting to see how the programme is beginning to grow to other places.