Tuesday 5th June 2018

volcano2I am sitting on a plane right now heading back to the UK.  My plan was to return to the UK in November, not June.  As I was driving back from Honduras last weekend I received a message telling me that my father, soon to celebrate his 88thbirthday, was seriously ill in hospital and doctors did not think he would live much longer.  So, I am heading back in the hope to see him before he dies.

Life throws up all sorts of unexpected events and earlier in the week I was saddened by the news of a very good friend of mine had slipped on some steps and hit his head badly.  He was rushed into hospital and later died. He was an inspiration to me, a great man of God, loving husband and devoted father and grandfather.  

The fragility of life is often brought into sharp focus in our lives when tragedy strikes and can make us wonder again about our time here on earth and what the point of it all is. No sooner had my mind begun to adjust to my personal grief when one of Guatemala´s most active volcanoes exploded, spewing out tons of lava onto neighbouring villages and spewing gas, rock and volcanic ash into the air.  The “Fuego” volcano is only 25 miles from Guatemala City and the severity of the explosion only dawned on those of us who lived in the city when volcanic rock and ash started to cascade down on us late on Sunday afternoon. (More on our Facebook page)

volcano1The eerily dark clouds made it feel like early evening, even though it was only 1:30pm.  My little white jeep was soon covered in ash and I drove home to check the news and discovered the magnitude of the tragedy.  Even now, as I write this blog, the numbers of dead are rising as rescue crews discover more human remains. It is one of Guatemala´s worst volcanic eruptions and three days of national mourning have begun.

It does seem that Guatemala suffers more than its fair share of pain and tragedy.  I know we work in the micro, helping children and families at risk of living on the streets, but the macro picture can often be overlooked as TV crews pack up and head to the next major news story.  For those of us left behind we feel the pain of Guatemala as it sighs deeply and seeks to pick itself up and try again.

volcano3The local response has been inspiring.  Some of the rescuers have lost their lives or have been badly burned.  Schools, churches and other organisations have started to collect food and clothes for those affected while soldiers, police and the always servant-hearted bomberos (fire and rescue brigade) continue to help survivors and hold out some hope of finding people still alive.  Some charities, who clearly don´t work with these families or in the affected area, quickly setup appeals and have asked for donations.  My response is to not donate just yet but to wait and see what local people actually need and what the local response is.  Money will be needed much later but those most affected are being cared for, fed, clothed and housed.

We can never make sense of this event apart from knowing we live in a now fallen world, with all its flaws and desperate longings for a paradise restored.  The groans from our planet tell us that life is not as stable as we think.  The subsequent earth tremor in Guatemala yesterday does make you realise that what we think is stable really is not.  As a Christian all I can say is that my hope is not in this fallen world or in material things or even in those around me. I have to place my hope in my God who has changed my life and given me a peace that I never found in my previous life. It is rare I share these thoughts in a blog but thought, given the circumstances, I would do so today. Despite the mess, the pain, the loss and the uncertainty may we find peace in Him who is always with us and beckons us to see that all we know and have around us will soon be gone and that a much better place is already prepared for us.


Monday 28th May 2018

It was all going really well!  Joseph and I had taken four of the boys in our mentoring programme, the four that are usually with me on a Saturday and who are known as “Los Aventureros”, which means the Adventurers, out to celebrate one of the boy´s birthdays. They had all enjoyed a great time and were singing along to two of the songs that they always play in the car when we go out places.  I had to make a phone call to Lorena, our Director of Programmes, and ask where Brayan – the youngest boy in the group - had to be dropped off.

Brayan was sitting in the front seat and was swaying along to the music and tapping on the dashboard in time with the beat of the song and overheard my phone conversation.  A few nights ago, he called me to ask for help.  Brayan is 10 and very small for his age and called me because he and his mum were out on the streets due to the actions of his violent dad. He felt unsafe and called to ask if I could go and help him.

BrayanOn my arrival I found Brayan (photo) and his mum outside their room and standing in the dimly lit street.  The market was now over in La Terminal but the evidence of it was all around.  The piles of rubbish, rotting fruit, rats clambering over the days left-overs and dogs fighting over scraps discarded by the roadside was a powerful welcome as I approached the place I knew both Brayan and his mum would be waiting.  The lights of the car highlighted the silhouettes of Brayan and his mum and as I got out of the car Brayan gave me a hug and said thanks for coming. The situation was complicated and a decision needed to be taken to protect Brayan and his mum and so both were offered a room in our new Protection Home – more about this in a bit. It was comforting to be able to offer them a room even though it was a building site and everywhere you looked there are mounds of cement, sand and rubble.  But it was safer than the street and they settled down and enjoyed a night in safety.

Due to the situation we ended up offering them a place for two nights and Brayan was hopeful that he could stay longer as he told me he felt safe there and enjoyed the love and attention from Lorena and her family, who are also living in the mess of the home while building work continued.

Back to the car and Lorena was telling me that things had changed in Brayan´s situation and his mum was now back in their room and the violent dad had left and was asked by the owner of the room to never come back. On hearing this Brayan´s whole demeaner changed and he leaned his head on his arm, which is now resting on the car window, and just disappeared into another world.

I have noticed that when we take kids out of the city for the day and bring them back they are full of joy and excitement but the minute we enter La Terminal they change and retreat into a space in their heads that must help them cope with their very dysfunctional world. 

