• Monday 21st June 2021


    HOW IT ALL BEGINS!  It is simple, as a good friend said to me many months ago, it´s either school or streets! Mark Balfour, a missionary volunteer with Street Kids Direct here in Guatemala, was reflecting over the situation we faced to either leave the kids who are in the mentoring programme in the national school system or to homeschool them all.  We decided on the later, thanks to Global Care and Rotary USA, and have seen the massive impact this has made on their lives.

    There are many children in Guatemala, however, that are struggling to keep up in government-run schools because they have limited access the online education system.  The World Bank has highlighted the fact that school closures in Guatemala have had a negative impact on 87% of all children with an alarming 106,000 children dropping out of the school system last year alone.

    When children don´t go to school this translates into a series of compounding consequences that include fewer educational opportunities later in life, worsening health, early sexual relationships and pregnancy, recruitment into gangs and an increase in child labour, to name a few.  In order to keep more kids away from the temptation of street life, we need to invest in education and this comes from someone who struggled so much in the comprehensive school programme in the UK during the 1970s.  I know from personal experience the impact that not having access to and support in the education system can have.

    On Sunday I was with a group of children in a slum area we work in Guatemala City and sat watching 8 children trying to do their homework.  Like many high-risk children, these young students have struggled to access their online schoolwork, but are determined not to fall behind and press on despite the frustrations of having to share one phone between two families that has only two hours of internet access.

    I sit and watch for a while and admire their perseverance.  The home is a tin shack, large in comparison to many others nearby that all cling to the side of the mountain in what was land-grabs many years ago.  Most don´t have papers for their land, but still the electric company has been able to connect many to the grid.  Well, for those who can afford it.

    The home is always welcoming and the family always excited by my visit.  I often think about how hard it is for them all to just exist, let alone get ahead in life.  The dirt floor becomes a home to the various bugs and dirt mites and the fumes that fill the place from the cooking stove make for a few hours of scratching and coughing.

    I am asked to help with the youngest boy who almost dropped out of school last year and has now lost all interest in schoolwork as it “is too hard for me and no one explains anything”.  All he has to do is to copy out four pages of handwriting, but his concentration is low and so I have to turn the whole experience into a game and challenge to see if he can do better than me.  The challenge is accepted and all four pages are completed in half an hour.

    The 12-year-old boy asks if he can talk with me outside and so, when homework is completed, we sit on the steps and look down into the ravine below.  I still find it hard to believe that people have made this place into homes and, as the years go by, I see them turning this into a developing slum that has views that many in richer areas would pay a lot to enjoy daily.

    21.6.21bMarcos is very affectionate and as soon as I sit down, he snuggles his head into my neck and sits quietly for a while.  I ask him who he thinks cares for him and he tells me no one.  It is easy to point out how hard his mum works and I know she loves him very much.  He smiles and then says that with me there are two people who care for him.  Marcos remains quiet again and we just sit there for a while enjoying the almost unbroken silence and then move on to talk about all that is going on in his life.

    His mum had already told me that he had voiced his frustrations with her about living in poverty and that no one loved him and talking about if life would be better if he left home and went to the streets.  When I say streets, I am sure he was not thinking of living on the streets, but rather finding work and just doing his own thing.  Many boys I work with have similar thoughts and some do actually end up on the streets and this is what we are working so hard on to prevent.

    At times, the numbers of children in similar situations or who come from abusive homes is rather alarming.  As I climb back up the 80 steps that lead back to the road at the top of the ravine, puffing away as anyone would after a steep climb, I meet a mum who asks me to help her son who is very “street connected”.  She tells me he now does his own thing, doesn´t obey her, is starting to do things that can put his life in danger and could I help him.  

    No sooner than she finishes her sentence the boy walks around the corner.  He is 7 and smaller than most his age.  He has that street look and feel about him and I can tell he is a kid who would benefit from the mentoring programme.  But how can I take on more kids at the moment?  The growth of the programme has always been held back by the lack of male mentors.  It seems extremely difficult to find men who can commit to a weekly meeting with a child.  I know I can´t just leave the child to begin that journey towards the streets when I know we can act now and make a difference.

    Next week I have to return to the UK for my second vaccine and to organise some fundraising events.  The time away will give me some emotional distance and space to think and pray and see if there is a way to help those boys.  At least, I think, we can find the money to buy a larger table and some chairs for them to study more comfortably and effectively. My gut reaction is to move there and start another mentoring centre for high-risk children, now that my work with the new mentoring centre is coming to an end.  However, for this time at least, I will be patient and see how things are when I return there in August.  Patience has never been my best quality!


     
    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 16th September, 2021


    In all the years I have been working with at-risk children and youth I continue to feel honoured by the trust thousands of children have placed in me and am always filled with joy when you earn the place in their hearts that means you can be a friend, confidant, guide, teacher and father-figure.

    Over the last few weeks I have lived the ups and downs with many of the children and have felt very proud that I can be alongside them to help guide, encourage, support and feel something of their pain or celebration.  Today I want to share with you some stories that I know will bless you and maybe some that will help you see what life is like for some here.  Despite all the world throws at these kids, they still have massive capacity to love, to learn, to grow and to trust.

    We start with Yoni, a 16-year-old boy who I have known all his life.  He lives in a tin shack that you wonder why it hasn´t been swept down the mountainside.  He has only known poverty, abuse and has been threatened numerous times to join the local gang or face the consequences.

