Monday 12th August 2019

My visits to Santa Fas are always ones I look forward to as the work we do here in this deprived area of Guatemala City is rewarding, but it always comes with its challenges as well as excitements.  Yesterday was no exception!

Because I had to stay home last Sunday, due to man flu (very serious as we all know!), I was unable to visit Johnny and Jonatan last week, two boys who live in vulnerable situations and who are in our mentoring programme. So, yesterday I head off to Santa Fas, a flourishing area of Guatemala City that is still prone of gang battles and all manner of crime.

SantaFas August2I find a “safe” place for the car and walk down the two dark alleyways and then down the steep steps and along the path that precariously clings to side of the mountain.  One slip and you would certainly be carried off to hospital or worse.

Eventually I arrive at Jonatan´s house, a large tin shack with dirt floor while mosquitoes try and get their pound of flesh and chickens and a duck run around, and a big welcome and hug from Jonatan and his mum.  His 4-year-old younger brother has now got to know me and so doesn´t hide under a piece of cardboard like he did when I first arrived.  Johnny is also there and the two boys show me the swing they have made.

The smell is pungent and the rotting rubbish that accumulates with every downpour creates a dangerous and very unhealthy environment for any child to play.  But these boys are just so used to living in this environment that having a swing over the sewerage and rubbish is just normal.

Today Jonatan´s mum invites me into their shack and Jonatan shows me his bed and the few possessions he has. I bring out a small gift I have brought them from the UK and they are overjoyed.  The little tins of mints are not that exciting for kids I know, but the tin with the Queen´s guard on is and so I know these will be treasured for many years to come.

SantaFas August1Just as we are talking about the boy´s school results I hear an increase in volume from the man I saw standing outside their shack.  He is a visiting uncle and is drunk and shouting at Jordie, a slim 11-year-old boy who does not seem to have done anything wrong apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The uncle takes off his belt and marches into the next-door shack, swaying from the effects of alcohol.  I come out and see Jordie´s little face hiding in the corner and he is crying. His uncle is becoming more abusive and so I decide to intervene, first by inviting Jordie to join us for a trip into town while explaining to the uncle and the rest of the family that is it illegal to hit a child.  The uncle tries to tell me that the boy must respect him and I wonder, as he talks, how much respect he will actually develop by being drunk and trying to hit a small boy with a leather belt.

The altercation ends with everyone calm and the uncle being reminded that I will not hesitate to prosecute anyone I find abusing a child and remind Jordie of his rights and to contact me if there are any problems.

Jonatan and Johnny then accompany me for our mentoring session entitled “Making a Difference´, a study of a child King in the Bible who made a massive impact in his community and of a 12-year-old boy from Canada who founded a huge child movement to help children suffering from being sold into slavery in Pakistan and India.  At the end of the session and with the challenge for them both to think about how they could make a difference they both said they wanted to help a family they knew who lived in poverty.  Both boys live in extreme poverty and yet they could still think of people who were poorer than them.  A plan will be hatched over the next week!

SantaFas August3We return back via a shoe shop where I need to buy both of them trainers for school.  I know I have moaned enough in my blogs about the Guatemalan education system, but maybe just one more moan and then I will leave it there. Both boys are expecting good schools results this week and on Monday they have a PE exam and if they don´t come with trainers then they will be marked down.  It is a miracle enough that both boys are still in school and doing well and coping with the daily requests of homework based on their time on the internet, something that is almost impossible for them.  I am waiting to get their school results and if they are good then they will choose a special activity we can do together next week.

Mentoring is a special relationship built on trust that is developed over time and one that must involve the mentor and the whole family in order to understand the child´s school, community and home environment.  I always return home feeling very blessed indeed and today I have just one more boy to visit on my way home, 12-year-old Danny.

Danny is expecting me and I can hear his feet running down the alleyway as he hears that I am in the street outside.  Today I find Danny a little down as his “mum” is unwell and is lying on the bed and in need of medical help.  Danny´s mum is an inspiration as she was studying English and had just received her visa to go to the US to live out her dream when a neighbour knocked on the door late one night and said she was leaving.  She left not only a few clothes and an old bed but also three young children who she decided to take as her own and care for.

A few years down the line and with all the legal forms in place Danny´s new mum cares for three young children on a very low income.  She walks the city streets everyday selling nuts and does so coping with the heat, the pollution and with a walking stick.  She just about earns enough to provide two basic meals per day.  Danny never complains and is always happy to have time with me and hear stories of many things he will never hear of in school.