It was so hard dropping this boy off as it was obvious that his whole world had caved in but he did his best to manage a smile and thank me for a fun day out.  I tried my best to comfort him but no amount of words could help assure him he would be safe.  It is just so hard for these kids and I can totally understand why so many end up on the streets.  Brayan will need daily phone calls and visits to ensure he is safe and help him become more resilient.

z11backThe desire of the caregiver is to rescue the child. But given the limitations and the fact that our Protection Home is not yet open, we can only do our best to provide a caring framework for each child and help them be aware of the many things they can do to stay safe and thrive in some of the toughest conditions.  I take some comfort from a message that comes in later from the architect telling me that the home renovations are going well and we should be ready to open the first week of August.  

Now would be a good time to say thank you again to those individuals and organisations that have helped provide so amazingly for the Protection Home.  The dream will soon become a reality and will provide respite for kids like Brayan and offer him and many other boys and girls the opportunity to experience love and a place of belonging.  Read more about the exciting project here.

Tuesday 15th May 2018

z11flatIf I told you I was invited to dinner by an Ambassador, a Bishop and a police officer then you would think a joke was on its way! Well, I suppose that now and again my odd life here in Guatemala goes from one extreme to the other.

We had been welcoming various visitors to Guatemala over the last few weeks including Bishop Mike Hill and Dt Sgt Sarah Elliott from Suffolk Police.  Mike was in the US and so managed to get a flight down to see the work and was particularly interested in the progress being made on the massive rebuilding of a derelict home in Guatemala City for the next stage of our work – the provision of a short-term Protection Home for vulnerable children.


S ElliottThe work on the home stopped briefly two weeks ago due to lack of funds and so we continue to pray for the money needed to get this exciting project towards the grand opening day for late July or early August. A special giving page has been created for this and more information is now available on our website including the plans for stages 1 and 2 or the development.

Our other visitor was Dt Sgt Sarah Elliott (photo) who had come to Guatemala representing both the Forge Church and Suffolk Police. Sarah was invited to give a morning´s training to the various agencies in the Guatemalan Government responsible for the safety and protection of children.  The training was a great success and those who attended benefitted from Sarah´s vast experience in child protection and shared with everyone the processes and procedures that Suffolk Police have in place and showed how the police deal with allegations of abuse including photos of the interview and investigative process.  THANK YOU, Sarah, for coming and also for your work in our mentoring centre in Guatemala City and many thanks to Suffolk Police for their support also.

trainingWe have been busy with training days for the staff and volunteers in Guatemala and have been working hard on refining our processes for working with children and handling volunteers.  Our big review of our child protection policy and its implementation has led us to start work on developing a special module to help children understand child abuse.  We are coming across more and more cases where children are sexually abusing other children and how social media has started to play a part in this.  It is deeply sad to have to work on this and face the realities of our modern world, but we are committed to providing a safe and secure framework for children to grow and develop and provide those same children with tools that will help keep them safe.


parent meetingThis has led us to start a series of meetings with parents of the children we work with.  Thanks to Lorena, who moved here with her two children from Honduras last year, we have managed to bring together parents who seem really committed to the welfare of their children and will work with others to help them move in this direction.  We do know that working with children in isolation will always lead to a very weak network for the safety of the children. Our plan is to encourage all the parents to get involved in family support networks in order to develop a more robust and caring environment for children to develop and thrive.

The street work continues to inspire and motivate me massively but it is an area of my work that has been affected by the actual running of the organisation.  My heart has always been on the streets and having done this for the last 25 years I know it is very much a part of who I am.  But with the growth of the work in Guatemala and the need to care for and direct the various teams of staff and volunteers this has meant my time on the streets has been limited over the last few months.

carolinaOn one recent trip we came across Carolina who was celebrating her 16thbirthday on the sreets.  Her story broke our hearts and we always wonder how much is actually true as her story of abandonment, trafficking and sexual abuse is far too shocking to be repeated here in this blog.  This is where you feel most helpless and vulnerable as there always seems so little you can actually do to make a real difference to her life.  I know that having a street team who head to the streets every day will mean she can access our support and maybe benefit from it in some way until she makes the decision to leave the streets and either return to her father, who she tells us is a caring man, or goes into a rehabilitation programme.


balloonsI return now to one long but special day yesterday as we continued to celebrate Mother´s Day with a dinner and film for some of the mums we work with and an afternoon of fun at our Centre for the children in the mentoring programme.  Thanks to our newest volunteer, Laura Evans from Amersham, we have been treated to a full programme of special activities for the children every day.  Yesterday the children enjoyed a science experiment and were captivated to watch their balloons self-inflate and then explode. We so love seeing them so happy and learning new things and many thanks to Laura for the amount of work she has put into preparing these activities and for her commitment to being here for the next few months.


Cada NinoOne of the things I have always wanted to have is to find volunteers who could help introduce the children to the technical world around them and see the potential that computers can offer rather than just games and printing out homework.  Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a project in an area of Guatemala City that is well known for its gang violence.  

The project is called Cada Niño and I had taken David, a 15-year-old volunteer, to see how a computer lab works and what software was being used to teach the children.  One boy, who was only 12-years-old (blue t-shirt), was showing us how he had designed websites from writing in computer code and then explained how he teaches the children robotics.  Just one inspiring boy indeed and I hope the visit will motivate David in his volunteering role and may lead us to develop such a programme at our Centre one day.

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