Tuesday 5th November 2019

School is now out and most of the children are having to work to support their families.  Our plan to offer workshops and special activities every day has not gone as well as we thought as numbers coming to the mentoring centre were not that great.  It is good the kids are not on the streets, but with some only 7 years-of-age and working long hours in La Terminal my heart is torn.  Reporting them to the authorities will only lead to alienation and conflict, so we have decided that it would be best to support them and work with the parents to minimize the risk to the children as well as encouraging them to allow them some free time to play and be kids.

The special days we have now planned till the end of the year at Casa Alexis have been very well supported this week and parents have got the message and allowed their working children to have times of rest, play and support.

casa alexis nov1Our full-time volunteer “Super Brenda” is helping us out now in the home on a daily basis and, since I have worked with her on the streets since 1993, I know she will be a fantastic asset to our work.  Brenda knows we have very little money for the running costs of the home, let alone funds for a staff worker, and so was thrilled to have the chance to come and offer her skills with the children and bring something very unique to them over the next two months.

Yesterday the home was full of kids, upstairs and down, and just to hear the squeals and laughter was something I had wanted to hear for a very long time.  It felt like the home had breathed one of those deep breaths you enjoy when you relax into a night in with hot chocolate and a good movie.  The home is a welcoming place and the boys quickly got on with making banana smoothies and chocolate brownies, while the girls queued up to get their hair cut but two volunteer professional hairdressers.

Most of the day´s activities were down to a new volunteer we have called Ingrid.  Ingrid´s parents live next door and one Saturday she was visiting them and saw some of our boys in the streets sweeping and picking up litter.  She was inquisitive and asked why they were doing this.  The conversation led to a meeting and that then led to her pulling out all the stops in looking for donations and contacts to help the children and the charity.  She seems unstoppable and we are grateful for more local volunteers and donations.

amanda videoThe contrast to this came in the week when I accompanied Benjamin on the streets one evening.  It feels odd as this was my full-time job and now I can only go out once or twice a week, something I hope will change next year when another volunteer from Amersham joins us for a year – Alex Denton.

We begin to meander through the little alleyways in La Terminal and come to “las casitas”, which means the little houses. Here we find 16-year-old Carlos very high on solvents and a couple of young children running around unsupervised and getting into all sorts of situations.  We had come to see Amanda and record a video, which we hoped would help her get out of poverty.  Amanda wants to be a hairdresser and sees this as a great opportunity to find another place to live for her, her daughter and boyfriend.

We move on to the rubbish dump and find Doña Olivia and little Jesus hard at work with a couple of sacks of recycled materials.  We talk about a plan we have to find them alternative accommodation, as the place they are living in is not fit for humans to live in.  We are working on a plan and if all goes well they should soon be in a much better place thanks to supporters in Tunbridge Wells.

A little girl comes over to see us and asks if we can help her get into school in the coming year and could she come into the mentoring programme.  Her 14-year-old brother then joins us and asks for our help as a gang are looking for him as he was witness to a massacre in the cemetery last week when 12 people were killed.  A solution needs to be found for them all and already I am feeling overwhelmed again by, not just the need but by the urgency and extremity of the need. We pause to reflect and record a video.

selvinOur evening on the streets finishes at “La Casona” where the guys on the streets want to know how Pablo is doing.  Last week he had to be rescued by the street team and rushed into hospital as it was clear he was dying and his organs could no longer cope.  It reminded me of the scenes the day we rushed Gerson into hospital, who then died three hours later.  Pablo was not in good shape and we are still waiting on news as to how he is doing.  The hospitals here are very closed and extremely under-funded, so access to them is limited and care very hit-and-miss.

Finally, we spend some time with Selvin who was thrilled to have our attention and was so happy that he walked us all the way back to the mentoring centre in order to make sure we were safe.  It was another special moment that made the very long day seem more human and less painful.  Sleeping in a bed tonight won´t feel a guilty pleasure and tomorrow is a long drive for Ben and Hector as they go to San Marcos, in the very northern jungle area of Guatemala, for two days to see children we have rescued from the streets in La Terminal.

