walk1Tuesday 2nd July 2019

The plan was to walk from one end of the UK and back again in 15 days and achieve a Guinness World Record. This year´s Camino por Amor walk would involve myself, Steve Poulson, Benjamin and Joseph Soden in a non-stop relay that would help raise funds for the work here in Central America.  But not one thing worked out to plan, apart from sleeping in a comfortable campervan!

On our arrival in the UK for the annual Coin Race, Benjamin was still recovering from a serious stomach infection that had left him in hospital.  Steve was in high spirits and had just made it out of Honduras after riots closed the airport where he was waiting to board his plane.  He was hit with tear gas as police rushed into the airport to carry away the protesters.  Joseph was having treatment with me for a serious injury to our knees when we were out on our last long training walk in Guatemala.  So, the fabulous team of four were basically down to one and two halves!

As we met to plan the new walk we decided that we could attempt the walk as we had planned, but in two teams with Steve walking only from Land´s End to Kendal - the midway point in the UK - and Joseph and me walking from Kendal to John O´Groats and back again. It was all going really well.

walk4Benjamin was unable to walk and so he and Steve drove from Kendal to Land´s End where Steve would walk on his own back to Kendal, supported greatly by Benjamin in their newly-acquired support vehicle. Joseph and I took off from Kendal with high hopes we would get to the end of the UK in 7 days.  It would mean we would each have to walk 40-50km per day.

Day one saw us reach the border with Scotland and achieve our target while many people followed our live GPS locations on the website and via Facebook.  On day three I had walked my first 20km and it was now Joseph´s turn and so I drove behind him for quite a way before having to stop much further on in a layby and waited.  I was not expecting Joseph to dropped off by the police and could see that he was not doing well and was rescued by the police who were very happy to give him a short lift to our luxury support vehicle.

I now needed to find a hospital as Joseph´s ankle and foot were swelling up rather fast.  One stop at a nearby hospital led to having to take him to a much larger one.  The outcome was not good and while I was there they checked out my ballooning knee and recommended a couple of weeks of rest with hot and cold compresses.  We decided to rest for one day and then continue.

walk6The next morning was not that easy as Joseph was still in agony and really unable to drive while I walked.  Hence, the boomerang plan came into place (plan D) whereby I would walk 10km up the road and then 10km back to the vehicle.  Then drive the vehicle to 20km and do that all over again.  It was going to prove to be a long day, but Joseph filled himself with pills and struggled on with the driving later that morning.

This new plan would mean I would now have to walk for both of us, but knew that just getting to John O´Groats would be a challenge as our team was now down to one walker, like Steve. On one of the days my knee was so swollen that I decided to go with plan E and use a scooter to try and catch up with lost ground and rest the knee.  It must be 55 years ago that I last got on a scooter and so had no real idea of how difficult a task this would be.  On the first day I managed to get to 60km on the scooter, a massive challenge for anyone of any age.  At one point a police patrol car pulled me over as I was heading up the A9 dual-carriageway and pleading with me to look for small and less busy roads to get to John O´Groats.

walk5Plan E returned after two days to plan D as the scooter was causing me more issues than the walking and so we limped our way slowly across the Scottish borderlands.  The narrow roads were at times rather terrifying as lorries and cars sped by at 60 miles an hour.  There were many moments I had to jump into a ditch or a hedgerow in order to avoid being mown down. The views were incredible and despite the wind and rain I enjoyed the walk, but went many miles without seeing a single person.

At one point a campervan almost knocked me over as it came around the corner rather fast.  Four cyclists had just slowed down to say hi and wish me well and were a little further up the road.  Then I heard a screech of brakes and saw a cyclist lying in the road. The campervan that had missed me had now hit one of the cyclists and left him with serious head injuries. Fortunately coming the other way at exactly the same time was a fully crewed fire and rescue vehicle and they quickly sought to his injuries and arranged for his medical evac.

It was a timely reminder to me of the dangers we faced on the roads and Steve was not faring well as he had been admitted to hospital with weak knees and had to rest for 24 hours before continuing his journey.

Our arrival in John O´Groats was not what I wanted really as I had been saying to Joseph that amazing we had been kept safe all this way and was thankful.  No sooner had I crossed the road and walked a little further when I was hit by a campervan leaving the town.  The vehicle carried on its journey and I took its number plate, but it could have been worse as I had just been hit by the large wingmirror and this had left just a small pain on my left shoulder for a while, but all good in the end.

walk2I can´t say that John O´Groats is worth the visit, as the tea shop in town closed just as we arrived in the rain and the rest of the place seemed abandoned.  Joseph and I took the decision to leave as soon as possible and drive, after having the official photos taken, to a much more welcoming town a little further South.  I thought I would feel a sense of excitement at getting to our goal two days before Steve, but we took the decision to drive South to get a final medical check by our very good friend Doctor Alex Rollings, and then surprise Steve on his final two days and offer to walk with him and his growing team of walkers had to support him during the final days of the walk as he was suffering from weak knees and general tiredness.

