• Sunday 6th February 2022


    Today we have re-started the outreach work in a developing slum on the outskirts of Guatemala City called Santa Faz.  The area is well known to me as I have been working here since the early 1990s when it was then a very different place.  

    I have seen how the area grew dramatically when large numbers of families were relocated to the area after the government removed hundreds from living in slums along the old railway line that divides La Terminal from Zone 8 in the city.

    The link that Santa Faz has with La Terminal continues through to this day when so many in this community have continued to work and do business there.

    I am hoping to build a small team of volunteers to help reach the most vulnerable children in the area and ensure they are linked to services, schools and organisations that can help them. One of those organisations is the SKDGuatemala project I volunteer with and some might also benefit from the GoGuatemala or the Puerta de Esperanza projects that we also support.

    Today I climb down the many steps to the various shacks that have been built on what was termed “invasion land”.  Over the years the government has accepted their settlements and have installed basic supplies of water and electricity and, in some cases, drainage as well.  The small tin shacks have also started to change into brick structures that better secure the family from thieves and from the elements.  But today I am not climbing down alone, I am accompanied by 14-year-old Brandon, one of the boys I have mentored for the last 5 years and who is now keen to serve others.

    7.2.22.2Brandon is a kind and considerate boy who naturally attracts the attention of many children because he enjoys sports, is funny and is responsible.  He is also comfortable with the affectionate nature of the children who demand hugs and hang round your neck and snuggle their face into you like a young child does.  Brandon is hugged and loved and responds accordingly without feeling awkward or rejecting the love offered like so many teens do.

    I am proud of what Brandon has achieved.  His father, Don Rafa, has recently come out of rehabilitation and returned to the room the family rent in La Terminal.  Don Rafa has come through a very difficult stage in his life and I am very proud of what he has had to face and give up in order to come to the end of his time in the drug rehab centre.

    As we leave Santa Faz, Don Rafa calls me and Brandon can hear his voice on the speaker phone and smiles as I ask him who is calling (knowing who it was who was calling).  He answers: “the happiest man in the world”.  We drive a little further and Brandon is still smiling.  I ask him what he thinks his life would be like if we had never come to La Terminal and rescued him and his siblings that memorable day.  Without a thought he looks at me and says “in the streets of course”.

    Brandon has come through the hardest part and last year was awarded a special merit for his schoolwork.  To see his name at the top of the grades of all the boys in his year was of great encouragement as the year before he wanted to drop out and was spending more time in the streets and had started to experiment alcohol and cigarettes.  It was a step he knew he shouldn´t have taken and came back to gain his almost-failed school year with merit.

    Prevention is the work we do.  When you support please know that we use your donations to help the most vulnerable children we can find and invest in them.  We love on them, protect them, encourage them, push them forwards when they take the first step and are there for them as and when they need us.  Thank you once again for your help, prayers and support.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • Thursday 20th January 2022


    I remember the first time I visited the British Embassy in Guatemala City in 1993 when I was working on the streets as a volunteer street worker and the embassy was just one block away from where we worked with hundreds of children on the streets.

    The ambassador didn´t seem that keen to see me but eventually I was given a 10-minute meeting with him.  He showed little interest in what I was doing until I pointed out of his window and showed him where we met with the children in a rented building that was also used by the church on Sundays, just across the road from his office.  He then accepted my invitation to come and visit and was shocked by what he saw and become one of our strongest advocates.

    Our relationship with the British Embassy here has been very good ever since and it was, linking all the dots, through the embassy here that I am guessing I was nominated through the ambassadors and by the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson, for an MBE.  The MBE was recommended by the Foreign Office and someone from the department was there to introduce me to Prince Charles on the day of my investiture.

    I ramble on!  It was therefore very exciting to have the current British Ambassador, Mr Nick Whittington, ask to come on a walking tour in La Terminal with us.  Almost all the ambassadors have enjoyed the tour and now we had the chance for Nick to see the work up close and understand the challenges we, as a small NGO, face here.

    I am very proud of the work Benjamin Soden is doing here as a street work volunteer.  Benjamin is committed to rescuing people from the streets and works hard to build relationships with all those he meets.  We often chat about how the day-to-day life here of working with prostitutes, drug dealers, contract killers, street youths and men and some women who are hardened to street life, can seem surreal at times to how our lives were in the the UK.

    20.1.22.2Nick was very encouraging of the work and enjoyed meeting and engaging with all those he met, despite the risks.  Even with an armed guard the whole time, he was very exposed to everything the Terminal can offer, both the good and the bad. He later wrote about his experience on the British Embassy Twitter feed and his support does help our cause and encourages the team to know they are appreciated and admired.

    One of the young mums he met was keen to show off her new baby, who she had named Benjamin, in honour of Benjamin Soden. We will continue to offer her support as she has lost her other two children due to drug abuse and neglect.  The children that grow up here in this area of La Terminal have very few options and are quickly assumed into the sad fusion of violence, drugs, prostitution, hunger and early death.  The outcome is not great to be honest, but I know Benjamin will be there to help at every stage to provide a level of support and protection that he will need to navigate these early years.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded and was Director for The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • Tuesday 22nd February 2022


    There are certain people and situations that never leave your mind.  This might be something fun, like a memorable birthday or wonderful surprise, or it might be a trauma or a difficult situation like the loss of a loved one.  I think about this as I can´t get out of my head the night I spent on the streets last Thursday and then the emotion of that evening came flooding back last night when we walked the same streets and met many of the same people.  But two young children were missing.

    The night in question was last Thursday and I had been in Venezuela for a few days at this point and was acclimatizing to the situation and change in the Spanish accent, with new words and phrases that I will be taking back to Guatemala with me tomorrow.  I do want to write more about Venezuela in a separate blog when I have returned to Guatemala and had time to think and reflect on all I have seen here.

    I am invited to join the Victory Home on their weekly outreach to a local park.  The Victory Home is the place I am staying in and was founded by David Wilkerson, from the book The Cross and the Switchblade.  His ministry to reach people on the streets has impacted thousands of lives around the world and so I knew it was going to be an experience to stay in the home for 10 days.

