Tuesday 15th May 2018
If I told you I was invited to dinner by an Ambassador, a Bishop and a police officer then you would think a joke was on its way! Well, I suppose that now and again my odd life here in Guatemala goes from one extreme to the other.
We had been welcoming various visitors to Guatemala over the last few weeks including Bishop Mike Hill and Dt Sgt Sarah Elliott from Suffolk Police. Mike was in the US and so managed to get a flight down to see the work and was particularly interested in the progress being made on the massive rebuilding of a derelict home in Guatemala City for the next stage of our work – the provision of a short-term Protection Home for vulnerable children.
The work on the home stopped briefly two weeks ago due to lack of funds and so we continue to pray for the money needed to get this exciting project towards the grand opening day for late July or early August. A special giving page has been created for this and more information is now available on our website including the plans for stages 1 and 2 or the development.
Our other visitor was Dt Sgt Sarah Elliott (photo) who had come to Guatemala representing both the Forge Church and Suffolk Police. Sarah was invited to give a morning´s training to the various agencies in the Guatemalan Government responsible for the safety and protection of children. The training was a great success and those who attended benefitted from Sarah´s vast experience in child protection and shared with everyone the processes and procedures that Suffolk Police have in place and showed how the police deal with allegations of abuse including photos of the interview and investigative process. THANK YOU, Sarah, for coming and also for your work in our mentoring centre in Guatemala City and many thanks to Suffolk Police for their support also.
We have been busy with training days for the staff and volunteers in Guatemala and have been working hard on refining our processes for working with children and handling volunteers. Our big review of our child protection policy and its implementation has led us to start work on developing a special module to help children understand child abuse. We are coming across more and more cases where children are sexually abusing other children and how social media has started to play a part in this. It is deeply sad to have to work on this and face the realities of our modern world, but we are committed to providing a safe and secure framework for children to grow and develop and provide those same children with tools that will help keep them safe.
This has led us to start a series of meetings with parents of the children we work with. Thanks to Lorena, who moved here with her two children from Honduras last year, we have managed to bring together parents who seem really committed to the welfare of their children and will work with others to help them move in this direction. We do know that working with children in isolation will always lead to a very weak network for the safety of the children. Our plan is to encourage all the parents to get involved in family support networks in order to develop a more robust and caring environment for children to develop and thrive.
The street work continues to inspire and motivate me massively but it is an area of my work that has been affected by the actual running of the organisation. My heart has always been on the streets and having done this for the last 25 years I know it is very much a part of who I am. But with the growth of the work in Guatemala and the need to care for and direct the various teams of staff and volunteers this has meant my time on the streets has been limited over the last few months.
On one recent trip we came across Carolina who was celebrating her 16thbirthday on the sreets. Her story broke our hearts and we always wonder how much is actually true as her story of abandonment, trafficking and sexual abuse is far too shocking to be repeated here in this blog. This is where you feel most helpless and vulnerable as there always seems so little you can actually do to make a real difference to her life. I know that having a street team who head to the streets every day will mean she can access our support and maybe benefit from it in some way until she makes the decision to leave the streets and either return to her father, who she tells us is a caring man, or goes into a rehabilitation programme.
I return now to one long but special day yesterday as we continued to celebrate Mother´s Day with a dinner and film for some of the mums we work with and an afternoon of fun at our Centre for the children in the mentoring programme. Thanks to our newest volunteer, Laura Evans from Amersham, we have been treated to a full programme of special activities for the children every day. Yesterday the children enjoyed a science experiment and were captivated to watch their balloons self-inflate and then explode. We so love seeing them so happy and learning new things and many thanks to Laura for the amount of work she has put into preparing these activities and for her commitment to being here for the next few months.
One of the things I have always wanted to have is to find volunteers who could help introduce the children to the technical world around them and see the potential that computers can offer rather than just games and printing out homework. Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a project in an area of Guatemala City that is well known for its gang violence.
The project is called Cada Niño and I had taken David, a 15-year-old volunteer, to see how a computer lab works and what software was being used to teach the children. One boy, who was only 12-years-old (blue t-shirt), was showing us how he had designed websites from writing in computer code and then explained how he teaches the children robotics. Just one inspiring boy indeed and I hope the visit will motivate David in his volunteering role and may lead us to develop such a programme at our Centre one day.