Sunday 25th February

Yesterday was a blast.  I had driven to our Centre on the outskirts of La Terminal, parked the car and walked to collect Brandon, Fredy and Jonathan.  Walking through the hustle and bustle of the crowded streets in the market always hits your senses hard.  I wonder how it is that large numbers of people weave in and out of the slow-moving traffic without being run over.  Small children tap on the windows of some of the cars expectant for a coin while others run around the traffic like it was a playground and where no harm would come to them.  Today our time of mentoring was going to be different.  We had all agreed to go and visit Go Guatemala.

brandon3I arrive to collect Brandon and walk up the dimly-lit alleyway to his “house” and I am pleased to find him dressed in his one smart shirt he got for Christmas and with a huge smile on his face.  His hair is gelled and styled into what he tells me is all the rage for 10-year-old boys.  The last two times I collected him he was running around about to go into the shower or just coming out of it. He lives in one room with his mum, dad and three siblings.  They share a sink and shower with a few other families and so he can´t always time the shower to fit in with me visiting.  Today, however, he was ready on time and so we head off to collect Fredy and his brother Jonathan.  A few minutes later we pile into my car and drive out of La Terminal and head towards zone 18.

Every Saturday Go Guatemala runs an outreach club for children who live in zone 6 and zone 18 - two zones in Guatemala City that have very high rates of gang membership and childhood homicide.  The club is run by Pastor Alex and his wife Evelyn together with some very dedicated mums and teenagers.  When I first moved back to Guatemala 5 years ago I volunteered here every Saturday and helped run the games and activities out in the sports field for up to 120 children while the rest of the team ran educational activities inside.

This was the boys first visit to Go Guatemala and they quickly engaged with the other children and started to play and enjoy themselves.  The programme starts with breakfast and then a time of signing worship songs, with all the actions, followed by everyone being divided into age groups for the various activities.  It always amazes me how much this project relies on casual donations and the team are hopeful there will be something arriving this morning to provide the children with lunch.

goguatemala1One of the main strengths of this project we help fund is the school support.  In Guatemala the levels of school dropout is high and from our experience this can be down to the fact that children just can´t access the information they need to get their grades.  It costs 30p to have 30 mins access to the internet and then extra for every page that is printed.  Every single day teachers ask children to investigate a certain topic on the internet and then write it up and print out pictures and illustrations for the following day.  For so many this is impossible.  Go Guatemala offers this service free to the children and the help they need to understand what they are looking for.

After lunch we listen to another inspirational talk by Pastor Alex on how so many young people just slip easily into the labour market without considering further education or how they could setup their own business.  We then drive back to La Terminal making sure we stop for an ice-cream on the way and the boys begin to discuss what they enjoyed about their exciting day out.  They love getting away from La Terminal and realise that the world is much different than they first imagined.

A few days later our street team, headed up by the amazing Ben Soden, organises an activity for one of the groups of mums of the children we work with in La Terminal.  The evening is a great success and the mums talk about how special they feel now we are doing activities for them and not just their children.  I love many things about this event, but most of all I love the fact that I had nothing to do with it.  I am encouraged by the way the team is growing in ability and confidence and expanding the work. 

sergio hospitalTwo other things to tell you before I sign off.  Firstly, Sergio is back with us.  Some might remember that a few years ago we rescued Sergio from the streets and he was given the chance to study and a scholarship to train as an airline pilot.  His life didn´t work out exactly as he had hoped, and he came to see us and asked for our help.  We received him with love and welcomed him back and soon after he was in the emergency ward of the state hospital.  A metal plate that had been fitted to his leg due to a severe brake had broken free and had caused the leg to break again.  Sergio was in agony, but we managed to get him the operation and now he is recovering and planning once again to resume his studies and pursuing his dream of becoming an airline pilot.

ashlyfilm

 

And finally.  I am heading back to the UK on the 1st March for some fundraising events and I hope you will be able to consider coming to join me on the 17th March in Amersham for our Family Quiz Night.  It is for anyone of any age and it’s a lot of fun.  Ben and Joseph Soden have been busy filming for this event and so if you are able to come along you will hear the story of one of the girls who is benefitting from your donations.  Ashly lives in Guatemala City and her story is quite an inspiration and I hope that in hearing it you will be encouraged to know your support really does change lives.  I will also be making the important announcement at the Quiz Night of this summer´s crazy idea – a sponsored walk like none other!  Stay tuned for more information.