    He was telling me recently how gang members were waiting for him outside his school (the only school open in the area) and how he fears coming out of school and having to find alternative ways home or wait in school till almost everyone has gone home and then leave and hope the gang have moved on to easier targets.

    yoni santa fazThe other week he asked me to help him plan the most “amazing birthday celebration” for his new girlfriend.  We had talked about this before and also about relationships and all the consequences of dating in the context in which he lives.  I felt very honoured to be invited into this very intimate part of his life and was given instructions of when to arrive and what to do.

    I arrive and see Yoni cleaning the ground outside his home.  It is just dirt, but with no rain for the last few days the dirt was hard and so could be swept.  I am instructed to break of some branches of a pine tree and decorate the floor with the pine leaves.  We then hang up the balloons and head of to collect his girlfriend.  Yoni seems to have this planned to the last detail as he wants to do his best for her.

    We return an hour later with a birthday cake; his girlfriend and her family.  Yoni leads his girlfriend down the mountainside making sure the blindfold he puts on her eyes hides the balloons and friends who have congregated in the back yard.  The moment comes when he takes the blindfold off, just after he puts on her favourite piece of music and then comes the great reveal.  She cries and is very happy and Yoni is also brought to tears and rewarded with a big hug from her.  Mentoring the boys as they are getting older is now a different ball game to what is used to be!

    kenedy shavingNow I introduce you to Kenedy, who is shooting up and is trying to cope with all the changes that teens go through.  Sometimes he asks about the changes and sometimes gets “great” advice from other boys. Today, though, he is asking about how he can shave and so we, together with the other three I mentor on a Saturday, head to the bathroom.  The initial idea of shaving is interesting for them all and then begin to demonstrate how to shave without cutting your chin.  The boys talk about when they think they will shave and if they want a moustache or beard.  Kenedy takes up his new razor we bought a couple of hours before and starts to have a go.  I am impressed and there is only one small cut on his chin.  He is pleased and returns a few times to the  mirror to check he still looks as cool as he did before.  Looking cool is very important!

    Christian is 12 and I was given the biggest hug I ever had from him the other week while telling me that his birthday was in 3 days’ time. The last two years I have celebrated his birthday as I found out that no one had ever done this in his first nine years of life and that despite being in the mentoring programme, he has not yet been matched with a mentor.

    christian birthdayTwo years ago, when he was 10, he asked me to take him swimming and so we headed to the pool and he learned to swim.  The memorable point in the day was not him giving me a huge hug and kiss in the pool, it was what he said after: “Duncan, when you die, I want to come to your funeral”.  It was heartfelt and does mean a lot here in this culture.  He thinks I will be encouraged by the news and so smile and thank him for being so kind and thoughtful.

    Today he is 12 and I encourage him to choose a non-pool related activity and so we head to the cinema after passing by the shops and buying him some clothes as he has very few clothes now he is not living with his mum, but being cared for by his brother and sometimes his sister, and sometimes with others who appear in his life from time to time.  For the moment he is happy, no one is beating him and no one is taking advantage of him.  It is just a boy with new clothes on, eating popcorn and laughing at a film about some adventures in the jungle.

    Last night was a pleasant experience for me and completed a day of celebrations as the country enjoyed a national holiday to remember 200 years of independence.

    Brandon, a 14-year-old boy I mentor every week, asked to join me as “extra security” for his sister and her boyfriend.  Brandon´s sister has a boyfriend and he was turning 16 and she wanted to do something special for him.  Our plan was to collect the young couple and take them to a restaurant to enjoy a meal together while Brandon, under strict instructions from his mum, was able to keep an eye on them.

    Brandon and I got ready and he was pleased to be able to wear a bowtie for the first time and I showed him photos of James Bond, which made him laugh to think he could say “the name´s Bond, Brandon Bond”.  We left for La Terminal and caused quite a stir arriving in a very clean car and stepping out in the mud to collect Damaris and Alexander.

    Once again it was an honour to be able to be asked to take them on a date (main article photo) and relieved to know that the team are working with them to help them navigate this exciting stage of life.  Growing up without support is not great to be honest, but these kids now have a good network in place for every eventuality and all this is thanks to your support.  Thank you for standing with us so we can stand with them as they grow and develop into amazing, loving, caring and positive adults.


     
    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.

     
  • Wednesday 8th September, 2021


    This week was a tough one for the team as we seemed to hit one of those regularly occurring lows when bad news comes in abundance.  

    Carlos, one of the boys we have supported, mentored, protected, loved and cared for since he was a small child, was going through a difficult time.  He had been rescued from the streets, again, and had been through rehab and was doing well serving in a project in the countryside, helping vulnerable children.  Then he had another blip and so went back into rehab.  He is now 18 and so is treated as an adult when emotionally he is so much younger.

    We got the call early yesterday that his mum had passed away and so now needed to go to rehab and pass on the news.  It was not going to be the best of moments and Benjamin Soden and I headed to the home and discussed how our fears that this news could tip him over the edge.  Benjamin had been working hard to help his mum over the last few weeks and had actually taken her into a rehab centre.  Sadly her drinking and other behaviours had left her weak and with little time left to live.

    The drive to the rehab centre seemed longer today and I was keen to get to know the new rehab option we now have for those leaving the streets.  Over the years we have struggled to find a rehab centre that does not beat those in the programme, abuse them in some way or just leave them for hours with little attention or food.

