Saturday 15th September 2018

I returned last weekend from Honduras and was totally exhausted.  The exhaustion was not due to the long 12-hour drive from capital to capital, but the mental exhaustion that I felt after leaving behind two projects we have been supporting for the last 14 years.  My heavy and very broken heart was not helped by the amount of work I found on my return, but somehow, and with God´s grace, I made it through to realise that we can only do what is placed in our hands, any more would rob others of the chance to help, serve and be part of something quite amazing.

It was back in 2004 that we first started to support the Manuelito Children’s Home and subsequently the AFE School for the kids on the rubbish dump.  Those early days with both projects were exhilarating as we saw amazing things happen and giant steps in faith led to the building of an incredible school for vulnerable children and a fabulous home for children rescued from the city streets.

Adios papiIt was 11 years ago that I found a little baby abandoned on the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.  Pastor Pinto and his family had invited me to join them on their street work run late one evening.  As we began to wander through the streets meeting countless young boys and girls, all of whom had either runaway from desperate situations or who had been abandoned by abusive parents, we came across a cardboard box.  The box was been guarded by two young boys who told us that there was a baby inside and that the mum had left it there on the streets earlier that day.

We had to act immediately and rushed the baby to hospital.  The 15-day-old boy pulled through and was named Duncan (not my idea!) and has grown up with the idea that I am his dad and his connection to me is very strong. This photo was taken when he was 7-years-old and still struggling, as any young child would, with the fact that his “dad” did not live with him and came to visit now and again.  The parting was unbearable at times and I can only imagine how hard that was for him, but he was desperate to make a connection between his idea of a dad and me.

Duncan is now 11 and turns 12 in December and is doing really well in the home and I am very grateful for their loving support for him, and so many more like him, over the years.  I have grown to love them all and have seen them develop into amazing young men and women and some have even gone on to get their degrees and have returned to work full-time there.  It is a place of miracles.

duncan giftSo, it makes it even more difficult to take the decision to not continue our partnership with both AFE and Manuelito. The decision was not taken lightly, but we decided, together with Global Care, to not support the leadership of the projects for many and varied reasons.  I know some will want to ask me questions and want to know more, but we must stand firm to honour the partnerships we have formed and speak well of all involved. Just know that we had to act and I am sure if you knew what we now know you would make the same decision.

Saying goodbye in my heart and head was harder than physically saying goodbye to the children and staff, all of whom I adore so much and admire the incredible work the staff do under difficult circumstances and at great personal cost.  All we can do now is pray for them and be ready to return one day if the door opens wide, or even wide enough to squeeze back in.  As part of my visit to the home I took along a gift for Duncan and his brother Cristofer, which went down very well indeed. 

Thank you for the many years of support you have given to both projects and for the way so many of you have poured your time and efforts into fundraising events for them.  This is not in vain as we know that hundreds of vulnerable children have benefitted from this support and those who have grown old enough to now study at university will join me in saying “it was worth every penny”.  THANK YOU.  I have no plans to return to Honduras in the near future!

talanga mentoring2Despite the sadness of the situation there I did manage to see how two other projects we have partnered with are doing and explored a potential new project, which excited me greatly.

Steve Poulson, who works as a volunteer for Street Kids Direct in Honduras, has helped setup the mentoring programme in various locations in Honduras.  I was invited to see the first group and spent the afternoon watching the kids enjoying time with caring adults rather than possibly being involved in things that are not that helpful to them.  

Being a high-risk child means that you live with the uncertainty of food and security every day.  Together with the many risk factors in their lives, the children need a constant, caring adult alongside them to help them navigate from childhood to adulthood. This is where mentoring makes an impact and we are very excited to see increasing numbers of vulnerable children having this opportunity.

I also managed to visit one other programme that works with high-risk children in a town that is run very closely by a gang. When I say run, I mean that every aspect of town life is affected by the gang and this often leads to violence, intimidation, extorsions and death.  The day before we were visiting the project we have partnered with it was raided by the police and army in the middle of the night.  The programme´s director, an American volunteer, was violently attacked and the young people threatened and one had been pushed into a tank of water. 

mentoring hondurasLiving there is not easy and every visit is watched by the gang who could act or react in a way that further complicates the work or has a direct bearing on our personal safety.  But the work continues and the mentoring programme is producing results with school grades improving for those in the programme as well as a greater sense of purpose and feeling of being cared for.  Mentoring really does change lives and we would love to see more local people taking up the challenge and offering to help change a life.

