• Saturday 30th May 2020

    This blog is very different to any blog I have ever written and I decided that I would let you into our world a little bit and help you understand how we determine which children come into the mentoring programme and what factors help us make this decision.

    On Monday we were asked to help volunteer at the city feeding centre for homeless people in Guatemala City.  Each organisation takes turns to run the centre and Monday was our day.  It was while I was at the centre I met 9-year-old Lucy.  I would like to encourage you to look at her photo (thanks to Chris Dobson for the edit) and to study it for a while.

    What do you see there?  What feelings come to the surface?  Why do you think she is at the feeding centre?  Lucy came with her mum and younger brother and all three looked very tired, hungry and like the world had hit them hard.  But still they managed to smile.  So, let´s explore this a little further.

    When I first developed the mentoring programme in 2014, I did so because I couldn´t find a programme that would help prepare mentors to better understand and work with high-risk children.

    When I first moved to Guatemala City in 1992 there were an estimated 5,000 children and young people living on the city streets and the situation was dire.  I lost count of the number of children we buried, not because they didn´t matter.  They mattered very much indeed.  It was that with each child we buried we all felt like something within us died.  Each child had a special place in our hearts and every death wrenched that away from you, leaving you numb and feeling helpless until the next death.  Another funeral, another time of mourning, another commitment to not letting it happen again and another night without sleep.

    The coinciding of celebrating 25 years of working with street kids in 2017 and rescuing our last child from the streets, 11-year-old Jonathan, was a great time to survey the streets of Guatemala City again.  We celebrated the fact that we could not find one child living alone on the streets and, together with frequent research into the changing patterns of children taking to the streets, we wanted to focus our work more on the prevention of children taking to the streets and so was born the mentoring programme.

    The stage is set with the understanding of the factors that both push a child to the streets and the unique components that entice or pull a child onto the streets is an important place to start.  These factors are the backdrops and props needed for the actors that will now be auditioned for the part of “street child”.

    We draw upon research done by the ACE study in the USA that has given us 10 risk factors that can be applied to our child actors.  If a child, according to their research, has four or more of the following factors in their lives, they are more likely to have very negative health outcomes and therefore will tend to adopt negative behaviours as part of a detrimental coping strategy than only enhances their childhood trauma rather than bringing healing.  The factors are: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, a drug user in the household, member of the household in prison, member of the family who is chronically depressed, mentally ill or suicidal, the mother is treated violently, one or no parents, emotional or physical neglect and lastly the loss of someone close to you.  These factors are traumatic childhood events that many children can navigate well if they have a caring and supportive adult in their life. If not, then they compound a child´s sense of loss, vulnerability and, to some degree, abandonment.

    Moreover, our child actor must now be exposed to street life in order for them to be conditioned to play the part of the street child.  Street life, with its temptations and dangers, lures the child into a world that will both rob their innocence and accelerate their entrance into the adult world.  Therefore, a child´s connection to the street is measured by the street worker and, together with the number of risk factors in their life, enables the worker to evaluate their unique level of risk and so target the intervention at the most high-risk child.

    We return now to Lucy.  Take another look at her photo and stay a while as you study it again.  Knowing what you now know about the risk factors and connection to the streets can you begin to gather together the pieces of the jigsaw.

    What do you now see?  Can you notice the marks on her body?  Can we assume there are more and maybe more serious ones?  The condition of her skin tells us something together with the dirt under the nails.  Are there parts of her body she is trying to hide from us or does she feel comfortable to let you see the pain she might live with? A street worker would also look at her shoes and, if she is wearing any, what they would tell you about neglect.  Is she shy of the camera and reluctant to give you eye contact? She has a dog, as many people on the streets do. What does the dog give to her or provide for her? Her mum stands behind her and you can see she is very slim and begin to assume they struggle to find food.  Why is this? Why is there no dad around?  Lucy´s clothes are interesting as she or her mum has chosen clothes that many young girls her age would want to wear.  Even the text on her beanie states something she is probably unaware of.

    Little by little the street worker begins to put the pieces together and observes, asks questions and looks also at the context the child is living in – where in the street they are? Who is with them? What do they have with them? What time of day or night are they in the street? Who acknowledges them? Do their fast-moving eyes tell you they struggle to concentrate or that they are constantly scanning the scene for signs of danger? Does their breath give away drug or alcohol consumption?  The skilled street worker will be doing the calculations whilst, at the same time, trying to engage the child in play or conversation.