    On our arrival we are met by the Director who does not know we are coming.  The immediacy of the situation was clear when we explain that Carlos´ mum had passed away a few hours before.  He goes off to find Carlos and returns about 10 minutes later and Carlos is already crying.  I assume that the Director had told him and he hugs us both and then sits down to talk.

    It is clear he is distressed and keeps looking around at the Director and the intimidating person standing guard at the door rattling keys.  I can see in his eyes that he is deeply sad and so pull my chair up so my knees are touching his and hold onto his hand for a while.  Carlos starts by telling us that now, more than ever, he needs to remain strong for his little brother and sister and do all he can to get through rehab so that one day he can take care of them.

    I admire Carlos so much.  He has been through things that most boys would never even imagine experiencing. In his 18 years here on earth he has seen the best and the worst of mankind and his eyes have witnessed numerous murders, rapes, assaults and abuse in all forms.  Despite all the world has launched so cruelly at him, Carlos remains humble, thoughtful, patient and hopeful.  I am, of course, very proud of him and all he has achieved in his life and know he will go a long way if he can get through this difficult stage.

    It is then that Carlos thanks me and Benjamin for all the help we have given him, his family and particularly his mum.  He tells us that he is now hopeful that his mum will recover in rehab and maybe one day they can all live together again.  I am frozen for a moment and look at Benjamin.  It is clear that he doesn´t know his mum has passed away and so I hold onto his hand again and open my mouth.  Carlos looks at me and sees the tears in my eyes and knows something is coming.

    I am struggling to speak and the tears are filling up in all our eyes and now he knows something bad is coming.  He looks just so distraught, lost, in pain and in shock.  I come out with the words that we did all we could but that his mum passed away in the early hours.  I could not get anything else out as we are all crying now and Carlos is weeping profoundly and calling out for his mum.  It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

    Later that day we head back with him to the Protection Home and his little sister, who is in a children´s home, joins us and both ask if the younger brother knows.  Their brother is now 13, but looks 11 and is currently being held in a children´s prison not far from the home.  We have to contact the prison and they inform us that we have to send in an email and that the minimum wait for a reply is 8 days!  At the time of sending this we still haven´t been able to get an appointment and he still has no idea that his mum has died.  It all seems so hard and cruel.

    Carlos LydiaThe following day is the funeral and only 10 people are allowed into the cemetery, plus me as “the Pastor”.  It is very difficult to imagine how the children are making sense of all this as we walk for 15 minutes behind the funeral car before arriving at the place where their mum will be laid to rest.  

    The cemetery is almost full and with so many dying on a daily basis from COVID it was a miracle that our funeral agent was able to get a slot for today.  I say funeral agent like it is normal for a charity to have one!  We are told we have 5 minutes before the forklift comes and takes the coffin and raises it to the place in the wall where her body will rest.  The 5 minutes turns into 15 as the previous funeral gathering are struggling to brick up the wall where their loved one is now resting.

    I say some prayers and Carlos joins me in telling everyone that despite all her faults she was still his mum and he loved her very much.  He opens the glass viewing lid of the coffin and bursts into tears, which makes everyone cry loudly.  He calls out for her not to leave him and tells her that we will try and tell her youngest son as soon as we can that she is no longer here.  Carlos´ auntie faints and is comforted by family members as the forklift comes and takes the coffin away and places it into the hole in the wall.  A member of the cemetery team is now trying to sell everyone photos and another is offering a deal on a plaque.  It is all quite surreal and distressing and we take time to walk back and meet those outside who were not on the list of 10.  One of her friends is clearly very drunk and does not seem to understand the pain Carlos and his sisters are in and how her shouting and laughing is really not helping.

    We return to the Protection Home and are so grateful we have a place we can offer the children.  It´s a great place to stay the night with lots of love, comfort and care while we explore options for Carlos in finding another rehab centre.

    As if the trauma of the last 24 hours was not enough, the time back in a safe place allows Carlos a safe environment to talk about how the “Christian” home are treating him.  He does not want to return there, but feels he should in order to try and help the other two boys we have placed there recently and to do all he can to keep them safe.

    He tells us about the amount of physical abuse going on and of an environment where patients are encouraged to beat each other as both discipline and also to remind them that rehab is hard! It is quite unbelievable to hear this and Benjamin and I feel hopeless.  Carlos tells us that it is all a show in order to get money and that they are all bad people and to please find him another place so he can recover, then leave and help his young brother and sister.

    It´s another day where I feel hope is eroding and the slightest things brings you to tears.  Both Benjamin and myself are very close to breakdown as this situation is just another on top of many others we are dealing with.  However we feel God close and try and reach out to hold onto the truth that he is there and will help us through this and, at the same time, hoping the phone doesn´t ring with another need, death or abuse case.


     
    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 4th September, 2021


    I am starting to wonder what the outside world is looking like! It seems ages since I was actually out in the sun and also out of the city.  Things have been busy with the opening of the new mentoring centre and the daily work inside the building has meant that I now spend very little time outside the house.  I know this is now coming to an end as the centre is almost complete and being run by two amazing volunteers who will, together with our resident young Fredy, take good care of things.

    Benjamin had invited me to join him and Juan Carlos on a three-day trip to San Marcos, a city in the North-West of Guatemala.  It is here that two adorable children, who were rescued from the streets three years ago, are now living.