It is getting dark and so I need to head home as today has been a long day, but one of great blessing and opportunity to serve.  Thanks to your support all this is possible, thank you.

Saturday 27th July 2019

CA1Returning to Guatemala was something I had been looking forward to during every mile walked during this year´s Camino por Amor walk in Scotland.  On arrival I could see that some of the team and children were outside ready to welcome me and it felt good to be home.

There was lots to do as, over the coming days, I was having to move house.  One of the decisions I had taken during my time away was to rent my apartment in the city and move to the Protection Home after Lorena and her family had returned to Honduras due to not being able to get her and her children’s residency.  Someone needed to be at the home and finish off the last few little jobs that were needed and since we had no budget, no staff or volunteers for the home, I knew this was something I could do.  Furthermore, if we could find someone to rent my apartment then I could use that money to help with the running costs of the home.

CA2So, now I am living in a much-reduced space in a home that seems to be plagued by cockroaches and mosquitoes.  It has not been the easiest of times, but I knew that this was the right thing to do in order to have the home fully operational.

It did not take long to get the place sorted and ready for taking in children again and we have had a few kids with us over the last few weeks, which has been great.  One memorable event for us and the home was when Tim and Marcia Hines came to visit us for a week with a team of volunteers from the USA.  It was like having a breath of fresh air in the place as they cleaned, tidied and did the most incredible job of sorting out the garden area and the building mess downstairs.  A HUGE THANK YOU to Tim, Marcia and the team for serving so faithfully and for all you bought when here.

A few other bits of news to bring you up-to-date and hope that you are encouraged to know that your support really does affect the lives of vulnerable people and does make a difference.

Street RescueA phone call late one night made me rush into the Terminal in Guatemala City to come to the rescue of a man and his baby daughter.  The man had found his wife leaving the family home and their baby one day and discovered that rats had been eating away at the baby girl when she slept and his wife had not said anything.  He took her to a hospital in the city, 6 hours bus ride from his home, and spent all he had on medicines and medical treatment and then ran out of money to get home.  We were able to help put them both on an overnight bus and know they arrived safely the following morning.

Thanks to two generous donors we have been able to make many donations of food to the children who come to the mentoring centre in the city.  One of our donors is a mentor but also quite high up in the Guatemalan government and her company comes by every couple of weeks with donations of milk powder, cereal, biscuits and snacks, washing powder and detergent.

Centro JoeThanks to Joe Rose, 16 years, who came from Kings Church Football Club in Amersham to spend time with us recently.  Joe made an instant impact on the kids and was able to teach football skills and just hang out with the kids and gain their love and respect.  One of the boys was asked last week to say a pray in school and so he prayed for Joe and then burst into tears as he will miss him. 

The kids do get attached and we do try and help them understand the nature of visitors and volunteers and despite their comings and goings we are able to provide a framework of consistent support that makes the difference.  Thanks Joe for being so brave and coming here all on your own and coping with getting dengue fever and having me care for you.


Damaris Band1I was very pleased to be receive a photo of Damaris in her school band uniform and feel, once again, very proud of her.  Damaris is 13 and is doing well in school now and I am so happy she is deciding to do things that she likes at last, instead of just wanting what is best for her younger brothers and sisters.  

Damaris is such an inspiration to me and thanks to Frank who found her and her siblings on the streets one day and offered a helping hand.  How her life has changed and now she wants to be able to help others and now has dreams of what she would like to do in the future. All this joy came at a cost of £10 and made her feel like a million pounds.

Please know how much we appreciate your donations that help so many vulnerable children and young people.  We often wonder where they would be if it was not for you supporting what we love doing so much.  THANK YOU.

walk1Tuesday 2nd July 2019

The plan was to walk from one end of the UK and back again in 15 days and achieve a Guinness World Record. This year´s Camino por Amor walk would involve myself, Steve Poulson, Benjamin and Joseph Soden in a non-stop relay that would help raise funds for the work here in Central America.  But not one thing worked out to plan, apart from sleeping in a comfortable campervan!

On our arrival in the UK for the annual Coin Race, Benjamin was still recovering from a serious stomach infection that had left him in hospital.  Steve was in high spirits and had just made it out of Honduras after riots closed the airport where he was waiting to board his plane.  He was hit with tear gas as police rushed into the airport to carry away the protesters.  Joseph was having treatment with me for a serious injury to our knees when we were out on our last long training walk in Guatemala.  So, the fabulous team of four were basically down to one and two halves!