    The home is situated in the centre of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and is split into two smaller units on two floors, one for men and one for women.  Obviously I am staying in the 6th floor where the men are housed and kipping on the floor of the pastor´s apartment in the home.  It is all very simple and you can´t get away from the constant sound of people praying for those who have recently left the streets and are going through withdrawal.  It is a humbling place to be and the screams that woke me at 4am this morning remind me that withdrawal is not the most comforting of processes.

    The men have prepared avena - a milk and porridge mix, to take with us to the streets along with bags of bread.  Each one has the most incredible story to tell of their time in the streets and how the Victory Home has helped them get through the rehab process.  We are joined by three women from the church situated on the ground floor and head off around 9pm to walk the 20 minutes to the park.

    On our arrival the team begin to fan out in the park and greet every single person they can find and tell them that in about half an hour we will be serving porridge and bread and they are welcome to come and join us.  They also say that a special visitor is here to share with us something of his life.  I am given a few minutes notice that this visiting speaker is me!

    22.2.22.2I am focused on a young man called Daniel who is sitting on the short concrete edging that separates the barren grass from the path.  Daniel (right in photo) is sitting with two other young people and has a syringe in his right hand and is slowing injecting heroin into his leg while, with the left hand, is trying to handle a lighted cigarette and a pipe for crack cocaine.  This is serious drug use.  Daniel is 23 and invites me to sit next to him and try and grab some of his attention while the last bit of heroin is injected into his thin leg.  He removes the needle from his leg as the blood runs down into his sock and shoe.  He rubs the leg and concentrates now on the crack cocaine pipe and engages me in conversation about his life and desires to leave the streets one day.

    The team are gathering the people together for my message and a group of about 30 young men and women gather, including two families who, to be honest, are more interested in the porridge than hearing from me.  Daniel comes over and sits near me and asks those near him to be quiet as the pastor introduces me.  As I walk over to an elevated piece of ground I still have no idea what I am to say, but something amazing happens and am encouraged that everyone is deadly silent as I talk about pain and how much of my life has been one of pain.  This leads me to explain how God changed my life and helped me cope with pain and what hope there is for each of us to make the decision not to live with pain in our lives.

    My message seems to go down well and all clap at the end and we pray for the food we are about to receive and then everyone queues for the porridge, disappearing afterwards to various parts of the park while I notice two young children and, as I do so, my mind is instantly back in 1993 when I saw similar situations in Guatemala.

    When you meet a child who is living on the streets it is very clear right away how they will react towards you and what you do in order to build confidence and trust in a short period of time. The images of young children, scantily dressed and looking lost and bewildered is something we don´t see much now in Guatemala as we have worked hard to get the population of such children down to zero.  Here in Venezuela the situation is still a reality and I am here to see for myself how big of a problem it is and if we can add value in any way.

    The children are Luis, who is 11, and his 9-year-old sister Rebecca.  Luis is more engaging than Rebecca and I ask if I can sit next to him and show him some pictures.  He engages well with me in conversation about the children I work with in Guatemala and can see how we are helping children like him and his sister.  The conversation leads to him telling me a little of his life and his desire to get some porridge and take to his mum, which I later learn is non-existent.  This is arranged and he disappears for a while and then returns and asks me to sit next to him on the wall of the non-functioning and empty water fountain.

    Luis is small for his age, like so many on the streets.  He is skinny and wearing long wooly socks, no shoes, a pair of very dirty shorts and a polo shirt.  His skin is dry and grubby and has those lines around his neck and wrists that tell me he has not had a wash or shower for many a week. He is shy but asks me to talk with him more about the work I do and this leads to a short game we play with kids to help break the ice.  He is trembling from the cold and it´s not the cold of the evening, but more the cold of hunger that is fueling his trembling.  I don´t know him enough to offer him a hug and so we are left facing each other and talking about what we could do to help him and his sister.

    At this point his sister appears and I try and engage her in conversation, but she ignores me.  She is wearing a dress that looks like it was rescued from the rubbish and worn more times than anyone who made would have guessed.  In her hand is a chicken bone that still has some meat on it and she pushes it into Luis´s face and asks him to take a bite, which he does with pleasure.  She then skips off into the darkness surrounding an area of the park where you see the intermittent lighting of a crack pipe that illuminates the face of the person trying to see if their new high can be as good as the last.  But we know it never is.

    Luis and I discuss the situation of his life and his interest in coming with us to the refuge tonight with his sister.  The pastor now joins us and spends time with Luis while I wander around the park and pray.  The night is almost a new day now and the team are gathering up the cups and rubbish and saying goodbye to all those in the park.  I join them in saying my goodnight and wishing them well and then join the pastor and my last chat with Luis before he heads of to find his sister and do what most are doing there and my heart breaks for children so young who are living in such desperate conditions.

    Just before Luis leaves he allows me to take a selfie and wishes me well.  He wishes me well!  The whole evening is a tough but rewarding experience and introduction to the work of the Victory Home in Caracas.  We all hope that follow up visits will help open the door to rescue Luis and Rebecca, but for the moment we are pleased that Julio and “Chino” have agreed to leave the streets and walk back to the refuge with us.  Some light penetrates through into the darkness of the night and going to sleep that night is not easy.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • Thursday 24th February 2022


    Landing back in Guatemala was an emotional experience this time, probably due to the fact I was sitting at a table and eating a meal.  I have so much to be thankful for and can now begin to unpack the 10 days in Venezuela by means of this blog.  I appreciate you taking the time to read and journey with me, despite its length, as I try and explain how things felt and what I saw first-hand without making any judgements at all.

    On arrival in Caracas, Venezuela, I am aware straight away that very few airlines, three from what I can see, actually are allowed or decide to fly into Venezuela. The US State Department issued a Level 5 Travel Warning that would put off any would be traveller to Venezuela by stating “Do not travel to Venezuela due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest and arbitrary arrest”.  The UK Foreign Office then advises all UK citizens to not travel to Venezuela due to the above reasons and also to ask you, if you are brave enough to go there, to have to “carry a few days of food and water with you”.  So with all this in mind I took local advice and made a big step of faith and travelled to Venezuela.

