Monday 24thSeptember 2018

I knew it was going to be a long day, Saturdays usually are as they are the day I do a lot of mentoring and visiting families of the boys who are in the programme with me.  Saturday was no exception, but it was a rather special day and one that made me reflect a lot on a few other things that have happened this past week. I hope you enjoy the journey!

The day begins around 4am but soon I have caught up with all my emails and am heading out to collect the boys early, as two have football trials and two other boys have regular Saturday morning football. I remember the days of a youth worker in Amersham and taking kids to early morning football training and matches. The summer months, when there is not a lot of football on offer, was great.  However,  the cold winter months were a test of my personal commitment to a child.  My next job is to collect one more boy, who turns up with his brother, and take him to his very first art class.

football trainingWith all loaded in the car we head to the football training ground and the two who normally train here on a Saturday know the drill and crack on with running around the pitch after they have greeted every single boy and their football coach.  One of the many things I love about the Guatemalan culture is that you can´t just turn up to any event or meeting and just say hi, you have to go around and greet everyone my name with a handshake or a youthful form of it.

The two boys I have brought along today for their trials are Brandon, 11, and Kenedy who is 13.  Both quickly change into their shorts and it is clear their football gear is nowhere near the standard of the other boys who have professional boots, the club uniform with proper socks and everything!  But Brandon and Kenedy are not phased and just join in like they have been there for months.  Growing up in poverty gives you a certain level of resilience that some children just don´t have and these boys don´t mind what anyone thinks of them, they are here to play football and have fun, and fun they will have.

After an hour I have to take Fredy, 14, to his very first art class nearby.  It is only a 2-minute walk from the training ground and his younger brother accompanies us both as it is far more exciting than staying at home in La Terminal.  I noticed a while back that Fredy was keen on drawing but seemed ashamed to ask for help or say he was interested.  It just came up in one of the mentoring sessions and so I asked him if he would like me to take him to a professional art class.  He agreed and so this was going to be his special day.

We walk into the workshop and find lots of kids arranging their pencils, brushes and paints.  It is obvious that they are all coming from a very different social background to Fredy and his comment tells me he is uncomfortable when he says: “and they are all girls”.  Each one had walked in proudly holding an oil painting that looked like they had just bought it from the local art gallery.  It was intimidating for Fredy but I went in with him and settled him in. The teacher tells me the art class is £20 and the materials are extra.  How much extra I had no idea of until he took me downstairs to the art shop and piled up a few things by the till and said: “this should be enough for today”.  I am looking at the materials and wondering how much of my apartment I could paint with them!  Glad I have my credit card on me and I smile at Fredy like it´s no big deal and then he scuttles upstairs and I wonder how he will cope.

moises wristI walk back with his brother Jonathan to the football training only to find Moises sitting by the side of the pitch crying and holding his wrist.  The coach tells me that he fell over and was waiting for me to return.  Their “ring a parent if there is a problem” policy was obviously not working and I could see he was in a lot of pain.  Thankfully nearby there is a private medical clinic and it´s my only option as taking him to the main hospital would mean there was no hope of him being seem within 4-5 hours and then many hours of x-rays and all the rest would result in the day ending very late and with Moises not getting the care he needs.

Therefore, a quick decision to take him to the private clinic resulted in discovering he has a fractured wrist, but this is taken care of within an hour and he happily comes away with his very first cast.  His main concern is that he might not be able to go on a camp with me in three weeks’ time with the men´s group from my church to celebrate his 11thbirthday.  But I assure him that there will be many activities he could still do with one arm!

We make it back in time to collect Fredy from his art class.  To be honest I had high hopes for him but was not expecting too much from his first time at painting.  After all, he had only drawn a few things for me on a small drawing pad I bought him recently.  The older kids came down carrying more masterpieces and so I am prepared for whatever Fredy comes out with and will make sure we all encourage him and say we love his painting.

Fredy PaintingI was not expecting to see him with the painting he was proudly carrying and his art teacher tells me he was a good student and learned a bit about painting reflections and it would be good for him to come more regularly.  I was lost for words and kept asking him if this really was his very first painting and did he really do it all himself.  His brother had nothing to say and the other boys could not comprehend the significance of this painting.  How can a boy pick up a brush for the first time and paint something like this?  I am still in shock really and will see if we can find a way to get him more classes and discover what else he can do.  He and his family live in poverty and so maybe this could be a way he could help them by painting and selling his paintings. Just an idea.

