Sunday 8th July 2018

camino1My preparations for the Camino por Amor walk, which starts today (Sunday) at 4am local time in Honduras, has meant my time sharing with you has been limited to put it mildly.  The walk will start for me in the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, and will take 7 days to walk to Guatemala City with an estimated 90km per day on the road.  Steve Poulson, who works for Street Kids Direct as a full-time volunteer, will start in Guatemala City and end up in Tegucigalpa.  And yes, it´s a race!  

If you would like to know more then please check out the information page on our website and do keep updated on our Facebook page.  Our aim is not only to finish alive, but also to raise £10,000 for our partner projects in Guatemala City.  There are also two giving sites for donors from the U.S. and the U.K.  If you are anywhere else in the world then please do use the UK giving site.

san jorgeThere have been some amazing things happening recently in our partner projects in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.  Firstly, the feeding centre for high-risk children in San Jorge, Nicaragua, has seen its fair share of challenges.  

The country has been thrown into political chaos and violence, which has left many dead and many more seriously injured.  We are impressed that the feeding centre has continued to offer something to the children each day despite the lack of basic foods now available in the shops.

 

 

Talanga ClubIn Honduras we have seen a steady increase of interest in the Street Kids Direct mentoring programme.  In one town there the programme has ignited local interest and has resulted in the opening up of an after-school club for high-risk children. Steve Poulson and his team and local coordinator, Julio, have bold plans to grow the programme and open a small business in the town to raise funds to support the mentoring programme.

The work in Guatemala flourishes and I have been so encouraged by the way the two local leaders of the SKD Guatemala project (formally Mi Arca) have led the way to help more kids at risk.  This has meant more children now coming to the mentoring centre each day and getting the support they need.  We are pleased to announce that thanks to your support we have been able to offer employment to a wonderful and very committed teacher to help run the centre.  This has had a great impact on the children and brought a sense of stability to the children.

I would like to thank two volunteers who have been with us recently and have helped in the centre to provide a superb array of activities for the children.  Thank you to Laura Evans and Beth Alan-Jones and I know the children and the team miss your energy and input and look forward to having you back with us anytime.

signatureMy mentoring is always rewarding but, at the same time, a challenge each week as I have 6 boys to look after.  Each one has their own unique set of challenges and they come from fairly similar situations. In La Terminal  Moses, the 10-year-old who has been with me since he was 5 years of age, was asking for help with his signature.  When I has 10 I had no idea what a signature was but Moses had seen me sign many forms and letters and so became curious.  Being his mentor, I thought I would take the opportunity afforded to me by his question to discuss the uniqueness of his signature and tried to lead this to a discussion about how unique he is as a person. We had fun together talking about what type of signature he wanted and the style it could be.  He had fun trying out various options before settling on a version that included a large curl over his name.

On another occasion I managed to take four of the boys to an outdoor activity centre a few miles out of Guatemala City.  We took along an air rifle and a bag of drinks and fruit and headed for the woods.  There was a small target shooting range setup and the boys enjoyed seeing who the best marksman was before we packed up our things and headed for the best bit.  This was the exploration of the forest and included us discovering a small waterfall.

forest funOn arrival at the waterfall the boys started to just play. Not that they have never played before but I watched with interest as they just became children and squatted down by the small stream and made dams and created little worlds where river folk could live.  Their creativity seemed to have no limits and further explorations led to a forbidden forest and to monsters and pursuit adventures.  I loved seeing them so happy as this was a special time to enjoy free play. A world indeed away from their everyday lives, but for the moment all that could be forgotten and another world could be explored and imagined to their hearts content.

Meanwhile back in the city another group of children were enjoying feeling safe again as they had been offered temporary accommodation in the protection home.  The home is not yet open but while the building work continues upstairs we can make use of the very basic accommodation downstairs.  The children came to us because their grandmother, who works watching parked cars on the streets all day, was recently hit by a car and left in the road with a broken arm and many other injuries.  Since both their parents are in prison and all three are deemed to be at high-risk and also are part of our mentoring programme, they were offered safe refuge until the grandmother comes out of hospital.

z11 july1The construction work upstairs is really changing the feel and shape of the place and, if all goes to plan, it should be completed by the end of the first week of August.  Once completed we will then be able to offer a more fitting place for vulnerable children in the mentoring programme for short-term respite care or for emergency situations.  There is still much to do to find the funds for the running costs and the fitting out of a kitchen as well as protocols, manuals and all sorts of forms and procedures to be developed.  Keep an eye on the website for updates over the next couple of weeks.

Until then I have a walk to complete from today and if I make it back to Guatemala actually walking I will then update you more on the projects.  In the meantime, please do support the walk and share it with your friends.  If you enjoy walking and would like to “Walk the Walk” with us, then more information is on the website.  Thank you for being there and for your consistent and loving support of our work.  See you on the other side of the walk!

Tuesday 5th June 2018

volcano2I am sitting on a plane right now heading back to the UK.  My plan was to return to the UK in November, not June.  As I was driving back from Honduras last weekend I received a message telling me that my father, soon to celebrate his 88thbirthday, was seriously ill in hospital and doctors did not think he would live much longer.  So, I am heading back in the hope to see him before he dies.

Life throws up all sorts of unexpected events and earlier in the week I was saddened by the news of a very good friend of mine had slipped on some steps and hit his head badly.  He was rushed into hospital and later died. He was an inspiration to me, a great man of God, loving husband and devoted father and grandfather.  