    24.2.22.2I had clearly done some research before considering travelling to Venezuela, including online meetings with local pastors and charity workers who have been able to guide the planning of this trip.  The reason for going is to see for myself if the reports of “thousands of children on the streets” and facing starvation is true and to explore ways we could possibly share experiences and add value to those working on the ground.

    Clearly the country has been through some very tough times, going from one of the richest countries in Latin America to one of the poorest in just a few years.  The reasons why this country has fallen so far from grace in the eyes of the international community and lost so much of its economic value are complex.  I have decided not to go into the reasons here as there are so many good YouTube videos that explain the situation far better than I can.

    What I do know, from a meeting with an ex-government economist while I was in Caracas, is that the average salary of a middle class worker in Venezuela in 2012 was $11,900 per annum. In 2021 that same person earns, in real terms, just $1,600 per annum.  The Venezuelan economy has collapsed and has been reduced by 80%.  My friend tells me that this will take at least 10 years to return to the levels enjoyed in the 2012.  He showed me a house in a busy street in a fairly wealthy zone in the capital that was on the market for $260,000 just 10 years ago.  The same 6-bedroom house with its high walls and spacious grounds now costs $40,000.

    People have clearly lost a lot and maybe one of the reasons why just over 6 million people have fled the country, most staying in South America and with the greatest concentration now in Colombia.  Venezuelans have lost their savings as the bolivar became worthless, compounded by a monthly inflation rate of 2,000%, meaning that basic living became incredibly difficult.  The minimum wage is a staggering $3 per month! However most do earn significantly more than this, but it puts things very much into perspective.  As always, those most affected are the poor and children.

    24.2.22.3Arriving in Caracas is a strange experience.  There is one thing missing from the airport that I am used to seeing in airports around the world – planes!  As we disembark we are funneled into a line that eventually leads to someone in full PPE gear checking our COVID status and vaccines.  This is normal procedure now and took a little longer than usual, but eventually we are moved on to the passport station - check one, with a few questions about why I am visiting Venezuela.  Once through this section we are moved onto the actual passport and security point where groups of neatly dressed soldiers look at you while dogs sniff your personal belongings and then an army official asks me to come forward.  Looking around I am conscious that I am the only white person in the line and so singled out for special attention.

    It would be very rare for anyone from Europe and especially the USA to visit Venezuela and so because I am tall and white I am assumed to be from the USA.  My passport is checked and the soldier asks if people from Guatemala are allowed in the country.  I try to point out that yes I do reside in Guatemala but I am from the UK.  He needs to check again and seems rather indignant but is advised to let me through to have my passport examined and then stamped by the customs officer.  Guatemala, I learn, does not recognise the current Venezuelan government and therefore those coming from Guatemala are treated with suspicion and contempt.

    Eventually I have my stamp after proving my local contact and address and then allowed to collect my luggage.  The luggage hall is eerily silent as it appears we are the only flight in today.  My luggage comes through and a rather lengthy customs form is completed and handed in and I am through.  About six people are waiting in the reception area and this includes the two people who have come to collect me.  We greet each other and I am escorted to the car that takes me on the 40 minute drive through the mountains to the capital, Caracas.

    24.2.22.4I am staying with the pastor of the mission that reaches homeless men and women in the city.  On arrival in the bustling street that runs past the presidential palace, many people greet the pastor, who introduces me and then my bag is carried into the building that houses the men´s and women´s refuges.  We climb up six floors and ring the bell.  A huge black metal door is opened and we are welcomed in.  I am taken into the small apartment that will be my base and home for the next 10 days and sit down while I am asked about my plans.  My adventure begins!

    I have planned a busy schedule of trips to see projects that work with “street children” and children at risk.  My first main contact is not responding to messages or calls and so we begin to look at alternatives.  Each day we leave the refuge and head out into the street to take a bus to various places around the city and on two days I am collected in the equivalent of an Uber car by a man called Jon, who becomes a good friend as he tells me what daily life is like in Venezuela.

    I will give a quick overview of projects I have visited and now I am back I am looking forward to spending time thinking and reflecting on these to see if there are any we could link with and offer some value to.  The first project is the Aula Integral Project that works in 9 states with 15 extra-curricular classrooms that offer after-school support to vulnerable children in marginal areas of the city.  The majority of its team are volunteers and the lady we meet at the Aula in an area called Prepare is Lenis, a local mum who decided to open her home to the children she could see were at risk or struggling in some way in her community.  Her home is just a slab of concrete with a small toilet on one side and the perimeter fenced off with wire.  Lenis´s home is basic to say the least and looks out onto the barrio below.  It seems a welcoming place for the small group of children who are attending today and another group will replace them later in the afternoon.

    24.2.22.5Our guide today is Luz and she tells me how hard it was for her to get accepted by the local mafia, who run the area commonly known as a “Zona de Paz”, a peace zone.  After our visit the bus climbs down the winding road that clings to the mountainside and she shows me the police checkpoint that defines the boundary up to which the police are permitted to go.  After this point the “peace zone” is run entirely by the mafia.

    Our next visit is to the city centre again via a tour of the huge social housing projects that the government have constructed around the city to provide basic housing to people who lived on the streets or who, for whatever reason, have been made homeless.  The buildings remind me of my early visits to East Germany and Poland as they are stark, lifeless and at every window clothes are hung outside on poles or wire frames.

    Returning to the refuge is a wonderful experience as most of the men are now back from various chores, visits or meetings in the church building on the ground floor.  The refuge is home to around 20 men and 10 women and the men gather around me and check me out.  The ice is broken as I allow them to show me around.  I am desperate for a drink and something to eat as no one has asked if I would like anything or even stopped for food or a break.  I later realise that this happens every day as most people don´t eat much these days.  I discover that over the last 10 years 75% of Venezuelans have lost 19 pounds in body weight.