    Lucy, we can now assume, is a high-risk child.  She has a younger brother whose demeanor, actions and appearance gives away his predicament of being highly connected to the streets.  He also has a dog!  Lucy, her mum and little brother are in a queue of people who are homeless and does seem to know many of them. She smiles when she sees the size of her lunch and looks at her dog as if to say “this is for us both”.

    I have tried here to telescope Lucy´s life in order to help you understand how a street worker thinks and how their observations lead to engagement, play, understanding and eventually to action.  I will keep you posted.

    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.

  • Monday 18th May 2020

    You can´t help the attachment you feel towards vulnerable children, as you are with them in the most difficult, intimate and happy moments of their lives. Some even see you as either part of their family or, in the case of Carlos, as an actual parent.

    I wrote about Carlos at the beginning of this year and expressed my frustration at seeing how much he had deteriorated during 2019.  His drug addictions and street life were taking him down a track that I feared would lead to his early death.  I was pulling no punches as I explained this to him on New Year´s Eve.  He went missing for the first two weeks of January and so we put up posters of him around La Terminal, checked hospitals and the city morgue, but no news.

    A few weeks later we were informed that Carlos was now safe in a children´s home and hopefully would be until December this year when he turns 18.  I have been to see him a few times, but all that was before the pandemic hit Guatemala and we went, like so many countries, into lockdown.

    My last visit to him was so rewarding as he spoke so clearly about his new-found faith and desire to make something of his life.  He was unusually pensive and held onto my hand almost the whole time I was visiting him.  His reflections on his short life were insightful and I encouraged him to start writing notes as one day I would love to write a story of his life.  I believe it would be a fascinating account of a street child and the factors that both took him to the streets and eventually helped him leave.

    For now, I can only meet him online and now he calls weekly, as he did a few days ago, from the home in the North of Guatemala.  He tells me that his weekly session with his counsellor had gone well and that he was proud to tell him that I was his dad.  He smiles and as he does, shows his missing front teeth.  Once he explained to me how he had lost four of his teeth in a street fight and said “I don´t think I am very good at fighting!”.  I agreed that maybe it was not his strength and that it would be good for him to consider other pastimes.

    His call was welcome and it was so good to talk with him via WhatsApp and see him looking so well and talking intelligently about his plans after the home.  I had to answer his question about how his mum was doing with honesty, which left him feeling sad but, at the same time, thankful I was still keeping in contact with her.  I doubt if she will make it through to seeing him graduate from the home the way her life is going, but that can´t hold him back I tell him and that he must now focus on the new life and opportunity he has been given.

    Despite lockdowns, curfews and travel restrictions we can still keep in contact and, thanks to your support, we have been able to send a small donation to the home to help provide all the boys there with some treats and to cover the costs of food.

    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.

    Duncan Dyason
  • Friday 19th June 2020

    The number of cases of COVID-19 has increased quite dramatically in the last two weeks and triggered further restrictions from the government that have limited the outreach we can do for the moment.  Despite the limitations we are able to leave certain days and visit families at risk as well as offer food parcels to the many families we are caring for each week.  Every person who comes to our Mentoring Centre to collect their food parcel, or who receives it when we visit them in marginal areas of the city, does so with great joy and so much gratitude that I am often overwhelmed by it all.  Thank you for helping to make all this possible.One amazing sacrifice

    This week there have been many events to inform you of and so I will try and be brief so as to not make this blog too long, but each event is so filled with excitement and emotion that this will be a challenge.

    I had messaged Jonathan, one of the vulnerable boys I mentor, on Monday and asked how he was.  I knew that things were tough, especially given that his dad was probably out drunk on the streets all weekend.  Thanks to a special fund we setup we could let him have a phone so he can keep in contact with me and the team.  Jonathan replied saying “BAD”.  I called him back immediately and asked what was up and the story came that his dad had been drinking all weekend and had come home with nothing in his pockets and had lost his job.  They had eaten very little and now had no food at all in the house.

    Jonathan (photo above) lives with his adorable little sister, mum and dad in a small house in one of the marginal areas of Guatemala City we have targeted for the mentoring programme.  A good percentage of the children that used to live on the street 15 years ago came from this area and so given that and the many other risk factors that these children live with means they are highly likely to look to the streets as a solution to their problems and if not the streets, the local gang.

