• 14th May 2021


    Through this blog I’d love to share a story that has really impacted me recently. I'll also give a brief summary of activities that the street team has carried out over the last couple of months.

    I returned to Guatemala City in February after going back to the UK for Christmas. I was originally scheduled to come back to Guatemala in January, but I came down with Covid which pushed my trip back a few weeks. Thankfully I have recovered well and was able to get back smoothly via a night in Mexico City.

    Whilst I was in the UK I thought a lot about a man called Selvin, one of the young men who has lived on the streets for many years struggling with drug abuse. He was on my mind a lot because when I said goodbye to him in December, he was at death’s door due to his level of drug consumption. I have seen people in similar states before and many haven’t lived much longer, so you can imagine my concern especially because of the friendship I have made with him over the last 5 years.

    I was keen to see him when I got back and when I did it was clear to see the level of damage the drugs have had on his brain and body. So my colleague Juan Carlos and I were quick to take action. I called a rehab centre to see if they were receiving people, to which they said yes.

    We started the hour trip to the rehab outside the City. 

    The journey was rough as we had to stop several times so that he could throw up as he couldn’t keep any food or liquid down. We saw the extent of his condition as his body was rejecting even sips of water. It was hard to see someone only a year older than me at 26 trembling on the back seat in such a vulnerable state.

    When we finally made it to the rehab they quickly refused to receive him as he had been there before and left after a couple of days. In Guatemala we struggle to find good rehab facilities that offer unconditional support to people. We recognise that drug related issues can involve several relapses before someone can make that change. I want to give the people we work with as many chances as they need to overcome their addictions and transform their lives, without letting them take advantage of the help we are giving them.

    I remember in that moment pleading with the rehab as we had no other place to take him. I was simply thinking, “what do we do now?.” After going through our lists of contacts, someone gave Selvin a lifeline and recommended a rehab an hour and a half away from where we were. So we took off straight away. 

    On arrival at the new rehab we were greeted by a lovely man called Roberto. Selvin managed to get out of the car and sit on an old tyre. Roberto took one look at him and said “I remember exactly how he feels as I’m a recovered alcoholic.” I was very moved as I had never seen anyone from a rehab treat someone with such compassion. As Roberto wiped the sick and saliva off Selvin’s face only minutes after meeting him and said “this is your house now and I’m going to look after you.” This was  incredible to see as people don’t often show the people I work with on the streets love or kindness, usually they don’t even acknowledge that they exist.

    Two months on and Selvin is much happier, chubbier and appreciating being alive. We know there is still a lot of work and support ahead but we’re encouraged to see his progress. (See below image with Selvin and Juan Carlos during a visit to see Selvin at the rehab centre).

    Juan Carlos and Selvin 
    To summarise some of the other activities the street team have been up to over the last few months are the following:

    -Follow up with those who have left the streets who are living with their families or in rehab.

    -Medical support and doctor’s appointments for a pregnant lady who has been consuming drugs.

    -Continuing our visits to different groups of street people to strengthen our relationships with them.

    -Financially supporting a recovered drug addict in his new role serving within a project that support a community outside of Antigua Guatemala.

     

    Please do keep reading my blogs to stay up to date and read more stories like Selvin’s.

    I hope you have enjoyed this insight into the work the street team carries out on a daily basis. There will be many more stories to share.


    Ben Blog Profile Image

     
    Benjamin Soden is the full time Coordinator for the Street Team for SKD Guatemala. He first visited Guatemala City in 2015 and moved permanently in 2017. Benjamin has a huge passion for working on the streets with people struggling with drug addiction.

  • 23rd July 2021


    One of our full time volunteers, Azaria Spencer, shares with us an experience from her work with some of our youth in Guatemala City, in the first of her blogs for our volunteer series.

    There I was stood behind a glass wall in the entrance of a carpark, staring out as the rain poured down outside. The sky was dark grey and ‘pouring’ would be a generous word to describe the type of rain coming down. It was so heavy and relentless that it had started to leak through the glass wall and was creating puddles by my feet. 

    I had made the rookie mistake of forgetting about rainy season in Guatemala. Anyone would think that I hadn’t lived here for years, though thankfully I can be forgiven as I had just returned from 6 months in England. From the moment I got back I was keen to plan something with the youth I work with. I had missed them immensely and couldn’t wait to see them and to catch up. I had invited them to eat tacos and get coffee in a nice part of the city on a lovely Saturday afternoon, completely forgetting the time of year and the high possibility of rain in the afternoon.