    Benjamin is excited and can´t stop talking about how the kids have settled in, how they have changed and how loving the family are who are caring for them.  He also points out that the six-hour drive there is just part of the amazing experience and how I will be blown away by the views of the mountains, rivers and the sheer beauty of the countryside.  He is not wrong.

    nicole cesarWe head away from the city, leaving early enough to avoid the morning traffic and begin to enjoy open roads and superb views of the slowly rising sun bursting through the mountain range and, now and again, between volcanoes.  It is truly breathtaking.

    Benjamin has made this trip many times before and is committed to keeping in contact with all those who have been rescued from the streets.  In the last week, five have been rescued and are now in rehab.  He seems to be on a roll and we soon arrive at the point where he always stops for a packed lunch.  Everything is prepared in his car and we enjoy some sandwiches, crisps, fruit and hot tea.  It can´t get much better as we look out over the mountain range and remember what life was like for the two children we are about to visit when they spent their early years on the streets.

    Eventually we make it to the little village where the children are now living and the mum, who is caring for them, is waiting to meet us and finds us a suitable place to leave the car.  As I step out of the car the heat hits me but also the absolute quiet.  It is such a peaceful place and everyone you meet has a really neat way of saying hello.  Here, very few speak Spanish.  The regional dialect is Mam and respect is everything.  When you meet someone you say hello and then put your hand to your forehead to show respect and honour for the person you are greeting.

    We unload the car with a ton of clothes, shoes and food supplies.  It seems that Christmas has come early and we are soon sitting outside their little tin shack and talking about life.  The two children come and stand before us and just smile.  I am bowled over by the transformation.  When I last saw them they were in desperate conditions on the streets of La Terminal and we knew we had to act in order to keep them alive.

    san marcos2Nicole is seven and Cesar, her brother, is now five.  They have adapted well to life in the countryside and who would not adapt well to being with a family who actually love you, bath you, put clean clothes on you, play with you and treat you like you are worth more than all the gold in the world.  This family are just perfect and are actual family to the real mother of the children.  It is rather unusual in this rural context that a family living in poverty have been so keen to take in these two children, but they have and the kids love it there.

    We handed over food parcels and also handed out clothes and shoes.  Benjamin and Juan Carlos had chosen extremely well and all had new shoes and the kids had new coats for the coming winter.  It was a very special time until we heard the news that the children´s real mother and boyfriend visited a couple of months ago and spent a week or so there.  They were obviously upset that the children they had lost custody of were now calling other people mum and dad.  It came to a head when they decided to take a leather belt to the children, telling them that they had to call them mum and dad.  Fortunately the father of the family intervened and protected the children and they are hoping they don´t return.

    We are just happy that they are not on the streets and can enjoy a very loving environment in which to grow up. Change is possible and it is comforting to see how happy everyone was with the most simplest of things.


     
    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 22nd August, 2021


    Today has been the most exciting of climaxes as we celebrated the official opening of the new Centro Opp mentoring Centre in Guatemala City.  The name comes from the donors to the centre, Darold & Pam Opp.  They, together with two other donors and one UK charity, have helped fund the reconstruction of the abandoned building we took charge of in 2018 and last year started work on the ground floor refurbishment.

    When I think back to the time when it was an abandoned building and open to the elements, I marvel at the place it is today and so will start this blog with a photo before and a series of photos of how it is today.

    It has not been an easy road as we discovered that the drains had collapsed, the electricals were dangerously left hanging close to running water, the roof was about to come down on us and everywhere you looked you found holes in walls, paint peeling and all manner of problems that led to an ever increasing budget for repairs.

    Thanks to our donors, who assumed the costs of refurbishing and equipping the new centre, we have been given the most incredible building you would ever dream of having for young people.  We are still completing the extension of the building at the rear to include a gym and training room and hope that by early October this part will be ready for use.

    On the day of the opening I was informed that Darold Opp had his flight cancelled and so could not come, which was a major disappointment to us.  Jonathan Nordstrom was already here and so we decided to go ahead with the event and then later Darold confirmed he could come the following day.  This meant we could celebrate the opening over two days and celebrate we did.

    Both days were focal points to give thanks to God for all we had seen of his blessing, to thanks Darold and Jonathan for coming and for supporting so generously, to thank the volunteers who had gathered and to see the young people enjoy themselves by using the centre.

    One of the highlights was the launch of the new Voice of the Streets choir, who sang a song that has been written, composed and produced in-house.  I am very impressed with this song and hoping that we can have this ready for distribution in all medias for Radio Christmas, if not before.

    The Centro Opp is a mentoring and training centre that offers state-of-the-art technology in music recording, composition and editing, video and photo editing, film making, music academy, art room, radio station, gym, training room, three volunteer bedrooms and soon we will add the indoor climbing wall and fruit and vegetable garden.  It is quite an amazing place and when the two apartments are built on the roof and rented out, the rent will pay for the day-to-day running costs.

    We are very thankful and now the hard work begins as we work with the young people, invite mentors to mentor their young people here and start the new training programme to prepare young people to serve God by helping reach more children at risk in Guatemala and then beyond.  We stand at an important point in history and have are expectant for great things to come.


     
    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 27th September, 2021


    The thunder of hundreds of cars, busses and lorries passing overhead is hard to miss as you stand under the Incense Bridge in Guatemala City.  The bridge forms part of the ring road around the city and derives its name from the early morning mist and cloud that forms in the valley and gives the impression of incense rising from below. It was built in 1974, but has been reinforced many times in order to deal with the huge increase in traffic crossing every hour.