    I was with Alex in the car when I called him and so we took the decision to drive over to their home and buy some supplies on route.  Jonathan, his mum and sister met us and were so very pleased to receive a few bags of food, enough for the rest of the week at least.

    father day mug2We returned to visit him on Wednesday, which just happened to be Father´s Day here in Guatemala, and Alex and I were presented with a special mug to celebrate Father´s Day.  It was a colourful little mug and one I know would have cost them a few meals.  No wonder they had no food, they had more than likely gone without so they could buy us gifts.  Just the most powerful present and one that means so much as it represents and expresses love.

    On the way back we drop by to visit a family who are living in a large tin shack and talk with Paola.  Paula is nine and is a girl we are concerned about and seems to be always caring for her 4 young brothers and sisters.  She never smiles and I wonder how much of the worries of caring for the family are upon her shoulders.  But she does have a dream!

    Paola asks me what I think about helping her build a bedroom for her and her 7-year-old sister.  At the side of their shack they have been given a piece of land that they would like to use to house a few animals and also build a small tin structure that will become their bedroom.  Despite funds being rather limited at the moment I couldn´t help but offer something towards her dream and so with some basic materials on the way I will keep you posted as to when her dream becomes a reality.

    We head back to Casa Alexis to make drinks for the builders currently working there on the development of the next mentoring centre.  It has been busy here recently after a donation came in to take the next step in renovating the building.  I am very keen to have it all ready for when the kids are able to come back and visit the centre again.

    Our plan is that the Casa Alexis Protection Home is closed for the moment unless there is an emergency for children or families.  One such emergency came up recently when we had to house two boys and their mum.  The mum was very ill and needed medical treatment here in the capital and so came for her treatment at the clinic nearby and her two younger boys came also to support her and enjoy a short break.

    The home is a great place for children at risk and we are ready to take in any family or child/children as and when the need dictates.  There are many more protocols in place now that govern our daily behaviours and how we deal with emergency situations.  The safety of those coming and of us volunteers is paramount and we feel that we can remain open to emergencies if all the protocols are followed.

    To finish my blog, I would like to tell you a story of a fridge.  Ok, I know it has already started to send you to sleep, but hang in there because this a very encouraging story.

    fridgeI was sent a photo in the week of a fridge.  It was a second-hand fridge and it was in pretty good condition.  The person who sent it to me was Don Rafael, the father of Damaris who was featured in a video testimony recently.  Don Rafael was very excited as he had just bought a fridge for the family and wanted to share the good news.

    A year and a half ago this was a very different story and, as Don Rafael will willingly tell you, he was a mess and so was his family.  Almost homeless again and living in great poverty due to his drinking addictions, the family were staying with us, on and off, at the Protection Home.  They were very dark days indeed and if you have not seen Damaris´video testimony, and can have a tissue nearby, then check out her video here.

    Since Don Rafael´s life changed after becoming a Christian he has worked hard to gain his family back and save money to improve their lot.  When we were allowed, before the current pandemic, to visit the families in their homes I would often see Don Rafael sat on the bed with his wife sat behind him and leaning forwards embracing him the whole time we spoke.  She tells me how much he has changed and how happy they are all now.

    Later in the evening Don Rafael calls me very concerned as he says the bit at the back of the fridge is getting hot and should he turn it off.  I explain that this is normal and he tells me that since they have never had a fridge before this is all new to them.  They are so happy they can keep food cold now and are planning on saving up for other things the family need.  

    Transformation is incredible to watch in people and it leads to a special moment this week when I speak with their son, who is in the mentoring programme with me.  We reflect together on the last few years and how they have been through the most difficult of times and are now enjoying real life, life with hope, with dreams and with love.  Be encouraged, your support really does help us invest for the long term in people´s lives.  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.

  • Sunday 28th 2020

    When the call came through from Bryan, I was very pleased but somewhat surprised that he was now in contact with us again.  Bryan is 14 and has been off the radar over the past 12 months as he began to fall away from the mentoring programme and become further involved in the local gang.

    The huge rise in gangs in Guatemala has been fueled by US policies of deporting anyone from Central America for all manner of crimes over the last 25 years.  There was a time when I remember taking a flight from the US to Guatemala and almost half was full of people in handcuffs!  The alarming numbers of active gang members who had grown up in the US and were now assimilated into the notorious MS or 18 Street gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras slowly increased from 1996 when the US passed new laws to facilitate the deportations.  The Violent Gang Taskforce and the subsequent Operation Community Shield in the US targeted active gang members for deportation.