Thank you for listening and for your support that makes all this work possible.  I don´t know where we would be without you and hope that, despite the setback out of our control, you can see that lives are changing and many kids are alive today that might not have been if you hadn´t been there to support the front-line work. THANK YOU.

Tuesday 28th August, 2018

opening1 z11With a mix of excitement and anticipation I climbed out of the jeep, turned up the collar of my clean white shirt and carefully placed the tie around my neck, knotted it and turned down the collar.  I was now ready to enter and I could hear some of the kids playing inside and was then greeted by three of the girls who had obviously spent a very happy morning getting themselves ready for the event.

It was our official opening of the new Protection Home in Guatemala City and the waiting guests had turned up to see the official ribbon being cut.  It was going to be an emotional afternoon, but first I needed to make the usual introductions of Darold and Pamela Opp, a couple who had flown in from the U.S. to look at the house they had helped buy for us over a year ago, the British Ambassador, the Pastor and his wife from my church and various other officials, children, staff, volunteers and supporters.

After a brief introduction, all live on Facebook to hundreds of people, a small group of children stood up and talked about how the house (the bit downstairs that was still a building site) had become a refuge and home for them in times of crisis over the last year.  One girl, 13-year-old Damaris, started to explain how she, her mum and younger siblings had to be given refuge in the home after a situation with her mum and dad.  The real story behind her words would be enough material to fill a best-selling book, but for now she got to the part where they had to leave in the middle of the night and then burst into tears.  I came to her aid and hugged her and took her to a seat near me while little Moses took to the stage.

moises awardMoses is 10 and has been with me in the mentoring programme for five years.  He was the first child to enter into the mentoring programme after I found him on the streets late one night.  I still think back to that night and remember the state he was in and still find it hard to think he is the same boy.  Moses started to talk about how his life had changed and then the emotion came.  He tried his best to express how lonely he had felt and how, being part of the mentoring programme and the weekends in the home, had changed his life.  It was a very moving time and most had tears in their eyes after listening to the stories.

Forgive me for being proud of this boy but I would like to tell you that two weeks ago Moses asked me to accompany him to a school event where children were getting awards.  When I arrived, Moses was first in the queue and looking amazing all dressed up with a sash hanging from his shoulder and wearing a smile that spoke more than he could ever verbalise.  He was proud and when the event started I realised just how special this was.  This was not a quick hand out of a medal in the school assembly, this was an event that included 8 local schools with the local mayor, representatives from the educational department of the government and other local dignitaries.  

Every child at the event had been selected by their school to receive a special award and since Moses had done spectacularly well, he had been chosen to represent the school and was doing so with rightful pride and humility.

Z11 OpeningBack to the official opening of the new home, which was now at the stage where Darold and Pamela Opp together with Carolyn Carter, the British Ambassador to Guatemala, are ready to cut the ribbon and officially open the home.  When I say open I think I should explain here that we are still a few weeks away before we are able to take in children to the home.  But it is ready enough and when the kitchen is finished and the basic home furnishing are in place then the first children or families will arrive.

The home is a temporary protection home for children and their families at risk and who need immediate protection and support.  They will be able to stay in the home for up to two weeks while a viable alternative can be found.  We can also offer the home as a place of rest and support to the children in the mentoring programme who have gained their place because of their behaviour and school grades and can enjoy a fun weekend in the home to encourage them in their studies.

It was a very successful day and Darold and Pam, who had already invested so much money in the home, offered their support to complete the home and start work on the ground floor, which will be the second mentoring and training centre.  We are living in very exciting times!

shoppingTo finish I would like to mention a few things that have also happened over the last week or so.  It has been a busy but rewarding time and we are so grateful to God and those who support us as we move closer to the vision we have on our hearts for the SKD Guatemala project here in Guatemala.