    On both sides of the valley are land-grab settlements, but the area that is known today as El Gallito (Rooster) was originally a farm that carried the same name that had a weathercock on the roof of the farm building.  In 1927 the President decreed that city labourers could have the opportunity of settling in the El Gallito farmland, awarding lots to the workers and the resulting boom attracted many others who also liked the idea of free land.

    Today El Gallito is a “red” area and is synonymous with violence, gangs and drugs. The community, with only three roads in and three roads out, slowly became a very dangerous place to live.  A Government spokesperson in MiniGob has classified El Gallito as one of the most dangerous areas in the city and a major distributor of drugs.

    So you can imagine my feelings when I was invited to visit a family there last week!  One of the children in our programme has grown up there and knows all too well the risks he takes every day to come to our homeschool programme.

    27.9.21.2On arrival near El Gallito I try and find the safest place I can to leave my car and hope to see it again when I come back out.  I take a tuk tuk as I know it will be the safest way to get in and out.  Cars that drive into El Gallito have to make sure windows are all wound down so the gangs can see who is inside.  Failure to comply results in your vehicle being shot at.

    The first trip I made to El Gallito about 5 years ago was with a local pastor who stopped just before we went in to wind down the windows and then drove slowly in order to not alarm anyone and to ensure that people could see I was with a known person from the community. At the time the pastor was offering refuge to a young man who had tried to escape from the gang and was found and thrown of the huge incense bridge.  His miraculous escape took him to the church, where he sought refuge until a safe time could be arranged to get him out of El Gallito.

    I mention El Gallito as the history of the place is fascinating and it is shame it has become so infamous for drugs, gangs, deaths and a place the police have decided is a no-go area.  On my return home the local police, who have a sub-station across the road from us, looked horrified when I told them where I had been.  They couldn´t quite believe it, but it was just like many of the places where we work and we have always been seen as helping the community rather than a threat to the gangs there (most of the time!).

    The following day I am heading into another one of these “red” areas as I have to rescue a mother and her three children and take them to stay with family in the countryside.  It has been a long journey with them to work through a series of disclosures by one of the boys I mentor.

    Filipe is 12, but like so many from this community he is underweight and small for his age.  You would think he was 9, but is already highly street-connected and has been on the gang´s hitlist for recruitment. One thing he says to me one day triggers a few weeks of careful monitoring of his language and behaviour and this leads to further disclosures that culminate in me seeking professional help for him.

    After working with boys for nearly 40 years and having personal experience of being an abused and neglected boy I can spot the signs.  His language was becoming more sexually suggestive and he would weave a very different and disturbing story into things I was teaching the other boys.  It became uncomfortable and I was very sad for him as I knew something was going on, but he was not yet letting me in.

    As time progressed and professional help was found it became clear the extent of the abuse he was dealing with.  Felipe was having to deal with a neighbour who came to find him every day and every day would discover a new way of abusing the boy.  The abuse became so horrific that his mum tried to step in one day and stop it.  This led the neighbour to hit Filipe´s mum so hard that the baby she was carrying sadly died in the womb.

    I remember the day I went with her to the clinic and the doctor told us the baby had died.  It was a tough time for her and the subsequent funeral was one of those days I just wanted to find a dark place to hide in for a while in order to make sense of all that was happening to this family.

    The law here in Guatemala states very clearly that anyone must act in the defense of a child and if you know a child is being abused then you must report it.  Having something in writing is so different to the day-to-day work because people are scared of making allegations and if you do then you put your life on the line, as we have seen so many times.

    However, I now have to act and keep Felipe, his two siblings and their mum safe.  We are so thankful to those who made it possible for us to have the Casa Alexis Protection Home as we now have a safe place to take them.  Going to their little tin shack, together with Juan Carlos (the person together with his wife Heydy who run the protection home) and asking them to pack a few things and come with us is wraught with danger.  If the neighbour hears us and comes out to confront us then this could become a situation that will expose us all.  We take 15 minutes to pack a bag and the mum looks back at the shack wondering, I assume, if she will ever see it again.

    27.9.21.3The mum knew this would be the outcome and tells us that she had tried to discuss the situation last night with her husband.  Because the neighbour is a relative of his, he was not that keen to believe the stories of abuse and made it very clear what he would do to me if I came to take them away. I knew that word would get around and this would also put me at risk as I would be seen as the man who comes and takes children away.  Not the type of reputation you need in a very dangerous community like this, but the alternative is not worth considering and who would leave young children at risk.

    Filipe smiles as he sits in the car and half an hour later we arrive at Casa Alexis. He explains how he has tried to cope every day for the last year with the abuse and how he feels the moment the neighbour walks into his home.  For now he and his siblings and mum are safe and all enjoy a very peaceful night in the home.  The boys are keen to have a hot shower and put on clean pyjamas and snuggle into bed.  We are all given hugs and they sleep well before we rise early the next day and I drive them to their family in the countryside.

    This is only the beginning of the story as the dad is going to be unlikely to want to meet to discuss payments to support his family and I have already warned the police opposite should he turn up at the home and cause a scene or worse. This damaged and resilient family will now need support, an income, a place of their own and lots of help to remake their lives.  Thanks to your support we can be here and help do this.