    In recent years gang activity has diminished in Guatemala due to a very hard line approach to gang membership, but still the gangs operate in many areas with impunity, albeit to a lesser degree.  In one area where the charity is supporting a project in Guatemala City one of the gangs opened up an attractive youth club to recruit young gang members from the age of 10 years.

    lionada4Bryan has been the target of the gang for the last 3 years and a few months ago was caught up in a gun battle in one of the city cemeteries, leaving 20 people dead. His life has changed so much from the first time I met him and he started to attend the mentoring centre.  A fresh-faced 10-year-old who was always full of wonder and questions and who had dreams of doing great things with his life.

    Now it seems that the authorities have caught up with him and he is on some form of house arrest and wanted me to go and visit him so he could talk.  Despite the restrictions I felt that I could not turn down this opportunity and so headed to a barrio that is famous for its violence, gangs and all manner of things that usually hit the headlines in full colour.

    The road into the barrio is narrow and with cars parked at certain intervals on the pavement, meaning that getting to the end of the road takes some maneuvering. I had only passed a few houses and two men, who had been sitting on a doorstep, stood up and began to follow my car, one on one side and the other on the other side of the road.  At the end of the road I turned the car round and found a space to park where I guessed it was at less risk of blocking other cars passing.

    I got out of the car and could see the men walking up, but just where I had parked there was an alleyway that led to Bryan´s house.  I called to him and he came down from the second floor where the family rent a small room that is home to about 7 people.  At times this number grows depending on who needs a bed for the night.

    Bryan comes out and looks all around him as well as up and down the alley before looking at me and saying hi.  We sit on one of the steps and he begins to tell me that he is now living back at home and not with the gang.  He has handed back his gun and has decided not to get more involved with them, something that is not normally allowed as once in the gang, always in the gang.

    lionada3As we are talking three teenagers come around the corner and ask who I am and what I am doing there.  They are all fairly high on solvents and so I try and engage with them in such a way that they don´t feel threatened and soon begin to laugh and ask me to teach them some English.  It turns out they are just ordinary boys who have been dealt a bad hand and the many choices they have made have led them to a life they feel has no hope.

    It does seem an interesting idea of working with them and so later let the street team know that when restrictions are lifted, I would like to return there and see how we could help bring hope and explore with them a more positive future.

    I need to finish my discussion with Bryan and respectively ask the boys if they would be happy with me talking with Bryan alone.  This seems acceptable to them and so they leave us alone to finish our conversation and Bryan asks if there is any chance I can get him a bed as he and his brother are now having to sleep on a cold concrete floor each night.  I commit myself to looking for a donation of a double bed he and his brother can share.  We finish by discussing the options of full-time education when schools return and given the fact that he has missed almost all his education, this could prove to be a challenge.  But challenges are exciting!

    I manage to get out of the barrio without any issues and am grateful for yet another opportunity of seeing God´s hand at work and allowing me to help another lost boy.  The future for boys like Bryan is not that great and statistics show that so many will, in the end, succumb to peer pressure and join the gang.  Life expectancy for those who join a gang in Guatemala is just 22 years and so we would like to offer him the hope that he can live a very different and full life.

    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.

  • Sunday 19th July 2020

    Today is lockdown, so all is quiet and we are focusing on the kids we are responsible for, by calling them every 1-2 days.  The boys I am calling today are bored and some are struggling with being inside a tin shack in 28 degrees of heat.  Having a call from me or from the team does make their day go a little easier and the funny videos, we send those who have internet on their phones, are very popular.  Yesterday was of me waking up Alex Denton at 3am with loud music and filming his reactions.  Poor Alex, a good sport and willing to be made fun of in order to help the kids laugh.

    One boy I speak to today is stuck in his shack, but almost ran away from home last week.  Paulo is 15, but you would think he was 11 looking at him.  His growth, like that of his brothers, has been greatly affected by poverty.  Today Paulo is laughing on the phone as we talk about his teenage ways and how funny it is trying to understand his new way of talking.  For those parents with teens, you will understand how the teen grunts are an interesting way to communicate.

