Azaria Spencer

Transformation and Friendships

Jose and Melvin 1

All of the children we work with have at least 5 ‘risk factors,’ that is why we work with them and their families. Therefore, all of the children we work with come from challenging and difficult family lives. Of course, there are some who have more challenging lives than others, or who have suffered under much more traumatic circumstances.

José is one of those children. His past and his current living situation is extremely difficult, and he has clearly suffered trauma in his shot life. There are things about his life that I won’t share here but trust me when I say his displays of challenging behaviour are understandable. Having come to know him over the past 2 years I have seen his vulnerable side as well as all his walls and barriers.

José does not always interact well with others, both adults and children, he finds it particularly hard to be in big groups and to concentrate. Yesterday I got to witness something truly remarkable and beautiful. José was having his last mentoring session with Joseph, a close friend and colleague. Joseph is about to go back to the UK for 6-8 weeks and so José was allowed a treat and to choose a friend to go with him. He chose a boy called Melvin, who he plays well with. I went with them as extra support. Let me tell you about our time together and you will see why yesterday was so special.

Joseph and I arrived at our mentoring centre to find two very excited boys, ready for their outing. We first had to get their permission forms from their guardians, so we went with them to their homes. When they had their forms signed, we walked back to the centre to set off on our trip. As we walked, they both hugged and thanked me and Melvin looked up at me and said, “te quiero mucho” – “I love you a lot.” My heart melted, it was clear how excited and how special this was for them. We piled into Joseph’s car and off we went up to a place called Cayala, which is basically a big open air commercial centre, complete with fun places to do activities and games.

Jose and Melvin with Joseph 1

Now for the laser quest, we arrived at the games centre and geared up for a few games of competitive laser quest. Only for these children do I engage in such activities. I am not a huge fan of running around in the dark in an intensive game of tag, but seeing their excitement and hearing them laugh certainly made it worth it. Dare I say I even enjoyed it. It was great to see them work together to beat Joseph and I. To see them letting off some steam in a fun and healthy way. The true joy was seeing José, a boy who can often act out in frustration and aggression, smiling nonstop and enjoy playing with his friend. After our laser quest adventure, the boys sat and played Mario-cart to calm down a bit. They sat close to each other, chatting away as they raced their virtual vehicles. Beautiful moments like these are difficult to capture in words of photos.

Jose and Melvin games

Before heading back to the centre, we went across to Mc Donald’s for a quick drink. This Mc happens to have a small indoor soft play, with slides and other fun things. After asking if he could go and play Melvin barely waited for our response before his shoes were off and he was in there.

Now, quite a lot of the children we work with feel very self-conscious about removing their shoes, due to poor hygiene. José frequently has low hygiene (we have often showered him in our centre and helped him with this) and was very hesitant to take his shoes off. A bit of encouragement from Melvin to come and play and an approving thump up from Joseph meant that he chose to be brave. He took his shoes off and in he went to play. I can’t express how this was to witness. The trust it displayed, José took courage and chose to trust that his friend would not mock him or mind the state of his feet. Watching some of his walls come down, seeing a softer side of him made my heart warm. It is hard to like some of his choices and actions sometimes, but never is it hard to love him. He is just a boy. A boy looking for approval, a boy looking to be cared for and about. Simply, he is just a boy looking to be loved, with a good kind of love. A love that is consistent, honest and unconditional.

Jose and Melvin with Ronald

I have had the privilege to see how mentoring really can change lives. Little by little José has let Joseph in and started to trust him. He has certainly pushed a lot of boundaries and acted out many times. He has rejected Joseph repeatedly, testing him, finding out if he really cared. If he would still be there. Joseph remained consistent, set up firm boundaries and standards in love and is seeing the benefit. It is slow progress, often with one step forward followed by serval back, but change is happening. And we are all learning and growing together.

 

‘Solo quise ser un niño . . . y no me dejaron’

Nahamans plaque

“Solo quise ser un niño . . . y no me dejaron,” “I just wanted to be a child, and they wouldn’t let me.” These heart wrenchingly sad words are carved into a plaque on the streets in zone 1, Guatemala City. Placed there to commemorate the life and death of Nahaman, a boy only 13 years old when he was killed. He was a child living on the streets and one day the police came and beat him. The plaque sits on the ground from where his broken body was picked up and taken to hospital, where he later died from his injuries. 13 years old and murdered for no other reason than that he was living on the streets, alone and without rights.

Nahaman was just one of many street children murdered by the police in Guatemala during the 90’s.
On the 12th April it will be ‘The International Day of the Street Child,’ yesterday we marched to remember those lives lost and to build awareness of the situation of children at risk of living on the streets and those people who are living on the streets right now. We marched for children’s rights. We marched to let people know that we haven’t forgotten Nahaman.

It was such a special occasion, we at Street Kids Direct joined with other organisations and people who work with and serve people living on the streets and ‘at risk’ children here in Guatemala. A group of us along with around 20 children walked from our centre in zone 9/4 to meet the others in zone 1, staff and volunteers from ‘Sigo Vivo,’ ‘Mojoca,’ ‘Go Guatemala’ and ‘café refrescante,’ along with some of the young people who currently live on the streets. Together we marched down Sexta Avenida, the main street in zone 1 to the centre. 

marching  marching 2  

We had banners and signs and the children blew whistles and shouted, as we raised awareness and stood up for the rights of those most vulnerable and shunned. It was on the way to the city centre where we paused at Nahaman’s plaque and heard his story told by Dunc Dyason, director of Street Kids Direct UK. A few solemn moments set aside where everyone, including the children, listened intently showing respect and understanding the importance of this occasion. As we gathered around Nahaman’s plaque silence ensued and I am sure I was not alone in feeling moved at such a poignant moment in time. 