Monday 12th February 2018

You know what it´s like when you fall into a deep sleep and then the phone rings and you are not sure if it’s the dream or if you need to get up and answer the phone?  Saturday night was one of those nights when I had been asleep for an hour when the phone rings a few minutes after midnight.  I answer the phone and only hear women screaming at each other, but the person who is making the call is one of the families we have been helping and so I knew something was not right.

I tried my best to get someone to talk with me but after about a minute of screaming the phone went dead.  I lay back on my bed and wondered if this call was made in error but all of a sudden it rang again and this time I was asked to go to a home in La Terminal right away in order to help keep a little boy safe.

Earlier in the week one of the young girls in our mentoring centre had asked me if she could receive some advice.  She told me of a lady in a neighbouring shack who looks after children and how another lady, who works as a sex-worker, had dropped off a young boy and had not returned.  The lady was now treating the boy badly and she wanted to know what we could do to help.  Soon after we finished talking a neighbour of the lady sent me a message telling me the same thing and sending me photos of the little boy´s face and head with the various wounds visible and asking me if we could make a formal complaint with the authorities.

boy rescue1Sadly the authorities, who should act to save the children from abuse and neglect, seem rather underfunded and over-worked and so I knew their response would take time.  What I was not expecting was the call in the middle of the night to tell me the situation had deteriorated and the little boy was now at great risk and the lady who is “looking after him” is now very drunk and taking it out on the boy.

I head to The Terminal and when I arrive two police officers are already there and trying to take some form of statement from the lady who is holding the child and has been allegedly abusing him.  I have to listen to countless versions of what has been going on but it seems that the mother of the boy has abandoned the child in order to keep working.  The lady being interviewed is drunk and aggressive but the police do their best to keep her calm.

After a short time I phone our super-hero, Juan Carlos, who knows everything about the law and what should be done and he tells me he is on his way, as is Ben Soden who is also hearing about the situation and wants to come and support.

I overhear one of the police officers telling the lady that even though the child is not hers, and she can´t produce any documentation that he has been left in her care by the real mother, that if she promises to stop hitting the child then they will leave it there.  This is where I need to intervene and explain to the police their legal obligations, which leads them to take the child away and give it to another mother in a similar situation next door.  The police officer tells me that since this other lady is not drunk the child will be safe and we should leave it there.

However, the lady who was abusing the child is becoming very aggressive and when I begin to talk with the police she starts to push me and then pull at my jacket to plead with me not to take this to court.  I have to ignore her pleas and explain to the two police officers that they are not acting within the law!  This grabs their attention and I need to make clear the legal process of dealing with situations like this, which includes removing the boy and placing him into their protective custody, taking him immediately to the court and making a formal statement about the child.

The police then leave and call for backup and within a couple of minutes more police officers arrive into the dimly-lit forecourt where numerous families have setup home in tin and block shacks and share a sink, toilet and shower.  It is grim even in the daylight but the darkness of night covers over some of the desperate conditions but highlights new ones like the coming and going of men who come for sex with young women.  There is now a female police officer and they have decided that action is what is required.

The lady who has been abusing the boy is now becoming more violent and so I have to step into a fight between her and another lady and try and keep them apart while they scratch at each other, try and exchange punches and all manner of abuse.  The police then arrest the lady who is obviously not going easily.  She puts up a fight as they try and handcuff her and push her to the ground and begin to punch her in the face.  The situation is getting out of hand and Juan Carlos and Ben arrive in time for us to focus now on the little boy who is crying in one of the shacks.

boy rescue2We discover that the original officers were not keen to pursue action as their shift was ending and so the reinforcements were now starting the new shift and keen to help us to keep the little boy safe.  Ben and me pick up the little boy and try and comfort him while one of the new officers seems to know the score and asks us to accompany him to the court to make a statement.  Ben cradles the little boy tenderly in his arms and goes in the police car while Juan Carlos and me follow on behind.

Thankfully the little boy is safe but it takes a little longer to get to court due to a shooting in the main street that leads to the court and police have now cordoned off the area.  The reality of living in Guatemala City slaps me in the face again and we follow the police up one-way streets - the wrong way - and eventually arrive at the court that deals with children.  We are given a warm welcome after being searched for weapons and short statements are taken and I manage to get the little boy laughing and feeling comfortable.