    The previous week Paulo asked me to spend some time with him as he wanted to talk.  Alex and I had been delivering food parcels to the 7 families in this marginal area of Guatemala City and had finished a short mentoring session with three of the boys.  We climbed down the mountainside, much firmer today thanks to very little rain and the baking sun.  Just one slip could end in tragedy, so we do have to take great care.  The kids, however, run up and down like young mountain goats.

    Paulo sat down on one of the steps that lead to his shack and began to tell me why he is planning to run away from home.  He has found a room to rent and is thinking of getting a job, but needs some money to start his own independent life.  I look at him and can´t believe he would last long in the wide world without some form of daily support.  I know I started off like that at 15, but then my life and experience in the world was very different to him.

    The reason he wants to run away from home is that he is experiencing difficulties at home.  Those two words need some teasing out and so I ask him to tell me what “experiencing difficulties” means.  He pauses for a while and a few tears run down his cheeks.  Things have gotten progressively worse with his family and the fact that his brother has decided to now live with his girlfriend and build a shack next to theirs has only added to the stress.  Not only is this all far too much for the boy, but he tells me that some in his family have threatened to kill him.  His tears flow more freely as he tells me how he sleeps with a kitchen knife in his hand now.

    Life for these kids is never easy and some don´t make it through to adulthood, which is why our mentoring programme really does make the difference.  Now they have someone to talk to and help is always at hand.  Paulo needed to talk it through and realise that maybe it was not as bad as he thought and there were things he could do to keep himself safe and not take the option of running away from home.

    It is never easy to walk away and leave a kid in that situation, but I could tell that he was not going to make the decision to run, but rather stay and try and work things out with his family.  As time has gone on this week, I can see that this has happened and that Paulo is much happier and talking like the teenager he wants to be.  I tell him I am proud of him and the decisions he has taken and help remind him of better times to come, especially our boys’ trip to Rio Dulce in Guatemala when this pandemic is over.

    We love mentoring and the boys I take care of are close to me and I feel I know them all very well.  This relationship of trust takes time to build, but then it does give you a special standing in their lives that can make the difference between life and death.

    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.

  • Sunday 9th August 2020

    The last two weeks have been rather full-on.  When you are the person on-call, then you do have to respond as and when you are needed, despite the restrictions we currently live with here in Guatemala.

    One of the calls I had was from Wilman, a boy we have helped for many years.  Wilman has grown up in a slum area of Guatemala City and slowly, like many before him, began to spend more time on the streets, which eventually led to him to doing things that children his age should not be doing.

    Last year we managed to help get Wilman off the streets and back with his family, after a short time living with a group of young men in a rented house near the rubbish dump.  I remember the many conversations I have had with him about returning to schooling and trying to achieve his basic school grades that would help him find a better job.  Sadly, the advice was turned down in preference to a new girl on the scene.

    Wilman decided to ask his mum for a tiny plot of land (3m x 3m), next to where she and the family live, on which he wanted to build his own little shack for him and his girlfriend.

    This past week I have been seeing Wilman more and helping give advice to him about work and how to build his shack so that the only bit of furniture he has, a grubby mattress, remains dry when the rain pours down.  We looked at how he could replace the sheets of plastic with tin and so mentioned the need on Facebook by making a video and within a few hours the £120 he needed to build his home was donated.

    In the coming week I will be buying the materials Wilman needs to build his new home and hope that he will be open to the idea of studying in the evenings in order to make something more out of his life.

    Just across the valley lives Rodrigo, who is 11.  Rodrigo entered the mentoring programme a year and a half ago as his situation was assessed and deemed to be at-risk.  I met him, his mum, his little brother and the 12-year-old boy living next door.

    As I got to know Rodrigo, so I got to know the challenges he faces every day.  There is no school at the moment in Guatemala due to the pandemic, but Rodrigo is keen to study and does his best, with meagre resources, to keep up with the work the teacher is setting for the children at home.

    Slowly it becomes obvious that Dino, the 12-year-old boy in the shack next to him, is somewhat of a challenge and struggles to engage with the rest of the world.  He also struggles to talk and seems to spend most of his time lying on a bed with an adult relative.  

    Rodrigo opens up and tells me that Dino is always pulling down his little brother´s shorts and making him walk around naked.  He then confides in me and tells me of the things that Diego is making him do.  I now have to talk to Rodrigo´s mum, who seems to know of the abuse and says that there is little she can do as Dino is related to her husband and this would lead to fights and “complications”.

    rescueThe best solution was to either remove Dino from the scene and get him help, as children who abuse children are usually acting out what is happening to them also, or remove Rodrigo and his brother.  The first was not an option for now, so the mum takes the decision to keep her boys safe by planning to move with them to the countryside.  Her dad owns some land in a small village a few hours’ drive from the capital and she says she would like to start again there and bring up her boys in a much safer environment.