    I sit down next two three men in the entrance to the refuge.  One rolls up his trousers and shows me the bullet wounds in both his legs.  On his right leg you can notice the entry and exit points of one of the bullets.  He tells me that his legs were in a mess and his kneecap was fractured in many places and the hospital said he would never walk again even after an operation.  He had no money for the basic supplies you need to provide for an operation and so was bandaged up and released.  He eventually crawled to the refuge and was carried up the stairs and prayed over.  Miraculously, he tells me with a huge smile on his face, his legs were healed and he can now walk fine.

    24.2.22.6It takes some believing and as I sit back in the plastic chair and stare at him in wonder. The guy next to him leans forward and asks me to put my finger into his hair.  He guides me as my finger feels for an indent in his head.  He then shows me the entry and exit points for two bullets that passed through his head and points to his friend who also was shot twice in the head. It would be hard to believe unless you were there and could actually put your fingers in the entry points. I am left wondering how this is possible and both tell me that God had healed them and that their lives are now very different as a result.  Every guy I meet in the refuge is a walking miracle and I can see that despite their very basic living conditions the amount of love in this place is palpable.

    A new day starts with me folding up the bedding and the foam mattress that has been provided for me to sleep on the floor of the small dining room, come living room, come store room, come reception room that is part of the apartment the pastor and his wife live in.  I eventually get past the growling dog and open the door that almost covers the whole doorframe and have my bucket bath.  The cockroaches on the toilet scurry away and I search for the toilet paper and decide to wait to use the non-flushing toilet until later.  It turns out that every toilet I go into over the next 10 days has no toilet paper.  At one point Venezuela´s currency was so devalued that bank notes were cheaper than toilet paper!  I am told that people use soap and water as paper is too expensive and what money is available must be used for food.

    My second project is the Proyecto Abba ministry that is run by a church in a once fairly wealthy area of Caracas.  The area has suffered from the local gangs, mainly concentrated in the hills that dominate the view west of the city.  I am shown bullet holes in houses and informed that the recent 18-hour gun battle between the gang and the Venezuelan army left many dead.  The gang was apparently a para military group supported by the government in order to be the first line of defence should an invasion ever come to the city from the North or the West.  Now the group is no longer needed and therefore defined as a gang.  Having previously had the support of the government, the gang was very well armed and so it took rather a long time to dislodge them from the mountain.

    24.2.22.7The church run an outreach programme that seems very similar to the one we helped establish in Guatemala.  Their focus is on prevention they and work in two slum areas nearby and a social housing project two blocks up the road.  We walk to the project and can see how the provision of such housing has helped greatly reduce the number of people on the streets over the years.  The church leaders explain how so many people from the church have left the country and those who are left behind earn so little that there is nothing at all in the weekly offerings to help support them to work in the church.

    The pastor who runs the refuge where I am staying had already explained to me that he didn´t know of any pastors who earned money from their role in the church.  He himself received nothing from the refuge or the church and so had support himself by selling “accessories” and raw cane sugar - which he keeps in huge brown paper packages tied up with string (and no I am not going to be led into the song!) in the corner of his come lounge, come dining room, etc.

    The couple that run the church and the ex-governmental economist are trying to do their best in running this church and outreach project to kids-at-risk on what I could never call a budget.  I am guessing their monthly expenditure won´t go over $50.  It´s impressive and the amount of love they have for these vulnerable kids is infectious to the two people who I have invited to visit with me today.

    My visit to Venezuela also includes a short trip to Maracaibo, Venezuela´s second largest city and the most dangerous.  The only way to get there for most people is by bus and myself and the pastor from the refuge take the red bus that offers a greater degree of protection, as it is the bus company that was nationalised a few years ago.  It not only offers fewer stops, but also a cheaper ride as all transport is subsidised by the state.

    24.2.22.8The 13-hour bus ride to Maracaibo is not as bad as I had imagined and we clamber out of the bus to be hit by a wave of heat and people fighting over luggage that is stowed in the compartments below.  We have only hand luggage and so can miss out this experience and look for our ride.  The person collecting us is unknown and comes from the local church we are staying in.  In the end it is easy to spot him as it’s the only car in the car park outside.  We introduce ourselves and head off into the night.

    Maracaibo is located in the NorthEast of Venezuela and is the city closest to the border with Colombia.  It is described as “hot” due to large quantities of drugs coming from Colombia, almost all will probably pass through here, together with the one-way stream of thousands of migrants seeking a new life and “freedom” in Colombia.  It is difficult these days to bring in food and goods from Colombia as the raids on vehicles is high, together with kidnapping.  It´s also hot in another way, with normal temperatures of 30 degrees being talked about as winter!

    Our drive into the centre of Maracaibo takes us about 15 minutes.  This allows our driver, Don Julio, time to explain that he can “mostly see” due to a recent operation on his eyes.  We are welcome to comment on his driving should we veer off the road or it looks like we will drive into another vehicle.  The later seems almost impossible as there seems no other vehicles on the road and eventually we are pleased to arrive at the little church we will stay in for three days.

    The planned visits to projects here doesn´t work to plan.  Our 9am appointment the following day moves to 1pm as our driver, Don Julio, arrives somewhat late.  My frustration about waiting outside in the heat from 8am is calmed when he tells me that he has been in the queue for fuel since 1:30am.  Eleven hours later he manages to fill his car and is ready to drive us around for the next two days.  We head to the charity that I was invited to visit only to be told it is closed now and would reopen on Monday, the day after we return to Caracas. It appears that they don´t work with street kids after all, but run a nursery for people who have enough money to pay for it.

    24.2.22.9We then visit our next project, an outreach programme for children who live in a small fishing community on the lakeside.  A local lady has a heart to reach out to children at risk and those living in poverty and so we head off with a car load of filled rolls we made earlier and a gallon or so of orange drink.  I don´t know what to expect and so take a back seat and watch the proceedings.