The fragility of life is often brought into sharp focus in our lives when tragedy strikes and can make us wonder again about our time here on earth and what the point of it all is. No sooner had my mind begun to adjust to my personal grief when one of Guatemala´s most active volcanoes exploded, spewing out tons of lava onto neighbouring villages and spewing gas, rock and volcanic ash into the air.  The “Fuego” volcano is only 25 miles from Guatemala City and the severity of the explosion only dawned on those of us who lived in the city when volcanic rock and ash started to cascade down on us late on Sunday afternoon. (More on our Facebook page)

volcano1The eerily dark clouds made it feel like early evening, even though it was only 1:30pm.  My little white jeep was soon covered in ash and I drove home to check the news and discovered the magnitude of the tragedy.  Even now, as I write this blog, the numbers of dead are rising as rescue crews discover more human remains. It is one of Guatemala´s worst volcanic eruptions and three days of national mourning have begun.

It does seem that Guatemala suffers more than its fair share of pain and tragedy.  I know we work in the micro, helping children and families at risk of living on the streets, but the macro picture can often be overlooked as TV crews pack up and head to the next major news story.  For those of us left behind we feel the pain of Guatemala as it sighs deeply and seeks to pick itself up and try again.

volcano3The local response has been inspiring.  Some of the rescuers have lost their lives or have been badly burned.  Schools, churches and other organisations have started to collect food and clothes for those affected while soldiers, police and the always servant-hearted bomberos (fire and rescue brigade) continue to help survivors and hold out some hope of finding people still alive.  Some charities, who clearly don´t work with these families or in the affected area, quickly setup appeals and have asked for donations.  My response is to not donate just yet but to wait and see what local people actually need and what the local response is.  Money will be needed much later but those most affected are being cared for, fed, clothed and housed.

We can never make sense of this event apart from knowing we live in a now fallen world, with all its flaws and desperate longings for a paradise restored.  The groans from our planet tell us that life is not as stable as we think.  The subsequent earth tremor in Guatemala yesterday does make you realise that what we think is stable really is not.  As a Christian all I can say is that my hope is not in this fallen world or in material things or even in those around me. I have to place my hope in my God who has changed my life and given me a peace that I never found in my previous life. It is rare I share these thoughts in a blog but thought, given the circumstances, I would do so today. Despite the mess, the pain, the loss and the uncertainty may we find peace in Him who is always with us and beckons us to see that all we know and have around us will soon be gone and that a much better place is already prepared for us.

SEE ALSO BBC REPORT

Monday 28th May 2018

It was all going really well!  Joseph and I had taken four of the boys in our mentoring programme, the four that are usually with me on a Saturday and who are known as “Los Aventureros”, which means the Adventurers, out to celebrate one of the boy´s birthdays. They had all enjoyed a great time and were singing along to two of the songs that they always play in the car when we go out places.  I had to make a phone call to Lorena, our Director of Programmes, and ask where Brayan – the youngest boy in the group - had to be dropped off.

Brayan was sitting in the front seat and was swaying along to the music and tapping on the dashboard in time with the beat of the song and overheard my phone conversation.  A few nights ago, he called me to ask for help.  Brayan is 10 and very small for his age and called me because he and his mum were out on the streets due to the actions of his violent dad. He felt unsafe and called to ask if I could go and help him.

BrayanOn my arrival I found Brayan (photo) and his mum outside their room and standing in the dimly lit street.  The market was now over in La Terminal but the evidence of it was all around.  The piles of rubbish, rotting fruit, rats clambering over the days left-overs and dogs fighting over scraps discarded by the roadside was a powerful welcome as I approached the place I knew both Brayan and his mum would be waiting.  The lights of the car highlighted the silhouettes of Brayan and his mum and as I got out of the car Brayan gave me a hug and said thanks for coming. The situation was complicated and a decision needed to be taken to protect Brayan and his mum and so both were offered a room in our new Protection Home – more about this in a bit. It was comforting to be able to offer them a room even though it was a building site and everywhere you looked there are mounds of cement, sand and rubble.  But it was safer than the street and they settled down and enjoyed a night in safety.

Due to the situation we ended up offering them a place for two nights and Brayan was hopeful that he could stay longer as he told me he felt safe there and enjoyed the love and attention from Lorena and her family, who are also living in the mess of the home while building work continued.

Back to the car and Lorena was telling me that things had changed in Brayan´s situation and his mum was now back in their room and the violent dad had left and was asked by the owner of the room to never come back. On hearing this Brayan´s whole demeaner changed and he leaned his head on his arm, which is now resting on the car window, and just disappeared into another world.

I have noticed that when we take kids out of the city for the day and bring them back they are full of joy and excitement but the minute we enter La Terminal they change and retreat into a space in their heads that must help them cope with their very dysfunctional world. 

It was so hard dropping this boy off as it was obvious that his whole world had caved in but he did his best to manage a smile and thank me for a fun day out.  I tried my best to comfort him but no amount of words could help assure him he would be safe.  It is just so hard for these kids and I can totally understand why so many end up on the streets.  Brayan will need daily phone calls and visits to ensure he is safe and help him become more resilient.

z11backThe desire of the caregiver is to rescue the child. But given the limitations and the fact that our Protection Home is not yet open, we can only do our best to provide a caring framework for each child and help them be aware of the many things they can do to stay safe and thrive in some of the toughest conditions.  I take some comfort from a message that comes in later from the architect telling me that the home renovations are going well and we should be ready to open the first week of August.  

Now would be a good time to say thank you again to those individuals and organisations that have helped provide so amazingly for the Protection Home.  The dream will soon become a reality and will provide respite for kids like Brayan and offer him and many other boys and girls the opportunity to experience love and a place of belonging.  Read more about the exciting project here.