    With the Guatemalan government lifting travel restrictions, helping them move to the countryside now becomes a valid option.  I contract the services of a car and armed guard and arrange to take them to start their new lives.  The guard is going to be useful if we come across any difficult situations and, if any local areas decide to add their own travel restrictions, we would be allowed to pass without hinder.

    It was an emotional day (watch the video here) and both boys raced on ahead when we arrived in order to greet their wider family.  The grandfather is standing on the patio and greets me and thanks me for helping them arrive without any issues.  Both boys are already playing with one of the 22 cousins that live in and around the property.  I think they will be very happy here and am pleased to have played a small part in their rescue.

    Thanks to your support such work becomes possible and I am grateful for those who helped fund this trip and the building of a shack for Wilman and his girlfriend.

    This week we are having to take a very hard look at how we are responding to the growing demands from the children in the mentoring programme.  With so many showing signs of stress and depression, it is vital we re-think our approach and so more about this in the coming week.

    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 27th August 2020

    Being officially old now (according to Guatemala´s “third age” category) I can be forgiven for forgetting a few details now and again.  One thing, however, I will always remember is my first visit to El Hoyo (the hole), in Guatemala City.  El Hoyo was home to around 60 young children, all sniffing glue and living in desperate conditions on the streets.  That was in 1993 and one of the first boys I met was Miqueo.  At around 8-years-of-age Miqueo was very street wise and together with two other boys featured in one of my photos from those early days.

    I find it incredible to think back over all those years and still see him and one of the other three boys, now much older and still on the streets.  However, the news came through last week that Miqueo was hit by a car and then subsequently died in hospital.  I have mixed feelings about this as I have seen the damage he has caused to countless young boys on the streets.  But another loss and another guy we can´t help anymore.

    Over the last two weeks there has been an increase in the number of reports from our team in Guatemala City with regards to how desperate things are becoming with the majority of families we support.  In short, there is a real feeling in many families that life is just coming to an end.  Some share odd videos around of preachers proclaiming the end of the world or even a third world war.  So, for the many children we are seeking to support, getting on with homework or even considering going back to school in January is just a dream.  For now, they all have to focus on staying alive, and this is accomplished by working to support themselves and their families.

    brandonOne of the boys I mentor is Brandon.  He is 13 and can´t wait to be 16.  In fact, he tells me, with a huge smile on his face, that someone thought he was actually 16.  He has shot up over the last few months and working hard to get impressive muscles on his arms.  Brandon and his family have been through their share of crisis.  With government travel restrictions lifted I decided to take Brandon out for the day, allowing him plenty of time in the car to talk.

    Mentoring boys means creating opportunities for them to talk in a non-threatening, and often no eye contact way.  Brandon tells me about his life and desire to now work as there seems little point to him returning to school.  The conversation is steered to discuss his dreams and ambitions and this leads to his promise to return to school in January (if schools are allowed to open by then) so long as I can find one that specializes in dance, music and singing – his three great passions.  A challenge ahead I feel!

    Many thanks to all those who have donated and enquired about Brayan and the help we have been giving him and his family to try and save his sight.  Brayan, many will remember, lives in a tin shack with his mum, grandmother, two brothers and little sister.  There have been many early mornings going to collect him at 5am and take him to queue with me to get into the sight clinic here that offers all manner of specialist care for people on a low or no income.

    Brayan needed an urgent operation, which was a great success and he continues to suffer bed rest for a few more days and then he will be able to be up and about.  He has lost the use of his left eye, but the pressure that was building in it has now been reduced together with the daily headaches and pain.  I just need to collect his glasses now for his right eye and then he should be able to see all the things most of take for granted.  His brother and sister are also in treatment and will need glasses and lots of after care.

    The busy two weeks culminated in a desperate plea from Max, a man who is currently working on our new mentoring centre here in the city.  The centre will be an exciting addition to the mentoring programme and Protection Home, with a focus on music and art therapy.  The man shows me a photo of a little boy living in the street near to where he lives and asks me what he should do.  The only way I can advise is to take him home later that day and see for myself and then discuss this with the team.