    On arrival in the community it is clear that, as in so many places in Maracaibo, the place is run down.  Large and small businesses seem to be struggling with the economy and so many have gone out of business.  The roads are in much need of repair and in parts are just sand.  Most people stop and stare at us as visitors are very rarely, if ever I suspect, making their way down this road that ends at the fishing community.

    We park and begin to wander down the road to the where the lake allows for an inlet that is full of rubbish, which has accumulated over many months from the looks of it.  As we come to a small makeshift bridge that crosses the rubbish-filled inlet, children appear from among the piles of rubbish and some come over the bridge in curiosity.  One boy, aged about 9, is completely naked and many others are wearing just a pair of shorts or underwear and begin to come to meet us and we walk back towards the car together.  At this point some of the parents come out and tell the children to go back to their little shacks that are on stilts above the water and get a bowl.

    It´s not long before we are handing out food and drinks to the children and engaging the parents in discussions about their lives and livelihoods on the lake.  The governmental programme that provides a large bag of basic food supplies to every family in Venezuela does not seem to extend to these families.  I have seen the food bags that families get and it is quite an undertaking.  But the socialist government have committed themselves to providing these bags of beans, rice, oil, flour and occasional items like fish or biscuits to every family, every month.  From what people say, the nearer you are to the capital the more complete your bag is.

    24.2.22.11The activity lasts about half an hour and we wind our way back out of the community and head towards the city centre.  Not that there is much to see, it is rather to confirm or deny the reports of hundreds of children living on the streets and to discover the places they are supposed to be living.  All we find, however, are numerous derelict buildings that have been occupied by homeless people, mainly single men, and all of whom are abusing drugs in various forms.

    The heat is quite draining and I am hoping that my hosts will invite me and my friend Gregorio, the pastor from the refuge in Caracas, to a cold drink.  Thankfully my patience is rewarded by cold drinks and a taste of a local dish, which is a flour dough roll with meat and herbs in the middle.  It is the first food I have eaten since arriving the previous day and so am glad for something, anything, to get me through to Sunday.

    Our return to Caracas is not as pleasant as the trip to the city and with no food available I am hoping to get back to the capital where I know the local bread shop sells something that will help get me through until I get back to Guatemala.  I have enjoyed Maracaibo, but it is not the place that it is made out to be.  Yes it is obviously dangerous, but also desperately poor and isolated.  The people are open, kind and accepting.  Their isolation fuels discussions of independence.  The small church we are staying in is also very basic and results in us both returning to Caracas with numerous flea and mosquito bites.

    24.2.22.10On arrival at the bus terminal after church has finished, I am told that the red bus has left and that we need to use another company in order to return to the capital.  The busses are all 5-star rated and from what I can see are all self-awarded as the level of luxury you would expect is disappointingly not available.

    We board the bus and settle down as this will be an overnight trip back.  The first checkpoint comes at the bridge after crossing the lake and everyone is ordered off the bus by the army and all our luggage is checked, we are all sniffed with dogs and questioned about why we are in Maracaibo and where we are going.  Some are taken off for strip searches and one man we never see again.  We are back on the bus now and another 5 miles up the road the same thing happens and then again about an hour into the “sleeper” journey.  

    Our next serious checkpoint includes just me being taken off the bus by armed soldiers who think that I am an American.  Clearly anyone from the USA is clearly not welcome or loved here and my friend Gregorio steps off the bus to explain that I am British.  The US embassy is Caracas features on their homepage the jailing of an American citizen for no apparent reason. The officer in charge, after all my luggage is examined in minute detail, is convinced I am British and tells the soldiers to allow me to board.

    Half way through the night we are all ordered off the bus, again, and this time traded between two bus companies. It seems that the final destination of the bus we are on has now changed as money is changing hands and we are sold from one bus company to another.  The bus we are now on looks like it could have been used during a recreation film of the second world war and is extremely uncomfortable, slow and the loud music is preventing us from sleeping at all. In the end and after 16 hours on the bus we arrive back in Caracas and I can enjoy my final day of meeting people, walking round and actually sitting still in a local park and spending time with the guys in the refuge.

    Thank you to all those who made my trip the most memorable of times.  Venezuela is a surprise and is not all it is made out to be from the outside.  Yes, there is clearly huge amounts of poverty and corruption, but certainly not the hundreds or thousands of children living on the streets.  There is much to reflect on, but there are two projects that would very much value our input.  So let´s see where the adventure leads.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • Saturday 12th March 2022


    I remember one of the toys I had as a child.  I probably had more, but given that most of my childhood was spent mainly in the country, I enjoyed playing more with the amazing creation we have all around us every day.  The one toy I remember though is a small Thunderbirds craft that dropped off a rescue pod and flew at lightning speed around my room as I responded to the very latest calls of rescue.

    The thought came into my mind this week when little Jonathan and his older brother Francisco (names changed to protect them) came to stay in Casa Alexis.  Jonathan is 7 and I took a photo of his prized toy that he whizzed around the room in order to rescue people trapped on the sofa.  In the home we have something that he talks about non-stop, a toy fire engine with extendable ladder.  When playing with this he is lost for hours in rescue of all kinds.

    It is amazing how some children are so happy with a little plastic car that has no wheels or engine, just a shell that drives the imagination of a fancy sports and rescue car.  He is an adorable little boy and it wasn´t until our phycologist spent time with him that she realised the degree of pain he lives with.

    Jonathan and his older brother, 12-year-old Francisco, were rescued over a year ago from the most horrific abuse situation I have ever come across. I hadn´t fully appreciated how much Jonathan was also suffering as all the attention was given to his brother at the time. They lived in a small tin shack in Guatemala City and were crying out for attention that I knew would soon alert the local gang who would try and recruit them. (local gangs often recruit vulnerable children and offer them support and protection)

    Their mum slowly became aware of the abuse, but due to the abuser being a 13-year-old family member, she tried to deny it and then was afraid to speak out.  When she did speak out, the boy beat her so badly that he killed the baby inside her womb.  It was a difficult day when I took her to the hospital and the doctor pulled me to one said and asked: “she does know the baby inside her is dead?”.  The answer was, no she didn´t, and when she was told she refused to accept it and went home to tell her husband.  It was amazing she didn´t die as a result as the baby began to cause many health complications for her and it wasn´t long before she was in the emergency room of the hospital.

