Monday 27th November 2017
Returning from Guatemala last week was an interesting experience as the last time I drove back from Honduras I discovered (too late) a dead cow in the road and the car did not come off that well! This time no cows were in the road and I arrived safely back in Guatemala City and with little Moses waiting for me as I had promised we would have our mentoring session as soon as I returned.
My time in Honduras was both refreshing, inspiring, comforting and challenging and has left me with many images in my mind of my week there that I would like to share with you and thank you again for reading this and for your support of the work.
Driving into the Manuelito Children´s Home was an amazing experience. I had left the kids in the home 6 months ago and was hoping to return in August before the walk to spend time with the kids and staff, but having my car in the agency for 6 months and no funds to fly down meant I have had to be patient. It took a few seconds for the kids to realise I was in Steve´s car and came over to great us and, of course, little Duncan came running over to hug his dad and tell me how much he has missed me. It is a touching moment greeting all the kids and after tons of hugs and kisses we make our way to meet the staff and see how the home is going.
The home has been through some changes since my last visit and I was keen to see how these changes had impacted the everyday lives of the kids. Despite their sadness for those who have now moved on I thought they all reacted really well, but I expect they wanted to put on a brave face. As time went by it was clear that the kids are really sad at the loss of the senior leadership team, but those who have come along since have started to win hearts and minds and so I am hopeful that things will slowly return to normal.
Steve Poulson and me had the opportunity to take little Duncan out for the morning to the capital as all the children had been invited to visit a shoe store and chose one pair of trainers or shoes for Christmas. Shopping had to be done this day as the store had a special offer on buy one get one free and so buying for 42 kids would be much cheaper today than tomorrow. Little Duncan had recently celebrated his 11th birthday and was so happy to be out with me to not only chose his shoes but to chose a present for his birthday. No surprise then when he asked for a toy gun and I gently encouraged him to consider a remote control car. He was one happy boy indeed and then we went for lunch and talked about his school year and how he felt now in the home.
There was no time to visit AFE on this trip as the usual time for AFE was taken up meeting with the Director, Jesy, to discuss plans and models of management that might help lead AFE to a more stable future. After Jeony´s departure from AFE the charity, like Manuelito, has been through a difficult time of change and adaptation. I am hopeful that a major US partner will come alongside this school and help bring it into a new era of financial stability and an exciting future.
We move on at the end of the trip to visit one of the new projects Steve Poulson is now working with. Steve moved to Honduras this year as a full-time volunteer for Street Kids Direct, so I was keen to see the work he is doing. Steve did tell me: “you will like Ciudad España” and he was right. One of the interests I have is in gangs and youth involvement in them and how this leads so many to adopt coping behaviours that lead them to an early death or even to living on the streets. I have come across so many young people on the streets that had escaped from a gang and street life seemed the only option to them.
Over the last few years I have visited a very good friend in Honduras who works with one of the gangs. Teresa is one of life´s special angels and has committed her life to staying in Honduras and helping young men and women caught up in gang life. She is quite an inspiration and her methods of work are not always orthodox but she really does care for those who are now in youth prison due to their gang affiliation. It has been amazing accompanying her to prison on many occasions.
I am invited by Steve to join a small team on their visit to Ciudad España and run a small service for the guys who come along each week. We all climb into Pastor Hernan´s 4x4 and head off out of the capital and soon turn into the road that leads to Ciudad España. Hernan points out a house on the hill and tells me that from this moment we are being watched and then he pulls out his mobile and calls one of the gang members to let him know we are coming into the Pueblo. We then have to wind down all the windows so those on the lookouts can see who is in the car. Not doing this would certainly mean the car is surrounded by armed men and maybe shot at.
Arriving into the little Pueblo we drive around to remind a few young people that the meeting is on and then drive back to the little house that a young couple are renting and that has been turned into a small outreach centre. Jen and Luis run the centre and have a real heart for this community and have won over the gang´s trust, who allow them to operate without any hindrance. The gang is very much in control of this little town and Hernan tells me that no one would dare steal from anyone else in the place and said that if he left his phone on the wall of the house it would still be there the following day.
Slowly the young people and some children arrive and the meeting begins. This is a church service and those gathered hear about the importance of honouring your parents – a tough lesson indeed if your parents are abusive and one of the reasons many of the young guys have gone into the gang in the first place. Talking with some of them after the service made me realise what a hard place this is to grow up. Recently 400 soldiers descended on the town in the middle of the night and took off young people they said were gang members. Being locked up in a youth prison can be a traumatic event for any young person but being there just because someone thinks you are a gang member leaves you with very few options.
I talk with 16-year-old Carlos who is looking for a way out. When I ask him about what his dream is he just stares and looks down the dirt road and shrugs his shoulders. Eventually he tells me that getting out of the town is a dream but where does he go and how can he get a job if people know he lives in Ciudad España. He is marked and so his options are either the gang or to take the bold move and just go into the unknown and see if he can make it. I can see he won´t take the later and so hope that Jen and Luis can help him with a third option.
Projects like this are right on the front line and deserve our attention even if we are limited with funds and can´t give them money to expand their work with very high-risk children and youth. At least Steve is involved and is helping each week. Please remember them in your thoughts and prayers.