    We drive a long way down a road that leads to one of the many satellite communities that grew up in the late 1990s, when large groups of people grabbed abandoned land and staked their claim.  This community was, until recently, a narco and gang-run area of the city.  The Guatemalan government have certainly helped reduce gang activity with their specialist police units that have authority to shoot to kill any gang or suspected gang member.

    The little jeep fits neatly in between a bus, that hasn´t run now since March, and a small van that is making a delivery to a nearby tienda.  I am obviously new and so I feel many eyes are on me.  Max waits as I try and secure the little jeep as much as possible and then walks me down a concrete alley, that then leads to another and another.  Eventually we are walking down a steep alley that I can clearly see has an ending and Max points to a 6-year-old boy sitting on one side.

    José sits with his back to me and is wearing only a pair of shorts and trainers and picking through a chicken carcass.  As I approach, I can see he is working his little fingers along the bones to scrape off as much meat as he can.  He looks up at me and then back to his carcass while I introduce myself to him and to the lady sitting next to him. I notice a bag of clothes and various toy vehicles on one side and a small paper tray with chicken bones together an empty coke bottle nestled between them.

    Starting to build confidence and trust becomes possible through play and José is soon running around laughing and engaging in a silly game that offers the opportunity to talk with the lady and discover a little more.  It turns out that the lady is his mum, but that she does not have legal custody of the boy any more.  It is also evident that she is suffering from some form of mental illness and just talks away to herself about things that make no sense at all.

    The boy is obviously at risk and, as Max points out, is often found sleeping in the gutter day and night.  Looking at this tiny boy reminds me of the early days when I worked with so many young children on the streets.  Thankfully those days are over as there are no young children living on the streets here and have not been for the last few years.  However, José does look out of place and time.

    Because this is my first visit there is little I can do for now and plan to return with the street team to investigate more and explore options for José.  Walking away is always the hardest bit and always leads to a massive guilt trip.  My world is so different to that of José and I am sure that as the trust develops, we can do something very practical to help and see him living in a much better place.

    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.

  • Sunday 20th September 2020

    Today I want to tell about three of the boys I have been working recently.  Three boys from very different backgrounds, but three boys whose lives will illustrate where so many of our kids are at.  It is not always appropriate to share on social media the type of work we do; due to the sensitive nature of the situations we work with every week. But this blog might help you understand our day-to-day work and the situations we are pleased to help with thanks to your support.

    Boy number one is Jeffery, who is 12 and lives with his grandmother, auntie and subsequent cousins and their husbands and children.  The little house is dark, due to daylight peeking through the door or a rear window.  It is also crammed with each smaller family unit trying to guard their area which means tensions often rise and very quickly can lead to the most heated arguments.

    I had just got in from a long day of mentoring and was ready to sit back and enjoy my dinner when the phone rings.  On answering it I hear a child crying and quickly determine that Jeffery is calling me from the phone box at the corner of his road.  I recognise the last three digits on the number and hear him crying, while trying to ask for my help.  His 25cents are now coming to an end and he becomes anxious as the call is about to be cut off.

    Guatemala still has daily 9pm curfews and so if I leave right now, I won´t have much time to get there and back before time runs out.  I leave and sure enough, Jeffery is sitting at the base of the phone box with his head in his hands, still crying but gets up when he sees my little jeep approaching.  To begin with all he can do is cry and needs a hug and I allow him time to calm down so he can tell me what is going on.

    The story comes out of more emotional and physical abuse and now he wants to run away and never come back.  He has a disturbing history of abuse and neglect and trusts me to always come and rescue him when things get bad.  This time, seeing the blood pouring out of his nose and swollen elbow and cuts on his arms I have to make another official report and complaint.  This leads to me offering his grandmother two options.  She can either come with me now to the court or not come and allow me to take my report directly to the court.  She realises that it would be better for her to be engaged in the process and so we head to the all-night children´s court.

    Despite years of trying to help the government coordinate efforts to help support children through a very draconian legal system, where the best interests of the child are not always predominant, I get frustrated by the process every time I am here in court.  A long night starts with us having to firstly explain to the guard on the gate what had happened, then to the receptionist, then to the Public Ministry, then to Social Services, then to a nurse, then to one other agency and then to a judge. The sign outside the building boasts the logos of all these agencies whilst proudly announcing they are “working together for children”.