The last moments of the walk were captured and placed on Facebook and can be seen here as we arrive together in Kendal and complete this year´s Camino por Amor walk while outlining our plans for next year´s challenge.

Thank you to everyone who got behind the walk and supported to help us raise a total of £7,500.  Now for some recovery time and preparation for 2020!

Sunday 2nd June 2019

We had gathered in our Centre, as we always do early on a Friday morning, to meet as a team and to pray. Praying helps us all recognise that it does not rely on us and that we can´t take the glory or seek to think that change can come through merely human effort.

breakfastThere is a knock on the door of our Mentoring Centre and when we see who is happy to join us today we find three children outside. Everyone is welcome, but they have not come to pray, but rather come to seek refuge.  They are made to feel comfortable and our cleaner/cook begins to search through the fridge and cupboards to find something for them to eat.  We only have 6 eggs, 4 tortillas and a small bowl of beans and so this is cooked and prepared in order to give the three something for breakfast.

I leave them to eat and then return to our lounge to pray.  Not long after the children come upstairs and we make a bit of fuss of them and the youngest one, a four-year-old girl, comes and sits on my knee.  The two boys grab a quick hug and then begin to tell us that they were afraid and hungry and that they feel safe in the centre.

The little girl then begins to say that she was afraid of her dad who came in drunk again last night and hit her mum.  Sony, our Administrator, comes closer to hold her hand and begins to shed a tear as she goes on to say: “mum says we should get another dad, one who does not hit us”.  The two boys sit in silence and then go on to tell me what they had to endure last night and the fight that ensued and how they got little sleep and wondered if they would end up on the streets again.

It´s a tough start to the day, but then so many are. We later visit the family and help the healing process by encouraging them all to talk about how they feel and encouraging the father to commit to the AA meetings and make a change in his life. Despite having said the same thing over and over again, the children know that when things get tough or they end up homeless they can come to us and we will help.

I tell this story so that you will firstly get to know that not one day is the same for us in Guatemala and is so often filled with stories of children who have to go through some tough situations.  Being there means we can help prevent them taking to the streets, as there are always other options.  Secondly, I tell you this story so that you know how your support touches the lives of real children.  When you donate please know that every penny of your gift will impact the life of a vulnerable child.  Thank you!

Fredy birthdayFriday to Sunday are the busiest days for me with mentoring and this weekend is no exception as I have 8 boys to visit, take out and support.  It all begins when I collect 11-year-old Moses from school at lunchtime.  He has been struggling of late but has managed to make a series of good decisions and so they are rewarded with a trip to the cinema. It is not a film I enjoy, but do manage to stay awake till the end and smile and nod at the right moments.  The main thing is that he looks at me now and again to make sure I am awake and that I am by his side.  He is very happy and returns home skipping, which is always a good sign.

The following day we are celebrating Fredy´s 15thbirthday and the fact he and his brother Jonatan has been with me in mentoring for just over two years.  We are joined by Brandon and Kenedy whom I have picked up from their hip-hop dance classes. Fredy and Jonatan have changed so much and I am pleased with their progress and that they are not spending time on the streets, but rather focussed on their studies and doing things teenage boys should be doing together.

We start with some shopping as Fredy wanted to choose his own present and help buy the things for the BBQ.  Shopping with four boys is immense fun and it is not that often we are followed by a security detail who are always worried when four boys are in a supermarket together.

saying goodbyeMost of the children we work with don´t really celebrate their birthdays much and some don´t even know when their birthdays are.  It is only when we get a copy of their legal papers for our files that we discover their correct ages and dates of birth. Today, I wanted to make sure Fredy felt special, loved and that we all cared for him.  That he did as we played games, cooked, ate and enjoyed his fake expressions of surprise when he opens the presents we bought just that morning with his help!

The long weekend and more mentoring with the rest of the boys leads into Monday and the goodbyes to all the children at the Centre.  I am prayed over, hugged, kissed and told to take care and make sure I come back.  12-year-old Jonatan, still very grateful for what we did for his brother on Saturday, comes and tells me he will miss me as he cuddles into me and says: “I will carry you around in my heart”.  Bless him.  Goodbyes are never easy.

However, I need to leave, pack and prepare for my flight to the UK the following day.  This trip looks like it will be a challenge. The original plan was a to walk from Land´s End to John O´Groats and back again in 14 days - a World Record.  However, the four us who make up the ´Camino por Amor´ team for 2019 are not in the best of shapes.  

leg injuryI have a knee injury due, in the words of the doctor, “to excessive exercise”.  Joseph has a similar diagnosis, but with the warning that he should not be walking without two weeks of daily treatment.  Benjamin has been suffering greatly from an invasion of nasty street parasites that took up residence in his gut and would leave despite whatever was thrown at them. He returned to the UK last week and had to visit the infectious diseases unit in Oxford.  Steve is the only one who is able to walk and for the first time in history does not have blisters on his feet!

