• Saturday 30th May 2020

    This blog is very different to any blog I have ever written and I decided that I would let you into our world a little bit and help you understand how we determine which children come into the mentoring programme and what factors help us make this decision.

    On Monday we were asked to help volunteer at the city feeding centre for homeless people in Guatemala City.  Each organisation takes turns to run the centre and Monday was our day.  It was while I was at the centre I met 9-year-old Lucy.  I would like to encourage you to look at her photo (thanks to Chris Dobson for the edit) and to study it for a while.

    What do you see there?  What feelings come to the surface?  Why do you think she is at the feeding centre?  Lucy came with her mum and younger brother and all three looked very tired, hungry and like the world had hit them hard.  But still they managed to smile.  So, let´s explore this a little further.

    When I first developed the mentoring programme in 2014, I did so because I couldn´t find a programme that would help prepare mentors to better understand and work with high-risk children.

    When I first moved to Guatemala City in 1992 there were an estimated 5,000 children and young people living on the city streets and the situation was dire.  I lost count of the number of children we buried, not because they didn´t matter.  They mattered very much indeed.  It was that with each child we buried we all felt like something within us died.  Each child had a special place in our hearts and every death wrenched that away from you, leaving you numb and feeling helpless until the next death.  Another funeral, another time of mourning, another commitment to not letting it happen again and another night without sleep.

    The coinciding of celebrating 25 years of working with street kids in 2017 and rescuing our last child from the streets, 11-year-old Jonathan, was a great time to survey the streets of Guatemala City again.  We celebrated the fact that we could not find one child living alone on the streets and, together with frequent research into the changing patterns of children taking to the streets, we wanted to focus our work more on the prevention of children taking to the streets and so was born the mentoring programme.

    The stage is set with the understanding of the factors that both push a child to the streets and the unique components that entice or pull a child onto the streets is an important place to start.  These factors are the backdrops and props needed for the actors that will now be auditioned for the part of “street child”.

    We draw upon research done by the ACE study in the USA that has given us 10 risk factors that can be applied to our child actors.  If a child, according to their research, has four or more of the following factors in their lives, they are more likely to have very negative health outcomes and therefore will tend to adopt negative behaviours as part of a detrimental coping strategy than only enhances their childhood trauma rather than bringing healing.  The factors are: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, a drug user in the household, member of the household in prison, member of the family who is chronically depressed, mentally ill or suicidal, the mother is treated violently, one or no parents, emotional or physical neglect and lastly the loss of someone close to you.  These factors are traumatic childhood events that many children can navigate well if they have a caring and supportive adult in their life. If not, then they compound a child´s sense of loss, vulnerability and, to some degree, abandonment.

    Moreover, our child actor must now be exposed to street life in order for them to be conditioned to play the part of the street child.  Street life, with its temptations and dangers, lures the child into a world that will both rob their innocence and accelerate their entrance into the adult world.  Therefore, a child´s connection to the street is measured by the street worker and, together with the number of risk factors in their life, enables the worker to evaluate their unique level of risk and so target the intervention at the most high-risk child.

    We return now to Lucy.  Take another look at her photo and stay a while as you study it again.  Knowing what you now know about the risk factors and connection to the streets can you begin to gather together the pieces of the jigsaw.

    What do you now see?  Can you notice the marks on her body?  Can we assume there are more and maybe more serious ones?  The condition of her skin tells us something together with the dirt under the nails.  Are there parts of her body she is trying to hide from us or does she feel comfortable to let you see the pain she might live with? A street worker would also look at her shoes and, if she is wearing any, what they would tell you about neglect.  Is she shy of the camera and reluctant to give you eye contact? She has a dog, as many people on the streets do. What does the dog give to her or provide for her? Her mum stands behind her and you can see she is very slim and begin to assume they struggle to find food.  Why is this? Why is there no dad around?  Lucy´s clothes are interesting as she or her mum has chosen clothes that many young girls her age would want to wear.  Even the text on her beanie states something she is probably unaware of.

    Little by little the street worker begins to put the pieces together and observes, asks questions and looks also at the context the child is living in – where in the street they are? Who is with them? What do they have with them? What time of day or night are they in the street? Who acknowledges them? Do their fast-moving eyes tell you they struggle to concentrate or that they are constantly scanning the scene for signs of danger? Does their breath give away drug or alcohol consumption?  The skilled street worker will be doing the calculations whilst, at the same time, trying to engage the child in play or conversation.