In the mentoring centre we have been able to finish the counselling and prayer room.  The room offers a very comfortable and quiet space for children who would like to spend some time alone, in silence, or would like to talk with one of us about something important to them.  I had the joy of taking two of the girls shopping recently, with a limited budget, to buy a few games, toys and cushions for the room.  They squealed with excitement as we wandered around a large department store and discovered all manner of fun things that, according to the girls, would be essential for the room.

doctor visitAnother room we have managed to start using more is the clinic.  We still need a few other items to complete the clinic but having the space and the medical equipment meant that volunteer doctors could come and offer regular check-ups for the children.  I am hopeful that when it is finished we can take care of the children more in-house and save us funds we are having to spend on private clinics, while offering them a much more familiar environment when they are ill or need first aid.

 

 

 

 

training dayTwo weeks ago, we had the honour of having Russell and Joanna Soden visiting the mentoring centre and Russell offered the team two days of excellent training and one-on-one coaching.  As part of our ongoing commitment to excellence in the projects we see this level of training as vital to improving all areas of our work as we strive to serve the children better and study the most cutting-edge interventions to help children at risk.

While Darold and Pamela were with us we took the opportunity to visit a children’s home they had heard about on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  The home is a loving refuge to children who have been sent there by the courts or have ended up there due to a sad series of circumstances.  When I heard about the home I could not believe it as it was a home I had planned to visit the following week because one of the boys we had helped rescue from the streets was now living there.

dannyDanny is 9-years-old and was standing at the door with a huge smile on his face on our arrival.  It was great to see him again and see how well he looked after the last time I saw him.  A few months ago, he was on the streets and not doing well at all.  One day I would love to write out his life story as it would touch the heart strings and, at the same time, fill you with hope.  I was given a huge and very tight hug and then we were shown around and invited to share some time with the children.  It was a special time.  Danny is an amazing kid and we wish him well and hope he sticks at this new life and stays off the streets.

 

 

 

alfredoAnd finally, two short stories from the streets this past week.  The first is the evening I accompanied the team and helped with the outreach club to the kids in La Quinta, a main street in La Terminal in Guatemala City.  One little boy seemed glued to my side and was desperate for my attention and time.  I knelt down next to him as he started to colour-in a sheet all the children had been given.  He gave up after a few seconds when he realised it was too hard and his concentration lacked the discipline to stick at it.  However, with a little encouragement and some determination, when he saw me picking up a colouring pencil and help him, we managed to finish the picture.  When the time for games began little Alfredo stood and watched and was not keen to join in because he wanted to guard his picture and take it back home. He will be another child, I am convinced, that in the next few years will join the mentoring programme.

runawayThe week finishes with an exciting time with the children in a local park, playing games and enjoying the fresh air, climbing trees, kicking a ball about and running around without a care in the world.  My time with the children is halted by a phone call from Frank who is in desperate need of our little Suzuki Jeep.  The jeep is a faithful tool and is always used for the streets and situations of emergency as it never fails us despite rolling off the production line in 1986.

Frank takes the jeep and heads to one of the most conflict-ridden zones in Guatemala City to find a young girl who had run away from home and was now lost in zone 18.  Due to her age and vulnerability and given the fact she was in this zone we had to act quickly.  It was not time to ask why she was there but to get there, find her and bring her home to her family and then try to offer support in order to ensure she remains safe. Thanks to Frank´s determination the young girl is found, rescued and returned to her anxious family.

It has been quite a week and I know that next week looks just as full, but this is why we are here.  Your support and messages do keep us going and make all you have managed to read possible.  Thank you and may we wish you a very happy week ahead.

Saturday 25th August, 2018

“I really love you Duncan”, little Cristopher said to me while giving me a hug and planting a kiss on my cheek.  He then continued with “and when you die I am coming to your funeral”.  It made me laugh and I would rather him have stopped at the first bit, but kids do say the funniest things.  I have no idea what he had in his mind but Cristopher was enjoying himself and having the best day of his life, his words not mine, during a mentoring session with me.