It is unimaginable that a group of fully-grown men, police officers, could beat a defenceless child to the brink of death. Yet here we were stood hearing his story and remembering such an event.

Nahaman

The march continued; our energies renewed as we celebrated the ‘International day of the Street Child.’ When we reached central park, we gathered and sent out a live video on social media, to further build awareness.
The children played in the fountain and we sat to enjoy a snack together. There in the centre of the park is a memorial for the girls who died in the government children’s home fire in March 2017. A tragic event where yet again systems failed to protect and care for the most vulnerable.

playing in the fountain
I watched our precious children playing, running around, spraying water over each other and my heart was both heavy and elated. There have been too many children like Nahaman, who lost their lives in such horrific circumstances. There is still so much suffering, too many children living in extreme need and in such ‘high risk’ situations. Yet there I was among a group of amazing people, people who care and sacrifice daily for the rights and needs of the most vulnerable people in Guatemala City. I felt honoured to be surrounded by such people, such brave and servant hearted people. I looked at the beautiful children we work with and felt a sense of hope, knowing that their lives will be different.
What a privilege it is to be allowed to be part of such a special and hope filled event and time.

ready for the march

 

 

Residency

There I was sat on a typically uncomfortable plastic chair in the crowded waiting room at the migration offices of Guatemala City. People had been coming and going, usually with a significant waiting period in between, all morning and I had been sat with my friend and colleague Benjamin for several hours. We were fortunate enough to have a lawyer and his co-worker with us doing the hard graft on our behalves. All we needed to do was wait, sign a piece of paper and pose for a photo.
This was the second to final stage in the long road to residency.
We had already obtained the necessary documents in the UK, had them notarised and sent to the foreign office, been to the embassy in Guatemala, had the authenticity of our passports validated, paid for translations and much more, all with the enlisted help of a lawyer.

Now we were handing in our applications at migration.
I have no idea what offices like this are like in other parts of the world, not even in the UK. However, I imagine as with most things Guatemala has its own unique and slightly dishevelled way of running migration offices. But whatever my opinion the system works, you just need to carve out several hours to partake. And of course, there is little to entertain you within the grey walls of a waiting room.
Having said that, people watching in a busy waiting room can be quite entertaining, I like to guess where people are from and what brought them to Guatemala and more specifically the migration office. You get to see such a diverse mix of people. I recall observing more than one nun sat knitting as they waited for their number to be called. I felt for the parents who had to bring small children with them and find creative ways to entertain them. At a guess I saw over 10 different nationalities represented too.

Anyway, after the long wait I was handed a piece of paper that informs the reader that I am legally allowed to remain in Guatemala indefinitely, without a visa and with a view of soon being a resident.
What a strange feeling, to hold a piece of paper in my hand that meant that I can now stay here in Guatemala without leaving every three months for my visa. Technically I never have to leave again if I don’t want to. In a few months I will be issued residency, along with a formal document in my passport and a Guatemalan ID card.
Of course, in England I took my residency for granted, I didn’t even consider it as a thing. Why would I? It is my country of birth and therefore, in theory, a place I will always be able to live.

It makes me think about belonging and home. I will soon have residency in two countries. Countries that could not be more different if they tried. Both and neither are home to me now. My heart divided. When I am here in Guatemala, I miss my family and friends and at times long to be back in England, within a culture I understand and for that reason, among others, feel like I belong to.
At times I yearn to have the same freedom I once had living in the Yorkshire dales. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take the Yorkshire out of the girl. Yet before I even moved to Guatemala, I knew in my heart that England was not where I would always live, I knew my life would take me someone far away.
When I went back to England after living in Guatemala for a year and a half it was great to see family and friends, however, I found myself missing my life here. I missed my new friends, the people I now call family, I missed the children, the youth, my apartment, my life. However, I do not completely belong here either.

In truth I don’t belong in England or in Guatemala, or anywhere else on this earth. And I don’t want to. I belong to God, and Him alone and my home is where He is. In that sense I can be at home anywhere and nowhere. God is everywhere, He is present. Yet we still must wait until Jesus comes again, until He redeems everything, the whole world back to Himself and there is a new heaven and earth. Redeemed and saturated with God’s glorious presence. Nothing separating us from Him, no more sin. This is the home my heart truly longs for, Eternity. To sit in the courtyards of His mansions. An earth renewed, freedom in it’s truest form. In the presence of The King. In glory.

A place I already have residency for, and I didn’t have to stand in any queues or wait in any crowded rooms. No forms or documents required or stamped for authenticity. No proof of identity.
I am His and as His child I have residency in His Kingdom. What an amazingly beautiful truth.
And it can never be taken away from me, it is mine always.
Surrender and repentance the only requirements. And a life lived for Him, a life far greater and fuller than one lived for myself could ever have been.

John 14:1-2
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”