    I wonder if I had also forgotten that for some reason people in general don’t know what to do when it rains in Guatemala. It is like the rain starts and the world stops. Being form England, and Yorkshire at that, I am used to rain. Granted the rain in Guatemala is on a whole different and extreme level, but still, rain is just water and life goes on. Well in Guatemala it doesn’t, people literally stop what they are doing, or stay where they are until it passes. Thankfully though, it usually only lasts an hour or so.

    Anyway, my lack of thinking ahead left me stood watching the rain and waiting. The rain started just as the youth were on their way to meet me from their various locations, and of course none of us were prepared for rain. As I waited I received phone calls and messages expressing the need to wait until the rain stopped. One of them was stranded beneath a shop front, and another couldn’t continue as he was coming on a motorbike.

    Oddly, I didn’t mind at all, there was a time when a situation like this would have stressed me out or caused me to panic or feel annoyed at the delay and impact on the rest of my day. Living in Guatemala has changed me, I view time differently now and often intentionally plan ahead for activities to happen later or last longer than scheduled. With the youth I carve out plenty of extra time to allow for delay and also to not rush the time together.

     

    In that moment, come rain or shine, I would have waited all day just to see them all again. Therefore, the long and wet wait was worth it.With the youth May 2021

    I got a message from one of the youth telling me he was close to the meeting location, taking shelter under a restaurant veranda. He had run between shelters at different points when the rain was lighter. From my vantage point (I was effectively in a room made of glass), I peered out and there he was sat in a huddle on some stone steps under a poor excuse for shelter. It was easier to simply go out to him than to try and get his attention or explain where I was. So, I braved the rain and dashed across the street to him. His face lit up when he saw me and I quickly brought him into the shelter of the carpark entrance. One by one they arrived and each time I went out to greet them. It was amazing to be with them all again.

    Once everyone had arrived and the rain had let up enough, we headed to a cool little taco place I like. Tacos are very popular in Guatemala and in my experience, the best places are the cheap, less pretentious restaurants. I was pleased my choice got the approval of the youth- they are not a fussy bunch, but I can tell when they really like things or are just being polite. We were a smaller group than before, just the core really, but that made it all the more special. We sat and took our time talking and catching up, jokes were flying and they asked all kinds of questions about England and my family, curious to know what it is like in the UK. I got to hear about what they have been doing while I was gone and find out how they are, and my Spanish was less rusty than I had feared, which was great.

     

    And breath, this is what I had been missing without even realising it. While with my wonderful family in the UK, I had been missing my family here.

    We decided to enjoy the lovely evening and take a moment to walk around the area. There was hardly a trace of evidence that it had just been pouring with rain.
    The evening air was cooler than normal but pleasant, a clear sky turning to indigo as we walked and enjoyed the live music from various street performers. Talent on every corner.

    It was time to have a hot drink, to sit and talk a little while longer as no one was ready for home yet. We found a nice little artisanal café close by and the conversation focused on deeper things as we sipped our hot chocolates, coffees, and chai tea. I asked them how they really felt, what life had really been like throughout the pandemic and while I was away. It was a time for honestly and vulnerability. I won’t share the details; all I can say is that it was positive and healing and I am very proud of them all. These young people have incredibly challenging lives and trusting adults does not come easily. No one said it but I am sure they had wondered if I would even come back.

     

    A promise does not mean a lot to people who live under constant disappointment. Trust must be earned and respect gained through consistency and reliability.

    In truth I do very little to ‘help’ these young people, but what I do is, show up and keep on showing up. All in God’s strength and for the love He has placed on my heart for people here in Guatemala. Spending this time with the youth again helped ground me. The first few weeks back in Guatemala had been hard for me, a lot of transition, change and reverse culture shock (in reverse again). I was still adjusting, and they really helped. I wonder if they realise that I am more blessed by them than they by me as we attempt to share some of life together. It is a privilege to be welcomed in, even just a little bit.

     


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    Azaria Spencer is a Church Mission Society Mission Partner working as a full time volunteer with SKD Guatemala. She coordinates Centro Opp in Guatemala City with a focus on discipleship of young adults. She has has been serving in Guatemala since July 2017 and has a real passion for youth and seeing lives transformed in a holistic way. 