Ben tells me that he will hopefully now grow up with no memory of this event and should be taken into adoption or into a caring children´s home.  He remains a boy with no name and we pray God´s protection over him and hand him over to the nursery worker.  Now comes the tough bit as we finish the legal process and will now need to re-build relationships in the community where the event took place.  It is hard where we can be seen as the bad people who come and take children away, but we have to make it clear we can´t, and the law does not allow us to, stand by and allow children to be neglected and abused.  Just another day on the streets!

Tuesday 6th February 2018

Firstly, please forgive me for the large gap between this blog and the last one!  It has been one rollercoaster over the last two months and I will be uploading more blogs over the next week, so lots to catch up on.  In the meantime I need to get something off my chest and so, since my blog helps me do this, I thought I would share with you what happened yesterday.

CentroMy arrival at the SKD mentoring Centre is always exciting, even if no one is there.  The Centre is a miracle and the fact we are open most days is incredible given that we would love a full-time person in to run the Centre.  The Centre operates thanks to the few volunteers we have and so I am actively seeking funding for a teacher or child psychologist to work there every day.

It was still early and so the Centre was quiet inside but noisy outside as the rural busses were thundering by, dropping off workers into the terminal after a long journey from the countryside.  I needed at least an hour on the computer to catch up with emails and prepare for the team meeting later.

As soon as I open my computer the doorbell rings and I can see on the security camera that little Maria Jose is outside with her mum.  I go down and open the door and both come in and the mum begins to cry.  I feel sad, not because the mum is crying but to imagine what like is like for little Maria Jose.

Maria Jose was born in La Terminal and very rarely has she seen life outside it.  She is 8 years of age and has experienced contract killers coming to her little shack, watching her older sister go into prostitution and eventually start living with her 14-year-old boyfriend in the same bed as her and her little sister.  Her brother is now spending more time on the streets and is causing her distress but in turn the distress has led her to escape via the same route as her 14-year-old brother, namely sniffing solvents.

She is a little girl and one can read abandonment all over her face.  She hunches instinctively, as though someone is about to hit her.  Her shoes are broken and are clinging to her feet mainly through the toes as the straps are broken and the soles of her shoes barely exist.  Her shabby clothes are ripped and pungent with the smell you get from someone who has been living on the streets for a few months.  I would love to scoop her up, get her in a shower, buy her some clean clothes, get her hair fixed and make her feel like a princess.  I even try and say that beautiful princesses don´t need to sniff solvents, especially ones who are only 8.

Maria Jose is unwell again and so needs some extra support and will now miss another day of school.  Her attendance at school is rather hit or miss and so she never gets to pass first grade and so is doomed to repeat it over and over again.  I feel powerless and can´t wait to have the Protection Home open.

As the day progresses and the Centre fills up with children needing support and help with their homework the hours fly by and takes me to finishing just before 10pm when I get a call from a lady on the streets to tell me that Maria Jose´s 14-year-old brother has just been rushed into hospital.

I call Ben and we head to the general hospital to find the boy´s mother outside in tears and informing us that he has been stabbed in the neck and she knows nothing more.  Usually a neck stab wound is serious but we find out that he will pull through and the doctors are preparing him for x-rays to see what damage the iron bar did to him when a stranger plunged it into his neck.

padlock

The mum needs support and prayers and Ben buys her some food and drink before we ask about Maria Jose and her young brother and sister in their shack in La Terminal.  “They are all alone”, she tells us and so we decide it best to visit them and she passes on the key to the padlock that keeps their shack relatively safe at night.

On arrival at the shack the tin door is not padlocked with the chain but open and two little girls are sleeping on a bed.  The 10-year-old brother, who is supposed to be looking after them, has gone out on the streets again.  Ben and me begin to search the dark and narrow passageways and eventually find Luis who informs us that he is at the place where a man has been killed.  We walk a little further and see 10 police officers standing over a body of a man who has been killed and then see the boy with some others laughing and talking abut the wounds the man received.  It was a horrific scene and I comment to Ben on the impact that these types of events must have on children growing up here.

Eventually we encourage the boy to return with us to secure the shack until his mum returns home in the early hours.  His solution, on arrival at the shack, is to secure it with the padlock and chain and then head back off the streets.  We can do little more than pray for their safety and report the situation to the authorities and hope that we can find a happier outcome for them.  It´s at times like this you wish you could have special powers to act and remove children from dangerous situations.  It seems all rather hopeless as we head to bed, but that is often how we feel I am sorry to say.