    Lucy, we can now assume, is a high-risk child.  She has a younger brother whose demeanor, actions and appearance gives away his predicament of being highly connected to the streets.  He also has a dog!  Lucy, her mum and little brother are in a queue of people who are homeless and does seem to know many of them. She smiles when she sees the size of her lunch and looks at her dog as if to say “this is for us both”.

    I have tried here to telescope Lucy´s life in order to help you understand how a street worker thinks and how their observations lead to engagement, play, understanding and eventually to action.  I will keep you posted.

    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

  • Monday 18th May 2020

    You can´t help the attachment you feel towards vulnerable children, as you are with them in the most difficult, intimate and happy moments of their lives. Some even see you as either part of their family or, in the case of Carlos, as an actual parent.

    I wrote about Carlos at the beginning of this year and expressed my frustration at seeing how much he had deteriorated during 2019.  His drug addictions and street life were taking him down a track that I feared would lead to his early death.  I was pulling no punches as I explained this to him on New Year´s Eve.  He went missing for the first two weeks of January and so we put up posters of him around La Terminal, checked hospitals and the city morgue, but no news.

    A few weeks later we were informed that Carlos was now safe in a children´s home and hopefully would be until December this year when he turns 18.  I have been to see him a few times, but all that was before the pandemic hit Guatemala and we went, like so many countries, into lockdown.

    My last visit to him was so rewarding as he spoke so clearly about his new-found faith and desire to make something of his life.  He was unusually pensive and held onto my hand almost the whole time I was visiting him.  His reflections on his short life were insightful and I encouraged him to start writing notes as one day I would love to write a story of his life.  I believe it would be a fascinating account of a street child and the factors that both took him to the streets and eventually helped him leave.

    For now, I can only meet him online and now he calls weekly, as he did a few days ago, from the home in the North of Guatemala.  He tells me that his weekly session with his counsellor had gone well and that he was proud to tell him that I was his dad.  He smiles and as he does, shows his missing front teeth.  Once he explained to me how he had lost four of his teeth in a street fight and said “I don´t think I am very good at fighting!”.  I agreed that maybe it was not his strength and that it would be good for him to consider other pastimes.

    His call was welcome and it was so good to talk with him via WhatsApp and see him looking so well and talking intelligently about his plans after the home.  I had to answer his question about how his mum was doing with honesty, which left him feeling sad but, at the same time, thankful I was still keeping in contact with her.  I doubt if she will make it through to seeing him graduate from the home the way her life is going, but that can´t hold him back I tell him and that he must now focus on the new life and opportunity he has been given.

    Despite lockdowns, curfews and travel restrictions we can still keep in contact and, thanks to your support, we have been able to send a small donation to the home to help provide all the boys there with some treats and to cover the costs of food.

    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

    Duncan Dyason
  • Friday 19th June 2020

    The number of cases of COVID-19 has increased quite dramatically in the last two weeks and triggered further restrictions from the government that have limited the outreach we can do for the moment.  Despite the limitations we are able to leave certain days and visit families at risk as well as offer food parcels to the many families we are caring for each week.  Every person who comes to our Mentoring Centre to collect their food parcel, or who receives it when we visit them in marginal areas of the city, does so with great joy and so much gratitude that I am often overwhelmed by it all.  Thank you for helping to make all this possible.One amazing sacrifice

    This week there have been many events to inform you of and so I will try and be brief so as to not make this blog too long, but each event is so filled with excitement and emotion that this will be a challenge.

    I had messaged Jonathan, one of the vulnerable boys I mentor, on Monday and asked how he was.  I knew that things were tough, especially given that his dad was probably out drunk on the streets all weekend.  Thanks to a special fund we setup we could let him have a phone so he can keep in contact with me and the team.  Jonathan replied saying “BAD”.  I called him back immediately and asked what was up and the story came that his dad had been drinking all weekend and had come home with nothing in his pockets and had lost his job.  They had eaten very little and now had no food at all in the house.