As we met to plan the new walk we decided that we could attempt the walk as we had planned, but in two teams with Steve walking only from Land´s End to Kendal - the midway point in the UK - and Joseph and me walking from Kendal to John O´Groats and back again. It was all going really well.

walk4Benjamin was unable to walk and so he and Steve drove from Kendal to Land´s End where Steve would walk on his own back to Kendal, supported greatly by Benjamin in their newly-acquired support vehicle. Joseph and I took off from Kendal with high hopes we would get to the end of the UK in 7 days.  It would mean we would each have to walk 40-50km per day.

Day one saw us reach the border with Scotland and achieve our target while many people followed our live GPS locations on the website and via Facebook.  On day three I had walked my first 20km and it was now Joseph´s turn and so I drove behind him for quite a way before having to stop much further on in a layby and waited.  I was not expecting Joseph to dropped off by the police and could see that he was not doing well and was rescued by the police who were very happy to give him a short lift to our luxury support vehicle.

I now needed to find a hospital as Joseph´s ankle and foot were swelling up rather fast.  One stop at a nearby hospital led to having to take him to a much larger one.  The outcome was not good and while I was there they checked out my ballooning knee and recommended a couple of weeks of rest with hot and cold compresses.  We decided to rest for one day and then continue.

walk6The next morning was not that easy as Joseph was still in agony and really unable to drive while I walked.  Hence, the boomerang plan came into place (plan D) whereby I would walk 10km up the road and then 10km back to the vehicle.  Then drive the vehicle to 20km and do that all over again.  It was going to prove to be a long day, but Joseph filled himself with pills and struggled on with the driving later that morning.

This new plan would mean I would now have to walk for both of us, but knew that just getting to John O´Groats would be a challenge as our team was now down to one walker, like Steve. On one of the days my knee was so swollen that I decided to go with plan E and use a scooter to try and catch up with lost ground and rest the knee.  It must be 55 years ago that I last got on a scooter and so had no real idea of how difficult a task this would be.  On the first day I managed to get to 60km on the scooter, a massive challenge for anyone of any age.  At one point a police patrol car pulled me over as I was heading up the A9 dual-carriageway and pleading with me to look for small and less busy roads to get to John O´Groats.

walk5Plan E returned after two days to plan D as the scooter was causing me more issues than the walking and so we limped our way slowly across the Scottish borderlands.  The narrow roads were at times rather terrifying as lorries and cars sped by at 60 miles an hour.  There were many moments I had to jump into a ditch or a hedgerow in order to avoid being mown down. The views were incredible and despite the wind and rain I enjoyed the walk, but went many miles without seeing a single person.

At one point a campervan almost knocked me over as it came around the corner rather fast.  Four cyclists had just slowed down to say hi and wish me well and were a little further up the road.  Then I heard a screech of brakes and saw a cyclist lying in the road. The campervan that had missed me had now hit one of the cyclists and left him with serious head injuries. Fortunately coming the other way at exactly the same time was a fully crewed fire and rescue vehicle and they quickly sought to his injuries and arranged for his medical evac.

It was a timely reminder to me of the dangers we faced on the roads and Steve was not faring well as he had been admitted to hospital with weak knees and had to rest for 24 hours before continuing his journey.

Our arrival in John O´Groats was not what I wanted really as I had been saying to Joseph that amazing we had been kept safe all this way and was thankful.  No sooner had I crossed the road and walked a little further when I was hit by a campervan leaving the town.  The vehicle carried on its journey and I took its number plate, but it could have been worse as I had just been hit by the large wingmirror and this had left just a small pain on my left shoulder for a while, but all good in the end.

walk2I can´t say that John O´Groats is worth the visit, as the tea shop in town closed just as we arrived in the rain and the rest of the place seemed abandoned.  Joseph and I took the decision to leave as soon as possible and drive, after having the official photos taken, to a much more welcoming town a little further South.  I thought I would feel a sense of excitement at getting to our goal two days before Steve, but we took the decision to drive South to get a final medical check by our very good friend Doctor Alex Rollings, and then surprise Steve on his final two days and offer to walk with him and his growing team of walkers had to support him during the final days of the walk as he was suffering from weak knees and general tiredness.

The last moments of the walk were captured and placed on Facebook and can be seen here as we arrive together in Kendal and complete this year´s Camino por Amor walk while outlining our plans for next year´s challenge.

Thank you to everyone who got behind the walk and supported to help us raise a total of £7,500.  Now for some recovery time and preparation for 2020!