Saturday 24th August 2019

I had to laugh this week with Damaris who told me that she was getting annoyed with her little sister Jackie for waking her up early in the morning.  Damaris is 14 and lives with her mum and dad, two young sisters and two younger brothers in a room that her parents rent at the rear of an alcoholic bar.  It is not a great place to be honest, but it is home and is safer than being on the streets.

JackieI discovered, as I have already written about this in a previous blog, that the youngest child, 4-year-old Jackie, was working in a restaurant for 10p a day.  Thanks to the support of a person in Amersham, we were able to get Jackie into a private nursery and this has obviously changed her life quite dramatically.

The only issue is that Jackie has to get the school bus before 6:45am every morning and Damaris has to drop her off and then rush to school herself.  Jackie, all very excited about being in nursery, has been waking up before 5am, getting dressed and then waits by the door to be taken to the bus.  Damaris complained that she wanted to sleep a bit longer and was annoyed with her sister for waking her up.

It was all quite funny, but I could see she was annoyed and so sat down with her and held her hand and said: “remember the day we found you all on the streets?”.  She had been wandering around with her four younger siblings all day in La Terminal in order to stay safe and find food.  She worked hard as an 11-year-old girl looking after her siblings and began to cry when she remembered how hard she fought to keep them all alive.  Surely taking Jackie to the bus was a big step forward and she agreed that it was a trivial complaint given the desperate conditions they used to live in and was crying and newly committed to helping her little sister have the chance she wished she had at that age.

My weekends usually start at lunchtime on Friday when I pick Moses up from school and from then on it is full-time mentoring till Sunday evening.  It is one of the three things I enjoy most about my work here and one day I hope to dedicate more time to this area of work when Alex Denton moves out here for a year in January to help me with the admin load.

aventureros1The Saturday gang, self-named “The Adventurers” have been mainly hanging out in the Protection Home on Saturdays and resting as their school weeks have been much more demanding as the school term comes to an end in October and many are involved in the school marching bands (more about this in the next blog).  The boys enjoy getting out of the city and so a climb up the Pacaya volcano, an active volcano an hour drive from the capital, resulted in their energies renewed and because it rained and they all got wet it was “the best time ever”.

Sundays are usually spent visiting individual boys and every other Sunday a visit to Santa Fas, a slum area on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  My trip this past Sunday was a challenge as the two boys I visited there were desperate for us to accept two other boys in the mentoring programme.  So, I had to visit their families and begin the evaluation process as well as a social study we do of each of the families we work with.  It is hard to say no to new children, but when I met them and heard their stories I could not say no and so the group has now grown to four!  

ludvinThe first boy I visit is called Ludvin (photo right with his mum) and he is 9 and lives with his mum, dad and younger sister in a shack that is so close to the edge of the mountain I found it hard to look down at the ground below.  If this side of the mountain ever gave way… well, I don´t even want to begin to think about what could happen.  Ludvin is a vulnerable boy to be sure and his living conditions are not that great.  The most urgent thing is to see how we could help repair his roof, as he and his sister get wet when it rains in the night.

The other boy is called Jonatan, which is easy to remember as the second boy in the group is also called Jonatan and the first is called Jonny.  It would be cool if Ludvin could change his name to Jonatan, but since I have told him about Ludwig van Beethoven, he prefers to keep his name and enjoy me calling him Beethoven.  Jonatan is more on the margins of the risk scale and his connection to the streets is not as great as the others, but we begin the evaluation and see if we can help him also.

The first Jonatan, and I understand this might cause problems now with the number of boys with similar names, has done so well in school this year and has really focused on getting exceptional grades and making positive choices in his life.  However, his living conditions are not that conducive to study or to a stable life, but he does have a caring and supportive mum.  We just need to deal with the abusive uncle living next door!

Monday 12th August 2019

My visits to Santa Fas are always ones I look forward to as the work we do here in this deprived area of Guatemala City is rewarding, but it always comes with its challenges as well as excitements.  Yesterday was no exception!

