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.
With 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Jesus 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.
We 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.