Sunday 8thApril 2018

family visitsOur work in Guatemala continues to expand as the street team was joined by Lorena Guzman, who moved to Guatemala from Honduras at the end of last year.  Lorena was able to join me one day as we visited various homes of the children in the mentoring programme.

One of the homes we visited was that of Miguel and his brothers and sister.  Miguel joined the mentoring programme two years ago and continues to receive our help and support in order to keep him off the streets.  When we arrived at his home he came out to greet us in bare feet and looked like he had not washed for a couple of weeks and complained of being hungry.  Miguel is 12 and lives with his older brother, younger sister and brother, his mum and cousin in one tiny room with no light.  A make-shift bed takes up half the room and various bags and boxes are all stacked up around the walls.  In one corner a small pile of clothes sit next to a bag of wood that is used to cook for the family.  It is hard to leave them in this situation, but we are able to offer them the basic support in order to keep them alive and to help maintain Miguel in school.

Terminal March2Later that evening the street team and Lorena run a series of activities in La Terminal for the children and a separate activity for the mums.  The mums are really surprised we want to work with them and are eager to participate in the varied craft activities there are on offer.  So often the street team are confronted by huge amounts of need and many mums try and get all they can from us, and wouldn´t you if you lived in poverty? However, it was great to see how the mums just enjoyed being with the team and having the attention focussed on them for a change while another team ran games for the children.




One of the boys in this area of La Terminal is 15-year-old Felipe who had been taking more and more to the streets.  His story is not unique but it is deeply sad and the years of neglect and abuse has lead him to make a series of decisions that means he spends most of his life now on the streets.  We had been informed that he had been shot and feared the worse, but when we found him he was suffering from having been shot by a shotgun in his face and chest.  He had gunshot wounds all over and was allowed out of hospital as the wounds were not life-threatening.  He will take a time to recover but this is just another traumatic event in his childhood and I wonder what impact this will have on his life in the short and long term.






On a much lighter note there seemed a small glimmer of hope appearing in the Guatemalan Government´s desire to open their doors and welcome NGOs into discussions about how we could work more closely together. Thanks to the visit from Tim Hines, an American NGO network coordinator, we were able to get a meeting with the Director and her team from Social Services.

There was a tremendous amount of discussion around how the NGOs could offer tremendous levels of support to the government if the government were able to offer the right level of help and coordination. Tim was representing a large group of American NGOs in Honduras who were considering leaving the country due to the political instability and violence.  If these NGOs came to Guatemala they would want the government to help them setup here and link with existing services.

football marchOne highlight from the beginning of the month was being able to get little Moses into a national football academy, together with Julian his now best buddy and “older brother”.  Julian moved to Guatemala at the end of last year with his mother, Lorena, and is currently living in the Protection Home in the city and is slowly adapting to life in Guatemala City and enjoys hanging out with Moses at the weekend.  

This relationship has helped me in my mentoring with Moses as Julian is a great example to Moses of a boy who loves God, enjoys studying hard and lives for sport. I am already seeing how Moses is wanting to spend more time with Julian than with me, which is healthy and helps him develop a more tolerant attitude to others and to life.

Saturday 24th March 2018

My return to the UK was much more relaxed and less stressful than previous times, mainly due to a new working/rest/exercise pattern I have implemented in Gutemala.  The culture shock of returning to the UK was not as great this time and the impact on me emotionally was less, which meant I could engage with friends from the moment I landed.

John O GroatsTravelling around the UK to meet supporters, family and friends was a blast and I am grateful to the Sodens for loaning me a car for the three weeks and trusting me to have it back in one place despite the test drive in the snow in a car park!  I must have travelled over 2,000 miles as I went up and down the country as well as driving down to Land´s End and then, in one go, to John O´Groats in Scotland to look at the route for the Camino por Amor walk.

This year I had planned to walk the length of the United Kingdom with Steve Poulson, who works for Street Kids Direct as a volunteer in Honduras.  The walk would be from Land´s End to John O´Groats and back again, and if we did it in 21 days we would break a Guinness World Record.  However, despite my enthusiasm, we have had to postpone this mad walk till next year as Steve was not able to travel this summer and we wanted to walk this at the same time, so we have made plans for another walking challenge this summer – the Camino por Amor walk from Honduras to Guatemala and Guatemala to Honduras.  More about this in another blog but information will appear on the website soon.