     
    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 17th October, 2021


    There is an Arab proverb that says that the weight of a straw can break a camel´s back.  What it refers to is the overloading of a camel can lead to the camel not moving or even collapsing under the weight.  We get the phrase “the straw that  broke the camel´s back” from this ancient proverb.  It means that just one little thing can bring one down to a point of surrender or collapse due to the accumulation of events and circumstances.

    I begin today´s blog by saying that my plan this week was to tell you the story of Seidy, a young mum we have got to know recently.  Her story is quite inspiring and my hope was to encourage you rather than tell you that life has been tough again.  

    After spending a day with Brandon yesterday I also wanted to write a blog about him, as a case study, as I think his life is quite inspirational and illustrates perfectly the work we do here in Guatemala.  

    Both stories will have to wait as I have to talk through the challenges of this past week.  For it´s in the talking (writing this blog) that I find some sense of healing, off-loading and a greater gain in perspective.  So bear with me as I express how just one more thing this week would have broken the camel´s back.

    The week had started well as a £500 donation came in to help towards the monthly payments for supporting the kids in Guatemala and Honduras.  We had a full week planned to celebrate the closure of official school studies for the year and to invite the girls over to the Centro Opp mentoring centre for a special day of activities.  I was particularly looking forward to that as I miss working with the girls as so much of my time now is working with boys.

    Then we went to visit one of the boys in the programme who has been growing in confidence recently and even looked taller because of it.  His confidence was based not just in doing so well this year in school with us, but that his dad was celebrating two months of being alcohol free and was bringing in money to support his family and they were eating 2-3 meals a day.

    On arrival the boy was different and I could guess why.  Within minutes of arriving at his home, his dad appeared in the alleyway and was clearly very drunk.  The boy looked just so lost, so empty and looked into my eyes and just burst into tears.  He held onto me and cried into my shoulder and a deep sense of childhood loss was felt by both of us.

    Getting home that evening and sitting with a hot mug of tea while reflecting on the day was a small comfort.  I closed my eyes and just allowed my head to flop back into the chair for a moment only to find that when I opened my eyes again Juan Carlos was standing before me.  Juan Carlos and his wife Heydy runs the protection home and he also helps with the street and prevention work.  I often joke with him that he reminds me of Cato, the character from the Pink Panther films, who just appears from nowhere and always in silence.

    Juan Carlos wanted to inform me that one of the boys we had helped get off the streets, and who was doing so well in rehab, had decided to give up the process he was going through and head back to the streets.  It was a major blow as we have worked with him since he was 7 and have been with him through the most difficult situations in life.  It was another blow to an already overloaded day.

    I woke the next morning with a clearer perspective that life could be better this week as there was still so much to be joyful about and to look forward to.  Then the call came through that one of the young men we have worked with and supported over the last few years was found dead in the streets.  The call triggered more calls and messages to find out what had happened and so see how we could help.

    When we raise money in the UK or the US for our work here, I never want to tell people that some of the money we have to use to bury people.  Not that we want to hide the fact, but that it becomes hard to remember the many we bury every year. Every life lost is a reminder of the times we have tried to help and how the “if only” statements start to make you feel inadequate and that you could have done more.

    Jonathan was dead and now we needed to find a way to reclaim his body, contact his family in Honduras and find funds to cover the costs of yet another funeral.  It turned out, as security footage later showed us in all it gruesome detail, that he was killed by blow to the head while he slept in the streets. Where he died was in no way a wakeup call to those who continue to live there.

    Later that evening I visited the spot where he died and spoke to the guys on the streets, all of whom showed the usual signs of complacency at yet another death.  But at least they had marked the spot where he died with a few candles and were all asking if they would be allowed to the funeral.  I said I would inform them of this in the next 24 hours, as most people are buried here within 48 hours of their death.

    Jonathan´s family had now been informed and were on their way to Guatemala City to identify the body and help with the funeral arrangements.  We have a funeral company that deals with all our funerals and they are excellent at working the system and allowing us to reclaim bodies and prepare them for burial.  It is not a great experience to be honest, but someone has to do it.

    The following day the team work hard at getting the paperwork in place, welcoming Jonathan´s parents and sorting out his funeral.  It is not a great day to be honest as we get a call to tell us that Amanda´s baby has died.

    Amanda has grown up in poverty, neglect and abuse.  She was very happy to be pregnant again.  She and her boyfriend, David, were telling me just two nights ago how excited there both were about the birth of their second daughter.  I lay my hand on Amanda´s shoulder and smiled as she rubbed her tummy and said that in 3 weeks the baby would be born and they were having fun thinking of names for her.  Most things seemed to be in place despite them living in desperate poverty.  Little did we know then that the baby was already dead inside her.

    Later the following day, while we were dealing with the arrangements for Jonathan´s funeral, she began to experience severe pains and her boyfriend rushed her to hospital.  On arrival it is hard to get into emergency if you don´t arrive in an ambulance.  Arriving in a taxi means you are not treated the same and the huge gates in front of the emergency entrance are not flung open wide to you.

    17.10.21.2David desperately pleas for help from the security guard, who has seen everything and has probably grown very hardened to people just turning up and asking to see a doctor.  Amanda is now screaming and a few seconds later falls to the ground and gives birth to a dead child in the street outside the entrance to the hospital. The chaos that ensues only adds to their distress and sense of loss.

    Dealing with the aftermath is not easy and David needs lots of comforting.  Amanda is now in hospital and the family are concerned for her health, especially given the state of her health and the state of the hospital already collapsing due to the number of COVID deaths.  David asks for help as the hospital don´t want to allow him access to the baby, as babies born premature are just disposed of, “like other hospital waste”.  David is keen have his daughter and to bury her.  