    Jonathan is afraid of his dad as well as the boy who has been abusing him all his life.  One day I am sure he will ask why his dad didn´t protect him more, but at least we could be there for him and see the signs and then offer the chance for the children and the mum to escape.  Jonathan still struggles and in one of his recent drawings of his family he shows his dad as a dark figure with long pointy nails.

    There is much to do and it is a joy to have them in the programme and offer them regular support, schooling and all the practical help that they need.  Your donations really do change lives and keeps very vulnerable children safe from a life on the streets and from further harm.  Thank you.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • Friday 1st April 2022


    The school day starts like any school around the world.  The children arrive, they play with their friends, they greet staff and settle into the school day once they have been registered as present. We can all remember school registration time and the moment when a child´s name is called out twice and there is no response.  All heads turn to seat they would normally sit at and we all begin to wonder why they are not in school today.

    This was the case of 13-year-old Estefany who hadn´t turned up for school for the last three days and so the team went to her home to see how she was.  Her home is a small room over a busy market in Guatemala City.  There are no windows in the room, just brick walls, a door and tin roof.  At this time of the year the temperature become unbearable in the room and so Estefany spends her days on the streets when she is not in school.

    It takes three visits to find her mum at home and the team ask why Estefany is not attending school.  The team are told that she has gone to the United States!  A few more questions and we discover that she has decided, prompted by her family we assume, to make the 1,400 mile journey on foot to get to the border of the US.  We asked: “surely she is not going alone?”, and was told: “oh, no”.  The mum then added: “she is going with her two cousins".  Her cousins it turns out are aged 3 and 4 years of age!

    We were shocked to hear this and Estefany joins the growing population of children who are leaving Central America to head to the US in search of a better future.  The problem is that they do it illegally, there is no guarantee you arrive safely, you are at the mercy of everyone along the road (and some will take advantage of that), crossing the border is fraught with difficulty and if you do make it across the chances of you been arrested and sent back are high.

    Estefany is not the first child to make this trip and probably won´t be the last.  Our work with vulnerable children forced our hand into investigating more about the child migration problem and how, as a charity, we could respond.  We were also keen to learn from those working along the border and become better informed of the situation so we can continue to convince children here that Guatemala has it all.  There are opportunities, there is work and you can live a good life here if you are supported to make good choices for your life.

    1.4.22.2Benjamin Soden and I headed to San Diego in California and spent a day there meeting projects working along the border with homeless youth and one charity offering legal support for “illegals” in the US and who have come into contact with the authorities.  The project that stood out for us was the inspiring work founded and run by Eric Lovett from Urban Street Angels.  I was surprised, first of all, that the guy who runs a huge programme for homeless youth had time to give to us. Secondly, we left all fired up as Eric is a hugely motivational person and showed us around the programme and spoke with such love and passion you couldn´t help but be drawn in to him as a person and the work he so faithfully leads.

    The next day we head on the train down to the border with Mexico and arrive ready to cross over.  The train seemed to carry mainly workers who live in Tijuana, but work in the US. The train is cheap, efficient and is the means by which thousands of people travel between the two cities each week in order to work, visit family and friends and shop.

    Getting into Mexico takes under a minute and the guard glances at our passports and waves us through.  We are now in Mexico and come out and take a taxi to our hotel where we leave our luggage and begin our exploration of Tijuana.

    Being the furthest northern city on the west coast, we selected Tijuana due to the reports of huge migrant camps and lone children trying to cross the border.  It is also an interesting city to begin our research as, unlike other larger border cities, Tijuana is safer and has the iconic shots of the border wall going into the sea.

    1.4.22.3It becomes clear that just a few weeks ago the migration camps were cleared and migrants “re-housed” by the Mexican government. In the camps they did find children who were alone and had travelled great distances to get to there.  Some might actually make it one day, but in the meantime they are processed and will probably be in short-term care until a family member comes to claim them and take them home.

    The best lead we had in Tijuana was with a charity we have supported in Guatemala and visited several times.  The Casa de Migrante (The Migrant House) is a beacon of hope to all those making the journey throughout Central America as they provide short-term accommodation and find you work in order to cover your costs.  The children are cared for while the adults are working and if adults refuse to work then they are asked to move on.  No one turns down work, however, and the home has a beautiful feel about it and it feels safe and comfortable.

    We move on to what is one of the highlights for both Benjamin and myself as we are led to visit a refuge for women and children.  The home is run by a nun and the minute you walk in you feel that this is a very special and holy place indeed. We are made to feel very welcome and slowly the whole story of their work unfolds through painful anecdotes of the lives of desperate people on the run from gangs, drug lords, abusive husbands and violence.

    One woman was taking refuge in the home with her young children and opened the small window in the main door one day as someone rang the bell.  At the door was a well-built man who was clearly a member of the gang that she had fled from.  Due to her wearing a mask he didn´t recognise her.  He asked her, showing her a photo on his phone, if she knew the whereabouts of a woman, pointing repeatedly to the image of her.  The woman could see it was her photo on the phone and tried not to look shocked, but said she was not there and closed the window and ran to the office then broke down and cried.

    There are some incredible people working on the frontline and we had the honour and privilege of meeting some of them.  We would love to support those we met who have dedicated their lives to helping children and youth at risk and I am sure this trip will lead to many meetings and further visits at some stage in the future.  For now we must work hard to convince those children who are being forced or are having to make some difficult choices to make the journey north that Guatemala has so much to offer and that working hard here results in other doors of opportunity being opened for them in the future.