Cristopher is an adorable 9-year-old boy living at very high risk and who has entered into the mentoring programme.  Since there are no male mentors to keep up with the new kids coming in I am having to look at 8 boys at the moment, which is beginning to take its impact on my life, but it is a joy to see the change that happens when you demonstrate love, care, concern and value.

The other day I decided to take Cristopher to school. He has not been in a while and trying to get his mum to take him every day has been a challenge.  His 11-year-old sister is not going to school at the moment, something I am hopeful we can change over the coming days.

corridorI climb the steps to Cristopher´s room from the now-bustling street in the heart of La Terminal and the stench coming from the pile of rubbish that has accumulated in the stairwell is rather overpowering.  It is 6am and the noise of the busy market in the street blends in with the shouts and cries from those I meet and make their way to work as I make my way through the corridors to where Cristopher is living. 

School starts early here in Guatemala and for those children who have to walk a long way to school, like little Christopher, it is a challenge for any kid to be up and ready for 6am.  I approach the metal door of his home – which is just a small room with no ventilation or windows.  His mother is already up and showering in the corridor outside their home. She finishes quickly and invites me in to help get Cristopher ready for school.  He is half dressed and just needs to find a t-shirt, socks, shoes and then wash his face and comb his hair.  We are nearly there!  I help find his t-shirt and then help him put it on as he still seems half asleep.  The only bed in the 2m x 4m room is covered with clothes and his older brother is fast asleep on it while his sister and two other young children are asleep on the concrete floor.

I walk with him to the corridor and help pour some cold water over his head while he washes his face and wets his hair.  The mum explains that they can´t afford water and so they collect rain water and try and use what they have sparingly.  The murky water in the bucket is last night´s offering from the heavens and Cristopher tells me they can use about two-three cupfulls of water for a shower.  He uses about half a cupful to wash his face and wet his hair.  His hair has to look good of course and in the style any 9-year-old boy would consider makes him look cool.

school1Success, I now have a clean boy, dressed for school and with a small quantity of school books in his little rucksack.  His mum and I begin the long walk to school.  It takes us a few minutes to get out of the terminal and then we head down one of the main streets that has a cycle path and walkway for pedestrians.  Cristopher holds my hand and we chat as we walk along the path, being very careful not to tread on any of the cracks as we go.  He enjoys this game and it takes his attention off the long walk, but eventually we arrive at the school and Cristopher tells me he is hungry and has not had breakfast.  Fortunately, there is a lady outside the school selling sandwiches and so I buy one for him and one for his mum.  

The school is a government school and this is clear by the austere building that has been painted government blue and named City School number 64.  A lot of thought must have gone into that name!  The old lady at the gate opens it enough for us to squeeze through and wait for Cristopher´s teacher to arrive.  Meanwhile we sit down near the playground and his mum tells me why Cristopher´s sister stopped coming to school.  She points to a small boy, aged about 9, who threatened Cristopher´s 11-year-old sister in school one day, saying he would be waiting outside school to stab her to death.  True to his word he was there with knife in hand ready to stab the young girl. Thanks to some adult intervention she was saved from the attack and the boy was asked not to bring a knife into school.

school2Eventually, the teacher arrives all flustered and apologetic for being late.  The two large padlocks on the classroom door come off and the door is flung open to welcome the five children waiting outside.  I introduce myself and tell the teacher I am looking after little Cristopher in mentoring until a mentor can be found for him.  Cristopher quickly settles into his seat and gets out his books while the teacher tells his mum and me that she is so pleased he is now back in school.  It is unlikely he will pass the school grade this year, which means he will have to repeat it next year.  I look at him sitting there with a huge smile on his little face and wonder if he will stick at school, given all he has to deal with each day.  I am sure he will not want to repeat the school year with younger children but all I can do is encourage him to do so while looking at options for a much better school for him.

It has been an eventful morning and I arrive back at our mentoring Centre feeling like I have already completed a day´s work. However, there is much to do today as we have more school visits, street work and then mentoring in the afternoon and evening.  I love days like this and hope that, come Monday, Cristopher is back in school and focussed on his education.  He knows I am expecting great things from him and can see, from his parting smile, he loves the idea of having a male in his life who cares for him.  Hope has been sowed.