Azaria Spencer

Highs and lows

Sometimes life can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Since moving to Guatemala I would say that I experience this even more intensely, as if the nature of my life here has heightened the possibility for a high to be immediately followed by a low or vice versa.

Last night I was with our youth, a group of young men aged between 15-19, for our weekly ‘family time’ activity. As I sat preparing our meal, Saqueo came and had some cereal which I would usually not allow that close to dinner, but I believed him when he told me he hadn’t eaten since the morning and it was now past 5pm. He sat across from me and started asking questions. He asked about England, my family, the foundation, all kinds of seemingly disjointed, unconnected questions. I answered and shared with him whilst chopping vegetables as he munched down his snack. Once he had finished and washed his dishes, he looked at me and in his round about way, said thanks and that he would go upstairs now.
It wasn’t long before Anibal appeared at my side, with affectionate hugs and greetings. He proceeded to lean on me as I tried to continue chopping veg. After initial questions and pleasantries, he simply sat by my side, listening to his music. He had offered to help, but I had it under control. He often chooses to be by my side, it would seem even if there is nothing to say.

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When dinner was ready, we sat down to eat together, five young men with three adults.
Danilo led us in a prayer that warmed my heart. All it took was a few words and I was full of joy. As he prayed, he thanked God for our ‘family,’ referring to the people present at the table. And in that moment, I was reminded yet again why I live and serve here in Guatemala. These young men are my family and I am theirs. When we share together over food, games, prayer, films, whatever else, we are family.
As you can imagine then, Thursday evenings are one of the highlights of my week and I am always left on a high afterwards even if it is almost the weekend and I am flagging from a long week.
So, I arrived at work this morning for our Friday morning team worship and prayer time.
We joined together and worshiped God side by side as a team, as a family. Following this we lifted our praise and petitions before Him.
But then heartbreak. Duncan shared with us the sad news that Pablo, one of the young men who lived on the streets, had died that morning. He was only 20 years old.
He had spent many years living on the streets and abusing drugs.
He had recently had more than one hospital stay and several opportunities to leave the streets. Only a few weeks ago he had been in rehab. Sadly, he kept on choosing the streets and drugs and today his body simply gave up. What a shame, such a young life lost. My heart broke for him, but it also broke for those team members whom I love, that poured so much into Pablo. They had visited him faithfully for years, loved him, offered him help, support and opportunities. And now they had to plan his funeral and burry him.

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                                                                                   (photo taken by Alex Denton)

Life can shift in a matter of seconds sometimes from joy to despair, laughter to grief. The ride can be rough and sometimes devastating. Honestly, it is only in God’s strength that we can keep on going. That we can still be able to enjoy the highs. That we can praise him through it all.

Fire at the dump

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I woke up to the news that there had been a fire at the rubbish dump in La Terminal.
Once at work I quickly found out that thankfully no one had died or been hurt.
Along with three of my colleagues we decided to visit the dump and the families affected by the fire.
We greeted people that we knew as we approached the dump. The fire had destroyed four small homes constructed with wooden planks and sheets of corrugated iron. Everything inside was burnt and ruined, the make-shift walls and roofs fallen, in truth an absolute mess. It was sad to see. Although we haven’t directly worked with or known the families affected before it was still difficult. I can imagine that they did not have much to start with and now they are left with practically nothing at all. 

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Among the rubble we could see the metal springs that used to be a mattress and what were once plastic storage boxes and a few other still distinguishable items. Surprisingly some of the wood although burnt was still standing tall.  
Saddened by the situation this left these families in, we made plans to help in whatever ways possible, looking for new accommodation, donations of beds, clothes and basic household items.

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However, seeing the fire damaged homes was not the most difficult thing for me this morning.
The thing that I found hardest to see was something else entirely. When we were close to the entrance of the dump, talking with an ‘old’ friend I noticed two small children stood close by.  The girl approximately 8 years old and a younger boy. The girl was systematically rummaging in a bag, pulling out a can and crushing it beneath her foot. She did this over and over again. As I looked and smiled, she smiled back at me. Clearly shy of this strange white lady before her. Every chance she got she would look at me again, curiosity and intrigue in her young eyes.

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The reality of our location hit me all over again, that although we were there to help after a fire, we were there on a dump. A dump where people live and work, and not just adults.
I looked around and saw that many people were continuing life and work as normal. People carried on with their daily tasks and chores, including this little girl. And of course carrying on life as normal is all good and well but what isn’t is that normal life for some children, for this little girl, is working on a rubbish dump.




Art and Creativity

 Estás invitado a una mañana de arte y creatividad

A few weeks ago I was sat with the children in our centre, it was a Tuesday afternoon when they have an art workshop with two of our volunteers. I was sat pretending to colour in a picture, but really watching the children around me. I am creative and artistic by nature and it always brings me joy to watch children express themselves artistically. As I watched, something caught my attention. One of the boys, Jonathan, was tapping his marker to spay ink on his picture the way you might with a paint brush. He was creating beautiful splatters of colour across the image of a peacock. It was such a simple thing, he wasn’t doing it because he had been told to or taught how to. He wasn’t doing it for extra attention or praise. He was simply expressing himself through art, trying something new and seeing how it looked. This moment spoke to my soul. I knew him and his brother to be very gentle and creative boys. This confirmed it for me.

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I can imagine a teacher in school stopping a child in a moment like this. Telling them that is not how we use markers, or to colour within the lines. I was never one restricted by lines and rules, especially when art was concerned. I told him how beautiful his picture looked and how much I liked how he had used the markers. He blushed and said thank you.

I was left inspired.
I had already been thinking a lot about exploring art and creativity workshops and I have been reading about art therapy too. So, after an encouraging conversation with Dunc and with the new space we have at Casa Alexis, our protection home and future second mentoring centre, I decided to start with Jonathan and his brother Freddy. I made them personalised invitations to a morning of art and creativity. I planned an activity where they could try new mediums and have space to simply create.

art class

So far, we have been able to have two sessions of art and creativity together and it has been such a huge joy and blessing for me and them, I hope.
I have seen them open up creatively and express themselves in new ways and they are truly very talented. It is great to see them using new types of medium and just as a duck takes to water it comes naturally to them both.
How amazing is it that as part of my ‘job’ I get to help children explore their creativity and learn new artistic skills? Children that normally don’t even get a fair shot at school never mind extra activities like this. But through Street Kids Direct they not only get a much better education and support with homework, but they also get noticed for their talents and are given opportunities to grow and learn more. This kind of thing right here, speaks to my soul.