    Thanks to your support we are reaching nearly 600 at-risk children and youth this year through the projects we partner with and are proud of their work and commitment to work with us in keeping them all safe and helping them build a better future.  Thank you


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     
  • VISIT TO SKD GUATAMALA 30.04.22- 07.05.22


    Where to begin? It’s been nearly two weeks since my husband Paul and myself said a teary farewell to Guatemala, and as a woman of many (as opposed to few!) words, I am still finding it almost impossible to summarise all we saw and experienced throughout our weeklong visit to Guatemala.

    Having supported the work that God has been doing through Dunc for over 24 years, it was SO exciting to finally have the opportunity to meet the children, young people and the team whom we had been reading about and praying for over the past decades. Personally, I was feeling a little nervous as we touched down on the Guatemala City airport runway. I am not someone who easily embraces uncertainty, and so felt a little unsettled as I stepped into a country, a culture and whole series of unknowns that were well beyond my frame of reference.

    22.05.22.5But those feelings immediately melted away as Dunc began to introduce us to the people, the places and the country that first captured his heart so many years ago and as he explained how God had gradually built the exceptional ministry and partnerships that make Street Kids Direct the charity that it has become today.

    My own heart was also captivated by all the children and young people whom I had the privilege of meeting, whose trauma and suffering I will never even begin to understand. The opportunity to talk with the inspirational staff and volunteers who love & serve the at-risk children added fuel to my own faith. The sacrificial, generous and servant hearted nature of God which I witnessed in each person has remained with me on my return home. Our afternoons spent in La Terminal and in the developing slum area of Santa Faz, finally gave me the opportunity to see in person what I had previously only tried to imagine in my mind’s eye. In a way, I felt as if I were finally home. The disjointed ideas I had for years held in my mind were discarded; so THIS is where Danilo lives; so THIS is Brayan’s family; soTHIS is how long it takes Elida to get to Centro Opp in Zone 11 to attend the youth gatherings. As Dunc kept saying. ‘See..they are REAL PEOPLE and these are REAL PLACES!”

    22.05.22.9I have so many stories to share, but I know this is meant to be blog not a novel!  So I will choose just one.

    On the third day of our visit, we spent a very emotional the morning at El Centro (that is a story for another time!) which is currently being used for schooling, as Guatemalan schools having remained closed since the pandemic began. For those children with no online access, education at home has not been a possibility. There we met a young teenage girl called Pamela, who had a warm but reserved demeanour and who appeared to be well focussed on her studies.

    At the end of the school morning, her brother Danilo came to collect her, as she needed to return to her home in La Terminal to start work on the city dump in the afternoon. We all escorted Pamela home, and during that walk, Dunc introduced us to La Terminal. I have no words to adequately describe the area, except that it truly bombards every sense, defies every expectation and photos don’t even touch the surface as an illustration! I loved it there.

    After about 20 minutes, we arrived at Pamela’s home, were introduced to her mother and Pamela went to get ready for her afternoon working on the dump. 

    I was immediately struck by the extreme contrasts between Pamela’s home/work life and all that I had observed when she attended school.  In El Centro, the smartly presented, studious young women could have been a teenager that I work alongside in my youth work role in the UK. And yet, the reality is that Pamela lives in poverty, spending many hours working on the dangerous city rubbish dump to earn a small amount of money to support her family. Pamela’s resilience, hope and strength of character in being able to hold those two parts of her young life equally in balance astonished me. As the week continued, I came to see this strength, resilience & hope repeatedly in the lives of other young people that SKD are supporting and mentoring.

    22.05.22.2As Dunc explained, the staff & volunteers constantly tell the children ‘ Mereces Lo Mejor’ -‘You Deserve the Best’. For Pamela and the other at-risk children with whom SKD are working, growing up in La Terminal or in a developing slum area means that it is initially almost impossible to visualise a life which is different to that which they are currently accustomed.

    Through the building of relationships of love & consistency, the provision of education & mentoring and being able to make use of the fantastic Centro Opp and El Centro facilities, the children are given a glimpse of what ‘the best’ could look like in their future and are given opportunity to work towards this as a reality. 

    Thank you to EVERYONE who made this visit so memorable - for your generosity, your hospitality, and your patience.  A special thank you must go to our Dr House styled host Dunc. It has changed our lives.

    Helen & Paul Carmody


     22.05.22.322.05.22.622.05.22.422.05.22.722.05.22.8
     
  • From our partners in Honduras


    Lindsey & Steve Poulson met in Honduras, Central America - where they now live and serve as CMS mission partners -  after following their individual callings to move from their home countries, the U.S. and the U.K. respectively.  In partnership with UK charity Street Kids Direct and working alongside World Gospel Mission, Steve & Lindsey support local projects to help develop prevention, intervention and rehabilitation programmes for vulnerable children and young people in Latin America.

    One of the projects they work with is Proyecto Alas, located in the town of Talanga, whose staff & volunteer team reach the local youth via a mentoring program, tutoring, and other educational support to keep kids in school and off the streets. The project works closely with a coffee shop, which Steve & Lindsey also help manage. Below they share, from the perspective of one of the young people,  how the project and coffee shop are working together to support the transformation of the next generation of Honduras….

    Katerin sits at one of the corner tables of Cafe Alas, sipping from her fruit smoothie as she chats with her mentor, Lorena. Katerin has had a difficult last few weeks, but on this Tuesday afternoon she can just be a typical 17-year old hanging out in a coffee shop. Cafe Alas is a place Katerin can relax, enjoying the cozy environment complete with comfy sofas, greenery, calming instrumental music while she shares with Lorena the joys and challenges of her life during their weekly hour together as part of the Proyecto Alas mentoring programme. 

    One month ago, Katerin was hospitalized after she attempted suicide by overdosing on some medication. The pressures of being a single mom of a 9-month old, helping her mother run their home as the only female daughter, and taking classes on the weekend to complete grade 8 had just felt like too much. But because of the good relationship between Proyecto Alas and the family, Katerin’s mother called the directors for help, and an ambulance was arranged to rush an unconscious Katerin to hospital - just in time to save her life. Thankfully, Katerin is now on the road to recovery.