Quiz Night1Our big fundraiser while I was back in the UK was our annual Family Quiz Night in Amersham.  The theme this year was HISTORY and so the rounds were based on historical events and people.  The Amersham Community Centre was packed and we are so grateful to all those who came along and supported.  When all funds were counted up we managed to raise a total of £2,014.  Thanks to all the local companies who donated prizes for the raffle, those who helped decorate and cater, for Matt who travelled from Suffolk to host the evening, for Ken and Ade for providing live music and to all who came along and participated.  It was a very successful event and we look forward to running another one next March.

I would like to write a personal thank you to all those who helped during my three weeks in the UK, for those who invited me to meals, those who offered me a place to stay, those who drove me around and loaned me a car, for all those who supported in any way and made my trip a pleasurable experience indeed. I look forward to coming back early November for Radio Christmas.

Thursday 1st March 2018

I celebrated a personal victory this week.  I have been trying to achieve it now for the last year and could never quite make it due to many factors that always seem to work against me.  You might wonder why this was such a big deal when you find out what it is but stick with me as I hope all will become clearer.

It´s 5am and I head out of the car park under my apartment and turn into the main street, which is glowing orange from the city street lamps.  My little 1984 jeep is reliable and sounding sweet after its recent service and leaving this early means little traffic. I have two goals.  My primary goal, as always at this time of the morning, is to try and drive to our Centre – about 10 minutes away – without being mugged, shot at or driven in to by the numerous drunk and dangerous drivers who seem to frequent the streets of Guatemala City.  However, my secondary goal is to get to our Centre with every traffic light on green.  I know it is weird but the number of traffic lights we have here in Guatemala makes this task an incredibly difficult one, even for the most expert drivers.

My victory is celebrated as I pass the last green light and turn into the small road where our Centre is and park the jeep inside and prepare for the new day.  I feel elated and now don´t seem to mind how many red lights I have to wait at in the future as I know that on this day I managed them all on green.

Celebrating this seemingly insignificant event might cause you to wonder why I am sharing this here.  But when you are faced everyday with an overwhelming sense of disempowerment that comes from working with numerous children and families at risk and knowing you can´t help them all, one small tvictory, even the tiniest one needs to be recognised and celebrated.  The sense of disempowerment is one that is normal for those who work with vulnerable children.  How I wish I could sweep them all away to a safe place, help them realise they are loved and precious and work with them to realise their potential and to keep on dreaming.

Later that day I am asked to go up into the lounge and meet with Bryan.  Bryan is 9 and I am asked to chat with him due to a situation that occurred this past week.  He sits nervously and uncomfortably on the new sofa whilst swinging his little legs and looking down at the floor.  I sit next to him and as I do so he looks at me and smiles.  I feel moved as I know he has no idea what is coming and wish there was someone else who could do this.  But, for the moment, it falls to me.

bryanThe conversation with little Bryan begins around what happened recently when he decided to engage in behaviour that started to ring the alarm bells.  There were complaints and accusations and so I needed to hear his side of the story. I am trying, as you might guess, to tell you what happened without telling you what happened.  I am trying to protect him by changing his name and keeping you from the gruesome details.  Bryan loses his smile and it seems like his whole world begins to cave in.  I expect that in his head he is trying to find a space to go that is safe, but the fact that I need to bring up this incident means he will feel shame.  I wonder if he thinks that after we have discussed this, he will ever be allowed into the Centre again and if he could ever face seeing us again.

The discussion moves on to me explaining some basic facts of life.  Not the type of basic facts your parents might once have tried to share with you through huge embarrassment.  But facts about how boys grow and change and how sometimes other people do things to them they don´t like or how their search for knowledge leads them to see things they now regret.  Bryan looks at me and understands what I mean and so I take it a little further and give him the chance to tell me why this behaviour might have happened.

I am prepared to hear anything, but what I hear leaves me hurting so much for him.  He tells me what is happening when his mum is not at home.  He tells me how his 11-year-old cousin is teaching him and making him do things that makes him feel dirty.  He looks at me, grabs hold of me and sobs into my shirt.  It is a tender moment and I go on to tell him that he is very brave to talk with me about these things and what I would like to do to help him stay safe.  I wish I could make him safe all the time, but I know this is not a reasonable request and so consider how we can now bring this issue up with his mum and cousin and try and help them all see there is a way forwards.

Bryan feels loved and accepted and thanks me for listening and for his hug.  He is precious, and his smile is a reminder to me, and hopefully to him, that life can still go on.  This is a small victory today and one from which I am hoping will lead to a much healthier relationship with his cousin despite the difficult road ahead.