Because I had to stay home last Sunday, due to man flu (very serious as we all know!), I was unable to visit Johnny and Jonatan last week, two boys who live in vulnerable situations and who are in our mentoring programme. So, yesterday I head off to Santa Fas, a flourishing area of Guatemala City that is still prone of gang battles and all manner of crime.

SantaFas August2I find a “safe” place for the car and walk down the two dark alleyways and then down the steep steps and along the path that precariously clings to side of the mountain.  One slip and you would certainly be carried off to hospital or worse.

Eventually I arrive at Jonatan´s house, a large tin shack with dirt floor while mosquitoes try and get their pound of flesh and chickens and a duck run around, and a big welcome and hug from Jonatan and his mum.  His 4-year-old younger brother has now got to know me and so doesn´t hide under a piece of cardboard like he did when I first arrived.  Johnny is also there and the two boys show me the swing they have made.

The smell is pungent and the rotting rubbish that accumulates with every downpour creates a dangerous and very unhealthy environment for any child to play.  But these boys are just so used to living in this environment that having a swing over the sewerage and rubbish is just normal.

Today Jonatan´s mum invites me into their shack and Jonatan shows me his bed and the few possessions he has. I bring out a small gift I have brought them from the UK and they are overjoyed.  The little tins of mints are not that exciting for kids I know, but the tin with the Queen´s guard on is and so I know these will be treasured for many years to come.

SantaFas August1Just as we are talking about the boy´s school results I hear an increase in volume from the man I saw standing outside their shack.  He is a visiting uncle and is drunk and shouting at Jordie, a slim 11-year-old boy who does not seem to have done anything wrong apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The uncle takes off his belt and marches into the next-door shack, swaying from the effects of alcohol.  I come out and see Jordie´s little face hiding in the corner and he is crying. His uncle is becoming more abusive and so I decide to intervene, first by inviting Jordie to join us for a trip into town while explaining to the uncle and the rest of the family that is it illegal to hit a child.  The uncle tries to tell me that the boy must respect him and I wonder, as he talks, how much respect he will actually develop by being drunk and trying to hit a small boy with a leather belt.

The altercation ends with everyone calm and the uncle being reminded that I will not hesitate to prosecute anyone I find abusing a child and remind Jordie of his rights and to contact me if there are any problems.

Jonatan and Johnny then accompany me for our mentoring session entitled “Making a Difference´, a study of a child King in the Bible who made a massive impact in his community and of a 12-year-old boy from Canada who founded a huge child movement to help children suffering from being sold into slavery in Pakistan and India.  At the end of the session and with the challenge for them both to think about how they could make a difference they both said they wanted to help a family they knew who lived in poverty.  Both boys live in extreme poverty and yet they could still think of people who were poorer than them.  A plan will be hatched over the next week!

SantaFas August3We return back via a shoe shop where I need to buy both of them trainers for school.  I know I have moaned enough in my blogs about the Guatemalan education system, but maybe just one more moan and then I will leave it there. Both boys are expecting good schools results this week and on Monday they have a PE exam and if they don´t come with trainers then they will be marked down.  It is a miracle enough that both boys are still in school and doing well and coping with the daily requests of homework based on their time on the internet, something that is almost impossible for them.  I am waiting to get their school results and if they are good then they will choose a special activity we can do together next week.

Mentoring is a special relationship built on trust that is developed over time and one that must involve the mentor and the whole family in order to understand the child´s school, community and home environment.  I always return home feeling very blessed indeed and today I have just one more boy to visit on my way home, 12-year-old Danny.

Danny is expecting me and I can hear his feet running down the alleyway as he hears that I am in the street outside.  Today I find Danny a little down as his “mum” is unwell and is lying on the bed and in need of medical help.  Danny´s mum is an inspiration as she was studying English and had just received her visa to go to the US to live out her dream when a neighbour knocked on the door late one night and said she was leaving.  She left not only a few clothes and an old bed but also three young children who she decided to take as her own and care for.