    Thanks to our amazing funeral company, yet again they find ways to get around the system.  We are able to recover the body and organise the wake and funeral.  Both funerals are now the following day at 9am and I know that both will be hard to cover with team as we already have several other things planned that will be hard to move around and some are away from the city.

    Jonathan´s family take the decision to head back to Honduras and leave us with the costs and, much to our surprise, decide not even attend their son´s funeral.  David, on the other hand, organises a wake for his daughter and we visit later that evening to comfort him and the few family members gathered in the funeral home.  The coffin is placed in the middle of the room and I am asked if I want to pray and also if I would like to see the child.  I say yes to the first and pray with them all and offer whatever comfort I can.

    The picture of David and his daughter was a glimpse into the loneliness I guess he was feeling.  His girlfriend is fighting to stay alive in hospital, his dead baby lying in a coffin behind him, and he is trying to find the words to comfort his young daughter whilst still dealing with the death of Amanda´s mum just a few weeks ago.

    It is in the most difficult of times that being present is enough.  Words just don´t do it.  Paying for funerals helps.  But just being there, alongside, makes a world difference.  Your support means we can do just that.  We made it to Sunday and are hopeful that this week will be one with fewer straws.


     
    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 17th January 2022


    It´s a new week for the various projects we support in Guatemala and Honduras and I am excited to see that this year we can help many more children stay in the education system.  Both Guatemala and Honduras have agreed to begin to open schools this year, but both have no dates set, nothing in place and very few teachers or classrooms will be ready.

    With this in mind we decided last year to continue to educate as many children as possible in order for them to advance in their learning and stay in the school grade system. With the SKDGuatemala project the aim is to provide education to 60 vulnerable children throughout the year, thanks to Global Care and funds raised on Radio Christmas.

    Today was the big day of welcoming the children back and the team had worked hard to prepare the original mentoring centre, we have use of and which is situated near La Terminal, ready for a more classroom feel rather than a centre.  The changes have not been drastic and staff have had to change their office into a classroom and children will have to come in smaller groups in order to fit into the space available.

    17.1.22.2The cook had been working hard from 6am cooking tortillas and beans as she wanted to prepare a warm breakfast for the children.  We know many will come hungry and some won´t have eaten at all and so feeding them will help them start the day well and have more energy for studies throughout the day.

    The children started to queue early and some came with parents who wanted to see their children were safely inside.  The 60 children will enjoy a year of great education, games, trips, counselling and support.  The box of Lego, kindly donated by the Harbottle family in the UK, was emptied out on the floor for children to play with while others were arriving.  This was not the plan apparently and so after a while we had to pack it all away and focus on actual education!

    I am very pleased we can do this again this year and hopefully this will be the final year we have to offer this to the children if the national schools begin to re-open during 2022.  We are hopeful but planning just in case. What I do know is that the grades of the children we have worked with during the last two years have improved dramatically and the children feel safe and secure and are actually enjoying learning.  So a great year ahead and one full of hope that things might actually begin to get back to normal and our work will return to prevention and support of children at risk.

    Thank you to all those who supported us so generously over Christmas last year and everyone who got involved in any way with the Radio Christmas project.  Your support really does impact lives and changes their destiny.


     
    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 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.

     
  • 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.

     
  • Friday 29th July 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.

    I was on a high yesterday as I watched a beautiful family enjoy something new.  It was a day of firsts and I was pleased I could be the one to witness it and, thanks to the generous gift from  friends in the UK, could fund the experience.

    In a developing slum on the outskirts of Guatemala City there lives a precious family of eight.  I can´t begin to think of what life is like for them and often wish I could take them all home with me and offer them a different life.

    cayala3The dad is my inspiration.  He works in La Terminal carrying produce around and also runs a small shop, which does not seem to produce much in the way of profit.  He gets up at 1am every day and walks to La Terminal, which takes at least an hour and a half, then has to carry large loads around on his back till lunchtime when he heads to a dangerous area of the city where he and his wife run a small shop.  When trading is over he walks home with his wife and children, getting to bed no earlier than 10pm.  That is just three hours of sleep a night!  I pointed this out to him a few months ago saying that he can´t keep going like this.  But he loves his family and wants to do the best for them.

    The family live in a tin shack that is situated on the side of a mountain.  They have no water or toilet facilities and the land around their home was used for planting crops, but this has been lost recently as other families moved in and grabbed the unregistered land.  On top of this the family have come under increasing proposals by local men to take their eldest daughter off and enjoy her company.

    cayala2The children live at risk and suffer in many ways, but all now come to the mentoring centre every day for their education until they can go back to the national school system in the New Year.  They love being in the centre and are doing so well with their results and I am deeply proud of them and express this every time I see them.

    The family have never had a day away from their hard work and daily economic pressures and so I thought it would be great to take them to a part of the city they have never seen before.  The area I chose is called Cayalá and is a private city built on the eastern perimeter of the capital.  Its formidable at first glance and you would think you were walking through a modern town in Spain or Italy.  It´s a very surreal experience indeed, but we have it available and so why not bring people to come and see how the others live.

    cayala1The excitement grew in the days leading up to the trip and when I went to their shack they had all showered and put on their best clothes and had invited another girl to join them from a neighbouring shack.  We headed off in the pickup, albeit rather squashed, and eventually arrived in Cayalá.  We walked from the underground carpark to the escalator and this is where the squeals of joy started.  Seeing them all use an escalator for the first time is exciting and the kids decided they loved the experience so much they had to go down and up again a few times.