  • 16th September 2021
     
    Our volunteer, Rosalie Balfour, shares with us about Centro Opp, its vision and purpose, as well as the incredible story behind the building in Zone 11 of Guatemala City. 
     
    I’m currently sitting in Centro Opp, it’s early in the morning and very quiet, apart from the noise of the traffic outside. Mark and Dunc have left to go to the cemetery to try to inter the body of Doña Julia, the mother of a family, with whom Street Kids Direct (SKD) has been working for many years. They’ll meet the family and other members of the team there. I’m staying here because the situation with COVID is at the highest it’s ever been in Guatemala, and it makes no sense to have extra people there. The health system has collapsed, as apparently has the system for burying the dead. They have no appointment at the cemetery but have gone in the hope that if they turn up with a body and are prepared to wait, Doña Julia’s remains will be interred.
     
    Mark and I were here at Centro Opp a couple of weeks ago, for a very different occasion, the official opening of the centre.
    It really was a very special time. The numbers had to be limited due to current restrictions, but we were still able to have a real celebration. We had a small number of children and young people here, along with some guests, including a sponsor who had flown in from the US. There were activities happening in the music and art rooms, and I’d been asked to do some cooking in the kitchen with a small group of the youth. We had great fun and it all went according to plan apart from one little thing; the only oven which we’d figured out how to turn on was an industrial one, which has separate controls for the top and bottom of the oven, it also will heat to much higher temperatures than a domestic oven. Most ovens here are in fahrenheit, so I set it to 380 degrees, only to discover a few minutes later, as I removed some smoking charred remains of the cakes from the oven, that this oven is actually centigrade! Amazingly the kids still ate the majority of the cakes (they were completely black!) and we were able to make some others that came out very well, once the oven had eventually cooled down. I know the smell of baking is supposed to be a good thing to sell a property, but I’m not sure that the smell of smoke is quite as welcoming!
     
    When Mark and I first came to live in Guatemala, 4.5 years ago, we lived for a short time in the house here. At the time, Dunc was renting it, with a view to buying it when SKD could raise the money. It was a very different building then. It had been a very loved family home in the past, but had been empty for some time and was very run down. The rooms were dark and uncomfortable and the kitchen very basic, but we could see that it had a lot of potential.
     
    The day that the owners sold the house to SKD was a very special one.
    It was the inheritance of four siblings and they were all there to sign the papers. They’d come along with photos of the house when it was their home, growing up. There were photos of large family gatherings, and always with lots of children. It was clearly a place of love and laughter. They told us about when there had been a large earthquake in 1976 and it was the only undamaged property in the neighbourhood. Many of the neighbours had come to sleep outside in the garden as it was the only safe place around. Later, I understand, there was a clinic in the house. The family were delighted that the house was going to continue as a place of safety and refuge for children and families.
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    Over the past few years the place has continually been a building site as first the upstairs was transformed into Casa Alexis, a place of short term refuge for those who need it, and then here, downstairs into what is now Centro Opp a place for mentoring in music and arts and so much more. It has been used throughout, such as with our friend Lorena and her family living here and using it to care for the many of the kids in the project, while having to climb over large mounds of earth to get to the kitchen or bathroom.
     
    And this has all come out of a vision which Duncan had for the place. He was able to see and make happen this extraordinary place. When he would explain his plans to the team, most of us could not imagine what he had in mind; it’s only now that it’s almost finished that we can see it and understand. There’s still a lot of work to do. A gym and training room are being built in the garden area and two apartments are going to be built on the roof. It really is a very special place which has come about through a huge amount of prayer, hard work and people’s generosity. We have seen how God has been using this place and are really excited about what he’s going to do here in the coming years.
     
    Centro Opp now:
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    Rosalie profile 2
     
    Roaslie Balfour and her husband Mark are Church Mission Society (CMS) Mission Partners, working with Street Kids Direct. Their main role is to provide pastoral support for the staff of Street Kids Direct and partner projects in both Guatemala and Honduras. They aim to support and encourage others working in difficult urban ministries and build relational networks between them with Jesus at the centre. They believe that the transforming love of Jesus brings real change to every context.
     

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