So, I return to the UK with hope in my heart for what is going to happen, and with a deep sense of gratitude to God for allowing me to serve some amazing children in Guatemala.  When I return on the 2ndof July there will be some much bigger decisions to take and these will have to wait for another blog.  For now, I want to thank you again for your faithfulness in supporting this work and hope to see many of you over the next few weeks as we travel and walk around the UK.

Keep updated on Facebook and via the Camino por Amor page on this site.

Monday 13th May 2019

One of the issues we face here in Guatemala is the correct sexual education of the children.  With a high percentage of those we care for having to witness as well as suffer huge amounts of abuse and neglect, it is vital to try and model something rather different to them.  This is always difficult as often we come across situations we would rather not be in, but have to in order to keep them safe and help explain God´s plan for loving, supportive and caring relationships.

sex edI had just finished a series on relationships with the boys I mentor when a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy had been asked to talk with me about their feelings for each other. It was a much easier situation to discuss than I had thought, but it did make me reflect on how sexual behaviour is something that the children we work with are all too familiar with. Trying to teach them (photo) the most loving way to deal with their feelings and how to protect themselves from those who would try and take advantage of them, even if it is other children, is both a privilege and a very demanding experience.

I know our team are often very sad on a regular basis with all we have to see and hear.  The moments we can create for the children where they can just enjoy being children and having fun in itself is a type of transformative therapy.  It´s this everyday “therapy” that makes the difference and I am grateful for your support that makes this possible.

angelOne of the most at-risk groups we are trying to target at the moment is the pre-school children.  When the street team come back to the office you can see in their faces the impact of watching these young children suffering on a daily basis and living at such high-risk.  They are just so vulnerable to daily life and it is heart-breaking to find 2 or 3-year-old children wandering around La Terminal on their own. 

I remember in one of my previous blogs I had talked about a 3-year-old boy we found wandering around alone in his pyjamas late one night.  The mum eventually surfaced, but he was alone the whole time we were with him.  He showed me something he had learned that day and then, as he walked away, he said to himself: “I teach myself everything”.  It broke my heart.

We are starting a campaign to find sponsors for around 15 young children under 5 to start a private nursery school.  The cost is about £16 per month and if this interests you then you can SPONSOR A CHILD here.

I began this blog with a heaviness around the issue of children and sexuality and so it was of real comfort to spend time with two boys who live at high-risk in an area called Santa Fas, on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  This previous slum town has been slowly developing and many of the shacks I once used to visit there 20 years ago are now block and concrete buildings and much more habitable and secure.

There are some families we work with where the homes are just tin, plastic and cardboard.  Climbing down the mountainside where illegal settlements have become accepted slum dwellings really does make you feel very grateful for all you have.

in the woodsOne of the teenage boys who accompanied me sees for the first time how some of the children we work with live.  His mother tells me later how he returned home and was in tears and said he was sorry for always asking for things and how he felt when he saw how the two boys we had been visiting were living.

The Santa Fas area of the city has been fraught with conflict between two waring gangs.  The grafitti on the walls of the slum houses defines the territory and conditions those living there to the gang´s control and oversight.  It can feel rather oppressive and you do get a sense that there are many eyes on you the moment you step out of the car. I am always surprised that the car is there each time I return to it and pray always for protection.

Jonny and Jonathan (photo above) are just adorable as their lives are quite simple.  Yes, they live in great poverty and at high-risk and have family members who have taken to the streets, and yes one of them has spent many hours away from home trying to earn a living on the streets.  However, there is something rather special about these two boys and you can´t help but cave into their delightful gratitude for everything you do for them.  Buying them an ice cream is like giving them an all-paid trip to Disney!

three friendsI collected them both early one Saturday and they accompanied me to collect Brandon and Kenedy for their weekly hip-hop dance sessions. As soon as that was finished we headed to collect little Cristian who was desperate to spend time with me. Today, however, I had great news for Cristian.  We had found a mentor who was interested to see if he could be matched to Cristian and so I decided to invite him to join us for an activity where they could get to know each other.

Our day out together was a great success and little Cristian was very pleased that someone was willing to spend time with him every week. This was good news for me as well in that I will lose one of the boys I am mentoring, knowing he will be in good hands, and concentrate on the other seven I have in my care for the moment.

The special moment came when we had to drop Cristian home, who was on a high at being out with us and with the news that he now had a mentor in his life.  Jonny and Jonathan accompanied me as we dropped him home and the most natural thing for them to do was wrap their arms around each other as they walked along the road. This was one very genuine expression of friendship love and I stood back and was grateful that I could play a small part in their lives.