    Mental health is still a fairly taboo subject in Honduras, but thanks to Proyecto Alas, Katerin is able to receive the support she needs. In addition to her weekly hour with her mentor, she has regular sessions with the project’s psychologist, who is helping her process her emotions and learn strategies for resilience. She is also starting to work as a part time cleaner in the coffee shop, which not only provides her a steady income to support her baby’s needs, but also a stable routine to support her own health.

    cafe alasCafe Alas has become a popular place for Katerin and other children and young people who are part of the mentoring program of Proyecto Alas, as it is conveniently located in the same building! The coffee shop was reopened in this new location in April of this year, with the main objective of earning funds to help support the programs of Proyecto Alas with at-risk children and youth like Katerin. The coffee shop currently provides part-time employment for 7 young people, and is proving to be a “safe place”, not only for kids and their mentors, but for the wider community as well. 

    Please continue to pray for Katerin, as well as the other children and young people of Honduras who are part of the projects that Steve and Lindsey are working with!

  • Friday 17th June 2022


    It is always an adjustment coming back to Guatemala after being in the UK and what better way to help me with the adjustment than to head to La Terminal to visit old friends and see how everyone is doing.

    My last five weeks in the UK have been amazing and I took the decision to not rush around the place booking meetings, meals, assemblies and presentations like I would normally do.  This time was more of a strategic time with some friends to explore the way forward for the charity and to relax, walk, recover and spend time listening to God.

    The sun is now almost nonexistent in the sky, not that we saw much of it today as the rainy season is now in full swing.  The dark clouds that are forming again suggest we are in for another storm this evening, which will only add to the already flooded streets.  I look down as I walk up the 5th street and notice a pool of blood, another reminder of the constant battles that are fought here on a daily basis.  As I lift my head a man in his 30s falls into the road in front of me, followed by a much younger man, who is living with his girlfriend in the streets, and who lashes out with his fists and feet as the older man crawls away, then tries to stand and eventually wanders off.

    No one thinks this is something to watch or to intervene in and the few young adults on streets seem more focused on their solvent-drenched rags they lift to their faces and close their eyes for a momentary numbing of their pain.  I am recognised and Ericka calls out to me and asks me how I am doing and when is Benjamin going to come and visit.  Benjamin has been with me in the UK and will be returning to street work this week. Ericka has survived many years on the streets and despite the many times we have rescued her and taken her into rehab centres, she has chosen the streets again and now can´t walk and so it at the mercy of whoever is passing.

    On the street corner Moses´s grandmother is waving at me and I head over to greet her and can see she is genuinely pleased I am back in Guatemala.  She tells me that it has been difficult to visit Moses of late due to a huge hole opening up in the main road that leads to the area where the home is.  The three-lane road is now closed and is causing no end of congestion in an already grid-locked city.  The hole, it seems, opened up a huge cavern below and so this won´t be something that is resolved quickly.

    I then meet Monica, a lady who works in the sex industry and talks to me about her young daughter, who we have helped get into school in previous years when schools were open here. Monica is one of the many ladies and some men who offer their services in the 5th.  

    I am then grabbed on the arm by Manuel, a man who has spent almost all his life on the streets.  I have known him since he was 8 and have seen how street life has taken its toll on him, but his smile is infectious and you can´t help but giving him one more chance in a rehab centre when he asks for your help.  Manuel is not asking for anything today, however, and would just like to know how I am doing and when Benjamin is coming back.

    The rain is about to fall now and when it rains here it really rains and I have no transport, no coat or umbrella and so head to “las casitas” (little houses) as I know there is shelter there and where a few people are already waiting for me.

    The alleyway that leads to the las casitas is dark even during the day and now seems more imposing than ever.  I make my way through the various alleyways that link the 5th with the central part of La Terminal and walk past numerous families trying to cook their evening meals in the alleyway while their children splash about in the puddles left by the earlier rains.

    Amanda and her husband David are sitting on a small ridge of concrete that was placed against the tin wall where it meets the now concrete alleyway in order to keep out the rain from entering their shack.  Amanda smiles and gives me a long hug and welcomes me home.  David shakes my hand and tells me he and Amanda are worried about Carlos and Daniel who are now very street connected and Carlos is doing more drugs while Daniel, his younger brother, is not coping well after being released from the children´s prison a few months ago.

    I then meet both boys and offer to take them out for some food as Carlos is very hungry and hasn´t eaten anything all day.  Both are of great concern to me as I have known them all their lives and are our number one priority in terms of rescue and rehabilitation.

    streetjune1My time with the boys was very special.  Neither of them spoke much as they munched through their hamburger and fries and then sat back and listened to me tell them about my trip to the UK and showed them photos of some of the walks I did along the canal paths on the Welsh border.  I always hope that showing them another reality will lead them to having dreams about a possible alternative to the life they currently are signing up to.

    It is very hard to drop them back to their little tin shack as I know just how hard it is to live there with no light, no water, no toilet, no food and the constant threat of the little they do have being stolen or rotting away on the damp dirt floor.

    I walk up the steps to another path that takes me back to the main road where I can grab some transport and head home.  “Duncan”, I hear someone shout and turn around to find Carlos (photo above) running towards me with his arms out wide.  His hug is long and he buries his face into my chest and tells me that it is great to see me.  It is not long before he asks when Benjamin is coming back as he and his girlfriend are wanting to leave the streets and go into rehab.

    We spend some time talking about how he is doing and his desire to have a different life as he would like to settle down with his girlfriend and have a dry and safe place to sleep at night rather than the streets.  With the rain now pouring down it is clear that those who live in the streets are affected to a greater degree this time of year and once you are cold and wet, trying to sleep on the street is a miserable existence.  I buy him and his girlfriend some hot food and we say our goodbyes and he commits to coming to our centre this week to work on a plan to leave the streets.

    I smile all the way home as I am so happy to be back and able to bring some joy to those I have met this evening.  It is never easy to climb into a dry bed while you think of those you have left behind, but at least we are here on a daily basis and thanks to your support can keep making a difference.


     
    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

     

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