    Wandering around a clean and safe space was a first for them and the kids took advantage of this and ran off jumping, playing and splashing in the small fountain.  They then discovered a children´s play area and needed pushing on swings, chasing around the various climbs and tunnels and being tagged when they eventually landed at the bottom of the slide.

    It was a very special day out and despite them losing a day´s income, I think they could see it was a day that they would never forget.  As often happens, the drive back was fun as we played i-spy and then when we arrived nearer the drop-off spot everyone became quiet as they all realised they were home to their reality. Some did comment, however, that this trip has shown them that they could achieve greater things one day if they studied hard and reached university and got a good job.

    Thanks to J&A for your generous gift that made this possible and I know this has sown in them new desires and showed them that their lives in a tin shack can be a short-term experience if they work hard and aim for what is birthing in their hearts.


     
    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 24th July 2022


    I have known Moses since he was 6 years of age.  The background to his story is one I would like to keep from this blog as it is deeply painful and distressing.  I would, however, like to express my feelings here as I am deeply proud of Moses and the home that is taking such good care of him.

    In Guatemala, children´s homes became a huge industry in the 1990s and the growth in private and government homes led to unbelievable stories and numerous allegations of abuse, neglect, death, torture and prostitution.  One day, as we are seeing in many areas of the world, the truth of how many children have suffered in some of these homes will become public.  But this must not overshadow the excellent work being carried out by hundreds of homes all over the country.  

    The jewel in the crown is the New Life Advance International home in Villa Nueva, Guatemala City.  The home was the only one prepared to take a risk and accept Moses and offer him the most fabulous opportunity to be loved, be protected, be cared for with a first class education, medical care and personal development activities.  I can´t speak more highly of them and would encourage anyone to take a look at their website and check out what they are doing.

    I had hoped the judge would allow Moses to come and spend the weekend with us in our Protection Home.  But being new to the case of Moses and his relationship to us meant that his application for the weekend away was denied.  However, the home was able to grant me a day with Moses and so we planned a list of activities that would be almost impossible to accomplish in a week, let alone a day!

    moses1I went with Matt Levett, who was visiting Guatemala and on his way home to the UK, to collect Moses and start his day of adventures.  After dropping Matt off at the airport I asked Moses what he would like to do next.  Without hesitation he asked to be taken to “la quinta” where his mum (actually his grandmother, who has cared for him since his real mum died when he was 6) works selling fruit and sweets in the streets.  It’s a tough job and her health is not great and Moses is constantly worried about her.

    We “had” to go past a fast food restaurant where he wanted to buy his mum a cooked breakfast, something he knows she has only experienced twice in her life.  We now head down the infamous “quinta” and see her on the corner selling small bags of sweets and face masks.  Immediately Moses wound down the window and called out.  She came alive and smiled like she had just been offered the world.  Moses jumps out of the car and runs over to her and gives her the biggest and longest hug I think I have ever seen him give.

    Breakfast is served and Doña Licha, Moses´s grandmother and mum waves us off as we head to our new mentoring centre, Centro Opp, where some of the boys were working and studying and were excited to see him.  The last time they saw Moses was a few months before he was taken into care and since then has grown substantially.  Like many boys of his age he is proud of the business of growing and is keen to show you his muscles and how tall he now is.

    moses2What I love about the day is that Moses is constantly saying things like “I remember this” and “the last I did this was over a year ago”.  We sat down in the lounge where he wanted to catch up on some episodes of Flash, a programme that I have had to watch with him over the last three years and so am quite versed in particle accelerators and the multiverse!  He is also keen to show his musical ability and gets out my guitar and starts singing me a song.

    Eventually we head out for lunch and I am keen to treat him to a simple and healthy option in a rather well-to-do area of the city.  We park and walk towards the restaurant.  Moses, even though he is 14, still wants to hold my hand as we walk along the road and then into the restaurant.  He is still sweet and despite losing many of those endearing boyish features, is like a small child again.  At one point I give him some money to buy something in a shop and he struggles for a minute as he says “I´ve forgotten how to act outside”.

    The home offers everything he needs and there is a small shop on site the children can buy things with their pocket money.  I suppose part of my role is to help support the home as they are now focusing more of their time on preparing Moses to leave in just over three years’ time when he turns 18.  Not that he needs to leave as they also provide a fantastic transition home for young adults entering back into the real world.

    We finish the day at the cinema where Moses chomps through a huge bucket of popcorn and drinks the largest cup of coke I have ever seen.  He is happy and, as we get up, holds my hand again and moves in on one side for a snuggle and says thank you.  It has been a very special day and we drive back to the home via a toll road where you can pick up a bit of speed, because 14 year old’s and speed seem to go together well!

    I am pleased we have been able to get Moses out of a really challenging situation, help him take a great decision not to choose a life on the streets like many in his family have done and to focus his attention on things that will lead to a very rewarding life ahead.

    Your support, and I am sorry for saying the same thing every month, really does impact lives and Moses is just another example of how your support made a difference and has kept him alive.  I pray that he will continue to thrive in the home and that our support will lead to great things in the future as he has plans to run a business and look after me when I am old!


     
    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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