Later that day, and after a very healthy lunch at the mentoring centre on the edge of La Terminal, I head out with Julio and five boys to my Saturday afternoon mentoring session.  We go to Cayalá, a rather exclusive shopping experience for the middle to upper classes.  Despite the opulence of the place, it is a great place to take the kids as it is only 10 minutes away, it is safe and you can rent bikes for £1.50.  There is also a cool coffee shop that allows us to sit for hours playing board games for the price of a bottle of water.

On the way there, little Jesus calls me to ask what I am doing. This is now becoming a daily occurrence and my question to him has the same reply every time: “and what are you doing Jesus?” I say, “nothing”, he replies.  Those of you who have been around Radio Christmas long enough would know that Jesus was loaned a camera a few years ago and asked to take pictures of his world on the rubbish dump.  The pictures were turned into a calendar by Willie Reid and sold on Radio Christmas to help support him and his family, which it did for just over two years.

skatingJesus was excited because the previous Sunday I had taken him, Cristian and Daniel to a kid’s park where they could enjoy skating, climbing walls and doing all manner of “extreme” activities.  I could tell they were excited when I picked them up as 9-year-old Christian could not stand still.  He just jumped up and down and clenched his fists and shook all over.  He could not contain himself.  On the drive to the park both Jesus and Christian told me of shootings outside where they lived like it was just part of their normal lives.

The park was everything I had hoped it would be and very cheap at 50p a game and since skating lasted nearly an hour it was a good deal. Not a bad use of 50p I thought and settled in to my role of photographer and encourager every time they came around to the place I had been told to stand.

Anyway, back to the previous story of my time with Julio and the five boys.  Julio, by the way, is Honduran and lives in Talanga, Honduras and is here for two weeks to be trained in the Street Kids Direct mentoring programme.  On his return he will be coordinating the mentoring programme in Honduras and so today would be a good chance for him to see some mentoring in action.

Julio takes the boys out on the hired bikes and then we head to our favourite coffee shop to play a board game and then review the last five weeks of mentoring.  Our theme was poverty and the boys had discovered that the secret to getting out of poverty is giving!  It sounds like an odd thing to say but each was given the equivalent of £2.00 and had to find someone they felt needed the money and give it away.  We discussed how they felt and what happened and then finished with a time of silence.  The silence was not planned, it just came out of my one-line explanation of what would be the next theme for our mentoring sessions – sex!

Dropping the boys off home later made me realise how important the mentoring programme is to them.  One silly thing, as we made our way home, led to another and boys being boys one ended up doing something that led to another thing and then to me having to have a “chat” with them.  This resulted in a few firm, but loving, words.  Making mistakes is OK, but when you choose to do wrong and then try and pin the blame on someone else then the issue needs to be addressed.  It´s one of the oldest tricks in history when a person can´t accept responsibility for what they have done.  The difference, I tell the boys, between a boy and a man is not what they think.  It is, in all honesty, the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions.  A good lesson to learn as they head home and ponder on what happened.

There is only one more thing to do before my evening meeting with Julio and that is visit a home of one of the boys as his mum called me earlier during the day in tears and asking for help.  We make our way to the home and find her still in tears over a water bill she just can´t afford to pay and if she doesn´t pay she and her son will have to find another place to live.  She seems devastated as the money she owes is just so far beyond her means. Julio and I are both moved by her story and her need to find £10 to pay for the shared tap in the middle of about 12 tin shacks.  It is humbling, but we are able to help and the gift of £10 brings her to tears again.

julio in guatemalaWe discover that her son, who is still thinking through his actions from the afternoon´s events, is not eating enough.  There is not an ounce of fat on his 13-year-old body and he tells me that he and his mum often have to go without food.  On further investigation I found out that he and his mum only eat 5 days out of 7.  It is heart-breaking and so some action will need to be taken in the coming week to provide a small parcel of groceries that will help a little.

As we leave the sun is already casting long shadows in the street and about 10 small kids are outside waiting for us.  Their outstretched arms and pleas to be swung around was my cue to tell them that Julio was an expert in this and so an orderly queue is instantly formed and Julio begins his swinging.  At one point I feel guilty and so help out with a few swings and then head to the car leaving Julio with 6 kids hanging around his neck and the others running around him.  He is a star and the kids are excited about his promise to return on Wednesday evening and swing some more when the team return for the usual kids’ club for high-risk children.

Now onto our serious meeting about the development of the mentoring programme for Honduras.  It´s a great time to be serving here.

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.