    Jonathan (photo above) lives with his adorable little sister, mum and dad in a small house in one of the marginal areas of Guatemala City we have targeted for the mentoring programme.  A good percentage of the children that used to live on the street 15 years ago came from this area and so given that and the many other risk factors that these children live with means they are highly likely to look to the streets as a solution to their problems and if not the streets, the local gang.

    I was with Alex in the car when I called him and so we took the decision to drive over to their home and buy some supplies on route.  Jonathan, his mum and sister met us and were so very pleased to receive a few bags of food, enough for the rest of the week at least.

    father day mug2We returned to visit him on Wednesday, which just happened to be Father´s Day here in Guatemala, and Alex and I were presented with a special mug to celebrate Father´s Day.  It was a colourful little mug and one I know would have cost them a few meals.  No wonder they had no food, they had more than likely gone without so they could buy us gifts.  Just the most powerful present and one that means so much as it represents and expresses love.

    On the way back we drop by to visit a family who are living in a large tin shack and talk with Paola.  Paula is nine and is a girl we are concerned about and seems to be always caring for her 4 young brothers and sisters.  She never smiles and I wonder how much of the worries of caring for the family are upon her shoulders.  But she does have a dream!

    Paola asks me what I think about helping her build a bedroom for her and her 7-year-old sister.  At the side of their shack they have been given a piece of land that they would like to use to house a few animals and also build a small tin structure that will become their bedroom.  Despite funds being rather limited at the moment I couldn´t help but offer something towards her dream and so with some basic materials on the way I will keep you posted as to when her dream becomes a reality.

    We head back to Casa Alexis to make drinks for the builders currently working there on the development of the next mentoring centre.  It has been busy here recently after a donation came in to take the next step in renovating the building.  I am very keen to have it all ready for when the kids are able to come back and visit the centre again.

    Our plan is that the Casa Alexis Protection Home is closed for the moment unless there is an emergency for children or families.  One such emergency came up recently when we had to house two boys and their mum.  The mum was very ill and needed medical treatment here in the capital and so came for her treatment at the clinic nearby and her two younger boys came also to support her and enjoy a short break.

    The home is a great place for children at risk and we are ready to take in any family or child/children as and when the need dictates.  There are many more protocols in place now that govern our daily behaviours and how we deal with emergency situations.  The safety of those coming and of us volunteers is paramount and we feel that we can remain open to emergencies if all the protocols are followed.

    To finish my blog, I would like to tell you a story of a fridge.  Ok, I know it has already started to send you to sleep, but hang in there because this a very encouraging story.

    fridgeI was sent a photo in the week of a fridge.  It was a second-hand fridge and it was in pretty good condition.  The person who sent it to me was Don Rafael, the father of Damaris who was featured in a video testimony recently.  Don Rafael was very excited as he had just bought a fridge for the family and wanted to share the good news.

    A year and a half ago this was a very different story and, as Don Rafael will willingly tell you, he was a mess and so was his family.  Almost homeless again and living in great poverty due to his drinking addictions, the family were staying with us, on and off, at the Protection Home.  They were very dark days indeed and if you have not seen Damaris´video testimony, and can have a tissue nearby, then check out her video here.

    Since Don Rafael´s life changed after becoming a Christian he has worked hard to gain his family back and save money to improve their lot.  When we were allowed, before the current pandemic, to visit the families in their homes I would often see Don Rafael sat on the bed with his wife sat behind him and leaning forwards embracing him the whole time we spoke.  She tells me how much he has changed and how happy they are all now.

    Later in the evening Don Rafael calls me very concerned as he says the bit at the back of the fridge is getting hot and should he turn it off.  I explain that this is normal and he tells me that since they have never had a fridge before this is all new to them.  They are so happy they can keep food cold now and are planning on saving up for other things the family need.  

    Transformation is incredible to watch in people and it leads to a special moment this week when I speak with their son, who is in the mentoring programme with me.  We reflect together on the last few years and how they have been through the most difficult of times and are now enjoying real life, life with hope, with dreams and with love.  Be encouraged, your support really does help us invest for the long term in people´s lives.  THANK YOU.

    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

  • Sunday 28th 2020

    When the call came through from Bryan, I was very pleased but somewhat surprised that he was now in contact with us again.  Bryan is 14 and has been off the radar over the past 12 months as he began to fall away from the mentoring programme and become further involved in the local gang.

