Life has really got busy recently as my time in Guatemala comes to an end and I try and fit as much as possible in before Guatemala celebrates 'La Semana Santa' or Easter Week.
I will start with the funniest thing I have seen in ages and then try and backtrack on what I have been up to since my last blog.
Yesterday Herbert and I took a group from zone 4 to the beach. Only 12 were around (10 adults and 2 children) when I turned up and informed then that we were off to the beach. It took a while for some to wake up and for others to hide their solvent and find a safe place for the blankets and other meagre possessions that they had been given. The group followed me as I led them two blocks away to where the bus was waiting.
The sight of the 12 walking along the road accompanied by four dogs and the youngest member of the troop wrapped in a blanket as he was still cold and tired was quite a sight. Most people moved out of our path as we made our way past a bank and a hotel. On arriving at the bus we gave them all a drink and a donut before running over some simple rules and then one of the group offered to pray for our journey.
The four dogs thought the day trip to the beach was for them and tried to get on the bus as well. When we were all on the bus and pulled out into the road the dogs followed alongside. It wasn't until we got on the main road and the bus picked up speed that the dogs, encouraged by 12-year-old Gerson out of the window, followed right behind the bus. When we had reached a good speed I noticed that only one dog was following and managing to keep up a good speed as more of the group hung out of the windows and encouraged the dog to follow. Sadly for the dog it was impossible to keep up after a few minutes and so we all settled down for our journey to the beach. It was funny watching this pack of dogs follow behind the bus with those in the bus calling out to encourage them.
I sat at the back with the two boys who were already bored of the journey (just 5 minutes in!) and let them borrow my phone to play a game that kept them occupied for another hour. By then Gerson decided he would sleep at the back of the bus. The photo on the right shows Gerson wrapped in the blanket. At one point he woke up, sat up and said "thanks for the donuts" and fell back off to sleep again.
When we arrived at the beach everyone headed for the sea to wash themselves and their clothes. None had swim wear so it was just a case of wearing what they had on but at least they all got a good wash!
What I enjoyed about the day was just seeing some, who had not been to the beach for years, playing in the sand and having such a great time. I just hope that the good times like this will help the thinking process. Trying to get them to consider leaving the streets seems much easier at moments like this as they experience something so different from their normal life. All we can do is try and keep trying.
My visits to the many and varied organisations continued this week as I have tried to fit in as many meetings as possible. The study I set out to complete seems only at the investigation stage with many more days of visits to go. Due to the fact everything now closes for Easter at the end of the week I think I will have to leave the rest of the visits till I return.
I have visited so many inspirational projects and many of them know little, if nothing, of what others are doing and how their work fits into a bigger picture of what God is doing here. The few links I have been able to make have proved beneficial and so I will need to work on those and keep encouraging people to talk to each other and share ideas, good practice and resources.
I found a great organisation that runs a hospital for children. It was inspiring seeing all they do by way of donations and their need for support, gifts of all sorts of medical supplies and short-term volunteers is great. If anyone works in the medical profession and fancies giving a week or two to help this hospital then please do let me know. The organisation (FPG) also runs a clinic and feeding centre next to the city rubbish dump and this little girl was one of the 60+ children who eat there and receive support each day. The hospital have offered me free medical and dental treatment for any child I take into the hospital!
Then there is this guy I met who hires 4 buses every Saturday and collects children from some of the most dangerous places in Guatemala City and takes them to a large football pitch where he has started to build a school. Half of the children play football and learn football skills while the other half have specialist support for their school work. At lunchtime they swap over and the day finishes with a worship service. Some of the children are not in school and so they are learning some of the basics. This project, like all those I have visited so far, are in need of donations, volunteers and lots of support.
I remain very concerned for little Daniel (photo) who is now starting to sleep on the streets. He is only 7 and very small, underweight and very neglected. The children who know him well told me that his carer tied him up with wire last weekend to stop him running away to be in the streets, but he managed to escape and it won't be long before he starts hanging out with the older street guys. I might try and pop by to see him today and spend some time with him and see if his carer will be open to someone coming to visit him each week. Just need to find a volunteer to do this for me.
As I look back on the things I have done and all the organisations I have visited so far it is clear that there are many ways we could offer some very personalised support, maybe mentoring, to the children and help prevent many taking to the streets whilst helping those who are still on the streets.
On a recent trip to the streets we came across a group of adults sitting by a pile of rubbish. It was about 8pm and in a red-light area that buzzes with life when it gets dark but a side of life that most people will never see and probably shouldn't. As I was talking with the guys, as I have known some of them since they were kids, a new person came towards me and demanded some food. When he found out there was nothing on offer he then hit me on my arm. Nothing serious, and nothing like the knife-wielding attack of the previous week, but then he swore at me and moved off. This so annoyed the group that they set after him and made him realise that he should respect those who come to visit them. One of the guys, Caesar who is on crutches, was mad and told me how they would always look out for me and counted me as their family. A sad but at the same time quite comforting experience.
So now I just need to print out the photos from the beach trip and deliver them to the guys on the streets. A few more meetings and a couple more street visits will take me to Easter and then my return home to the UK. It has been one truly awesome opportunity and now I need to make decisions about where I feel God wants me to spend my time. Your prayers would be much appreciated. Thanks for sticking with me and for reading my blog. Hope to see many of you very soon. Dunc