Saturday 26th October 2019

I am sorry if you are bored with my phrase “mentoring changes lives”, but it really does and I know that in a few years when the boys I am mentoring can reflect back and see the progress they have made, they will be excited and motivated to help other boys do the same.

graduationFor the moment, the weekly mentoring sessions will change somewhat as many have now finished their school year.  All the boys have passed their school grades and so can move on to another year.  In Guatemala if you don´t pass your school year, and 24% of children don´t, then you either drop out or sit the year again.

We are invited to the many long graduation services and it is an honour to be there at their side as they parade around, get their certificates and, for those graduating primary school, receive their graduation ring that is worn with pride until it no longer fits on your finger.

Two of our girls graduated primary school and it was such a special time to see them so happy and excited about the coming school year.  The boys were just as excited and emotional as they knew this would the last time they would see their teachers and many of their school friends.

casa alexis cookingWe have since had many special meals out, trips to the cinema or times of cooking in Casa Alexis to celebrate their achievements.  One such day was learning together how to cook a traditional British pasty.  It was my first time of cooking this, but was very proud of how the boys took to their new challenge of making pastry and, as the kitchen filled with the smell of pasties over the next hour, we had our more formal mentoring session and planned the next adventure.

A couple of days later I had to be at another party.  This time it was to celebrate Damaris´14th and buy a couple of birthday cakes and a shared present from me and the team.  Damaris is often mentioned in my blogs as she is very special and one incredible survivor.  One day I hope she will have the strength to write down her story so that others can read of her life and see why she is one amazing example of resilience.

damaris partyBeing in the family home, just one room at the rear of a shop that sells alcoholic drinks day and night, was rather claustrophobic.  Her parents, now very much back together and doing well, had invited people from the local church, the other rooms in the building and a few cousins and uncles that live not too far away.  

The centre piece for any Guatemalan birthday party is when the cake is brought out, candles are lit and we all sing “happy birthday to you”.  The person whose birthday it is then has to take a bite out of the cake and when they do so someone pushes their face into the cake.  We are all then served cake with facial hair and, being a rather OCD person, it is an interesting experience of how to not eat the bits her face has not been in.  I am sure Helen Carmody would be much better at this challenge than me!

Friday 11th October 2019

Guatemala has two main seasons, dry and wet.  Yes, we do get a little colder during December and January, but on the whole, you can guarantee that by the end of October the rainy season is coming or has come to an end and so washing your car is now possible as well as hanging out the washing all day.

lanslideHowever, the last throws of the rainy season sometimes end with hurricanes or just days and nights of rain, and this last week was no exception.  The rains were torrential and led to many landslides around the country.  In one area where we work, Santa Fas, a landslide had affected two of the homes of the families we work with, and so when the call came around 9pm one evening I had to drive over in the most horrendous rain and climb down a muddy mountainside in the pitch black.  Just one slip would send me over the edge and certainly to a long stay in hospital or worse.

Climbing over the make-shift bridges that leads me down to Jonatan´s home was an experience that challenges most people in the daytime, let alone in the dark and in the rain.  It was clear a lot of soil and plants had given way and ended up pouring mud and water into their shack.  At the top of the landslide was Ludwin´s home and it was more concerning as the home could actually give way at any time and tumble into the shacks below.

LudwinLudwin is the youngest boy of the group from Santa Fas in mentoring with me and is struggling with many things that I hope to explore over the coming weeks.  Some creative ways to help him talk about how he feels will be needed.  It does break my heart when I see the family squatting over a piece of wood that takes hours to heat a small pot of beans.  They are very poor indeed and live on less than £100 per month.  I am not sure I could keep a family of five alive for that sum of money and no wonder why Ludwin feels ill when he comes over to eat at our home.  It is all too much and his weight and height for his age is a worry.  But then all four boys here are very underdeveloped, so a new challenge will begin to get then up to their expected development curve by the age of 12.

Living in Santa Fas is a challenge in itself and having to cope with the possible loss of your home is a worry that does affect these families and leads to stress, well…more stress.  I knew that we would need to help and so when the rain had stopped we assembled the team and turned up one day to shore up the homes, clear away the mud and cover tin roofs, that are now rather porous, with plastic sheeting in order to keep what little possessions the families have dry.

Many thanks to those who sent in money to help with the efforts and if you want to see the video taken on the day then please do watch it here.