    The huge rise in gangs in Guatemala has been fueled by US policies of deporting anyone from Central America for all manner of crimes over the last 25 years.  There was a time when I remember taking a flight from the US to Guatemala and almost half was full of people in handcuffs!  The alarming numbers of active gang members who had grown up in the US and were now assimilated into the notorious MS or 18 Street gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras slowly increased from 1996 when the US passed new laws to facilitate the deportations.  The Violent Gang Taskforce and the subsequent Operation Community Shield in the US targeted active gang members for deportation.

    In recent years gang activity has diminished in Guatemala due to a very hard line approach to gang membership, but still the gangs operate in many areas with impunity, albeit to a lesser degree.  In one area where the charity is supporting a project in Guatemala City one of the gangs opened up an attractive youth club to recruit young gang members from the age of 10 years.

    lionada4Bryan has been the target of the gang for the last 3 years and a few months ago was caught up in a gun battle in one of the city cemeteries, leaving 20 people dead. His life has changed so much from the first time I met him and he started to attend the mentoring centre.  A fresh-faced 10-year-old who was always full of wonder and questions and who had dreams of doing great things with his life.

    Now it seems that the authorities have caught up with him and he is on some form of house arrest and wanted me to go and visit him so he could talk.  Despite the restrictions I felt that I could not turn down this opportunity and so headed to a barrio that is famous for its violence, gangs and all manner of things that usually hit the headlines in full colour.

    The road into the barrio is narrow and with cars parked at certain intervals on the pavement, meaning that getting to the end of the road takes some maneuvering. I had only passed a few houses and two men, who had been sitting on a doorstep, stood up and began to follow my car, one on one side and the other on the other side of the road.  At the end of the road I turned the car round and found a space to park where I guessed it was at less risk of blocking other cars passing.

    I got out of the car and could see the men walking up, but just where I had parked there was an alleyway that led to Bryan´s house.  I called to him and he came down from the second floor where the family rent a small room that is home to about 7 people.  At times this number grows depending on who needs a bed for the night.

    Bryan comes out and looks all around him as well as up and down the alley before looking at me and saying hi.  We sit on one of the steps and he begins to tell me that he is now living back at home and not with the gang.  He has handed back his gun and has decided not to get more involved with them, something that is not normally allowed as once in the gang, always in the gang.

    lionada3As we are talking three teenagers come around the corner and ask who I am and what I am doing there.  They are all fairly high on solvents and so I try and engage with them in such a way that they don´t feel threatened and soon begin to laugh and ask me to teach them some English.  It turns out they are just ordinary boys who have been dealt a bad hand and the many choices they have made have led them to a life they feel has no hope.

    It does seem an interesting idea of working with them and so later let the street team know that when restrictions are lifted, I would like to return there and see how we could help bring hope and explore with them a more positive future.

    I need to finish my discussion with Bryan and respectively ask the boys if they would be happy with me talking with Bryan alone.  This seems acceptable to them and so they leave us alone to finish our conversation and Bryan asks if there is any chance I can get him a bed as he and his brother are now having to sleep on a cold concrete floor each night.  I commit myself to looking for a donation of a double bed he and his brother can share.  We finish by discussing the options of full-time education when schools return and given the fact that he has missed almost all his education, this could prove to be a challenge.  But challenges are exciting!

    I manage to get out of the barrio without any issues and am grateful for yet another opportunity of seeing God´s hand at work and allowing me to help another lost boy.  The future for boys like Bryan is not that great and statistics show that so many will, in the end, succumb to peer pressure and join the gang.  Life expectancy for those who join a gang in Guatemala is just 22 years and so we would like to offer him the hope that he can live a very different and full life.

    Janie Awesome

    Duncan Dyason is the founder and Director of Street Kids Direct.  He first started working with street children in 1992 when he moved to Guatemala City and founded The Toybox Charity.  His work has been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and he was awarded an MBE the year he celebrated working over 25 years to reduce the large population of children on the streets from 5,000 to zero.  Duncan continues to live and work in Guatemala City.

© 2020 Street Kids Direct. Registered UK Charity No. 1102894