A few years down the line and with all the legal forms in place Danny´s new mum cares for three young children on a very low income.  She walks the city streets everyday selling nuts and does so coping with the heat, the pollution and with a walking stick.  She just about earns enough to provide two basic meals per day.  Danny never complains and is always happy to have time with me and hear stories of many things he will never hear of in school.

It is getting dark and so I need to head home as today has been a long day, but one of great blessing and opportunity to serve.  Thanks to your support all this is possible, thank you.

Saturday 27th July 2019

CA1Returning to Guatemala was something I had been looking forward to during every mile walked during this year´s Camino por Amor walk in Scotland.  On arrival I could see that some of the team and children were outside ready to welcome me and it felt good to be home.

There was lots to do as, over the coming days, I was having to move house.  One of the decisions I had taken during my time away was to rent my apartment in the city and move to the Protection Home after Lorena and her family had returned to Honduras due to not being able to get her and her children’s residency.  Someone needed to be at the home and finish off the last few little jobs that were needed and since we had no budget, no staff or volunteers for the home, I knew this was something I could do.  Furthermore, if we could find someone to rent my apartment then I could use that money to help with the running costs of the home.

CA2So, now I am living in a much-reduced space in a home that seems to be plagued by cockroaches and mosquitoes.  It has not been the easiest of times, but I knew that this was the right thing to do in order to have the home fully operational.

It did not take long to get the place sorted and ready for taking in children again and we have had a few kids with us over the last few weeks, which has been great.  One memorable event for us and the home was when Tim and Marcia Hines came to visit us for a week with a team of volunteers from the USA.  It was like having a breath of fresh air in the place as they cleaned, tidied and did the most incredible job of sorting out the garden area and the building mess downstairs.  A HUGE THANK YOU to Tim, Marcia and the team for serving so faithfully and for all you bought when here.

A few other bits of news to bring you up-to-date and hope that you are encouraged to know that your support really does affect the lives of vulnerable people and does make a difference.

Street RescueA phone call late one night made me rush into the Terminal in Guatemala City to come to the rescue of a man and his baby daughter.  The man had found his wife leaving the family home and their baby one day and discovered that rats had been eating away at the baby girl when she slept and his wife had not said anything.  He took her to a hospital in the city, 6 hours bus ride from his home, and spent all he had on medicines and medical treatment and then ran out of money to get home.  We were able to help put them both on an overnight bus and know they arrived safely the following morning.

Thanks to two generous donors we have been able to make many donations of food to the children who come to the mentoring centre in the city.  One of our donors is a mentor but also quite high up in the Guatemalan government and her company comes by every couple of weeks with donations of milk powder, cereal, biscuits and snacks, washing powder and detergent.

Centro JoeThanks to Joe Rose, 16 years, who came from Kings Church Football Club in Amersham to spend time with us recently.  Joe made an instant impact on the kids and was able to teach football skills and just hang out with the kids and gain their love and respect.  One of the boys was asked last week to say a pray in school and so he prayed for Joe and then burst into tears as he will miss him. 

The kids do get attached and we do try and help them understand the nature of visitors and volunteers and despite their comings and goings we are able to provide a framework of consistent support that makes the difference.  Thanks Joe for being so brave and coming here all on your own and coping with getting dengue fever and having me care for you.


Damaris Band1I was very pleased to be receive a photo of Damaris in her school band uniform and feel, once again, very proud of her.  Damaris is 13 and is doing well in school now and I am so happy she is deciding to do things that she likes at last, instead of just wanting what is best for her younger brothers and sisters.  

Damaris is such an inspiration to me and thanks to Frank who found her and her siblings on the streets one day and offered a helping hand.  How her life has changed and now she wants to be able to help others and now has dreams of what she would like to do in the future. All this joy came at a cost of £10 and made her feel like a million pounds.

Please know how much we appreciate your donations that help so many vulnerable children and young people.  We often wonder where they would be if it was not for you supporting what we love doing so much.  THANK YOU.