    We get home at 2.30am, thanks to a special letter from the judge allowing us to travel after curfew.  It is a quiet time, the only people on the road are police cars and lorries that are delivering essential supplies.  Jeffery and his grandmother are now at the beginning of a long legal process that I hope will help keep him safe.

    The next day is an office day, but this is cancelled due to another phone call about a 15-year-old boy who has run away from home.  Another troubled boy and another situation of abuse.  Every child I have ever met on the streets, and the reason they say why they feel safer living on the streets than at home, is due to abuse.

    Marlon is a boy I have worked with since he was about 6.  I first found him while he was working on the rubbish dump and living in conditions of real poverty.  It was always a struggle for me to see the food he would rescue from the dump every day that would become his dinner that evening.

    Now Marlon was missing and the stories from his mum about why he left home were all very worrying.  Since Marlon is in my contact list and I know he has a mobile phone, I send him a message.  He responds straight away and tells me he is safe and we agree to meet the following day.

    I find out that Marlon is living with a local charity that we partner with and so it is easy to offer to visit and when I arrive, I get a big hug and a smile.  We decide to go for a walk, as it´s now dark and the roads are much quieter now.  For the next two hours he pours out his heart and does not stop crying and sniffing the whole time.  He is clearly very wounded by the way his mum and older brother treated him together with the things his mum said out of anger and frustration.

    The walk is a release for Marlon, who feels much better when we get back to the charity, only minutes before curfew, giving me enough time to get back into the Protection Home on the chime of 9pm.  There is much to follow up and a subsequent meeting with the charity, then his mum, then the authorities leads to an agreement that Marlon can now live a semi-independent life as long as we and our friends in the partner charity offer him support and a study and work structure.

    Tomorrow is going to be a better day as I have mentoring again and so, when home, relax into a deep sleep and prepare myself for a special time with one of the boys I mentor and his family.  Due to COVID most of the mentoring I now do is with the mentored boy and his whole family.  This new family mentoring is going well and it is exciting to see how engaged everyone gets in the games, discussions and various activities.

    On arriving at the family the following day, I am welcomed in and given a drink of water and get hugs and smiles as the boy I am visiting and his sisters are looking with great anticipation at a large plastic box I have with me.  The box is full of scissors and colouring pencils for an activity based on the theme of “blessed are the poor”.

    No sooner than I sit down, the mum is called for by a lady in the street and then returns to tell us that Luis is missing.  Over the last three weeks the family have invited 8-year-old Luis into their tin house in order to “keep him safe” as well as participate in the activities.  On week two Luis runs in and gives me a massive hug and just wants to be held while he looks up at my face and smiles.  He is clearly a needy boy and there is a much bigger story here than I have time to explain in this blog.

    luis missingToday, however, Luis is missing.  He left at 7am to collect 70p from his aunties friend and it´s now nearly 11am and he has not been seen since.  We leave behind the activity and head off to look for him.  The park, as the kids call it, is nearby and we are asked to look there first.  It´s not a park as you would think and access to it us through a hole in a concrete wall.  It is a plot of derelict land that is a play area for neighbourhood kids who share this overgrown wilderness with dog walkers, the local gang, drug dealers and all manner of people.

    Luis is nowhere to be seen and so our search then continues in the jeep as we drive around to areas the kids think that Luis has been before.  His auntie, who he lives with, is encouraged to put out an alert with the police and this could bring in search reinforcements, but I doubt that anyone will do anything with the report till the following day.

    Knowing very little of Luis means that I can´t guess where he would be, apart from the types of places an 8-year-old would go and hide.  He is vulnerable and could quickly become a target for anyone wishing to take advantage of his sweet nature.  Two hours later we have no sightings of him and so print off posters with his photo and begin to post these around the area, whilst talking to taxi drivers, police and shopkeepers.

    Late in the afternoon Luis is found and comes back home to, what I can only assume, a huge lecture and maybe more beatings that probably motivated him to take off in the first place.  He is another troubled boy who could easily follow in the footsteps of so many and end up on the streets.  Fortunately, we have a good network and a programme in place to help him, his family and for concerned others who look out for him.  I am sure that when Frank, the coordinator of the mentoring programme, visits him next week, Luis will be able to join the mentoring programme and get the support he needs to stay safe.

    All this is possible thanks to your regular support.  It is not often I mention money here, but when you do donate please know that it is used well to help really vulnerable kids.  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.

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