I was fast asleep the other night when I was woken abruptly by a loud explosion. There then followed frantic banging on the door and a lot of shouting ensued. Before I could get my thoughts together, I found myself being chased in the dark and wet, wondering where I needed to go. With me were six of the children and young people from the Manuelito Children’s home. We were under a time limit. We were, of course, just taking part in the midnight “wide game” during the annual camping trip, and we were having a lot of fun.
I’ve been here for just over six months now and feel fairly well settled in. I’ve got used to tortillas, rice and black beans. And I’m getting used to Spanish. I even went to a two-day conference which was almost entirely in Spanish. I’m getting used to driving here even if they drive on the “wrong” side of the road and follow only one golden rule – if there’s space, you take it.
The young people have enjoyed teaching me a few words that I’m not supposed to say as well but what a joy it has been getting to know them and to see what is happening in their lives. I met young Christian about four months ago. He’s 11 years old and very cheeky. He lives in a place called Ciudad España, which is a heavily controlled gang area. He told me of his dreams of going to school one day, and that he didn’t want to work anymore. The problem he has is that he wasn’t registered at birth, so was never accepted into school. His mum lives elsewhere and he doesn’t often see his dad; grandma is the one who looks after him.
His profile means that he is at an extremely high risk of entering a gang and why wouldn’t he? It offers a good income, status and, most importantly, a place to belong. Like all of us, he is searching for a home, for structure, for security and for a family. From his point of view, the gang is a very good – if not the only – option. So what a privilege it is to be in his life and show him that there are other ways to live, before it’s too late.
There have been some new arrivals at the Manuelito Children’s Home. Twelve year old Cristofer is one of them. You can still see the street and gang life in him through his actions and words. Until recently he worked for the gang as a delivery boy, driving around on a motorbike delivering drugs and guns. Last week I saw him learning to fly a kite. The scars on his arms seem less obvious and he now welcomes me with a big hug when I arrive. Of course, he then asks if he can play on my phone!
Such stories encourage me in my role. I’ve helped to implement the new child protection policy at Manuelito and in AFE, the school by the city rubbish dump, I’ve translated their brand new strategic plan from Spanish to English, and in Ciudad España I’ve helped to start up youth meetings. We’ve begun to implement the Street Kids Direct mentoring programme in Honduras and have seen an amazing response to something which can have a transformational effect in the lives of many vulnerable children and young people.
This programme matches a child or young person with an adult, who spends a minimum of one hour a week for at least a year listening to and investing in the child. We want to provide each and every one of the most vulnerable children and young people in Honduras with an adult who is caring and a constant presence in their lives. It has a proven positive effect and we fully train our mentors in the methodology and thinking behind the programme.
For me personally, it’s not been an easy few months; for example, I think I’ve settled a bit into Latino culture and have learnt that arriving on time isn’t all that important. I like to think I’ve learnt a lot of patience as well as when to travel and when not to travel to avoid traffic. One observation about this culture is that all criticism is taken personally. In the UK I could have a disagreement with a colleague but still eat lunch together because “that stuff is just work”; however, any negative comment here, even on an idea just being bandied around, seems to be perceived as a personal attack.
Another difficulty I find here that it is cultural to go round the houses and completely avoid the elephant in the room until, at the last moment, it gets briefly mentioned before the subject is changed completely never to be discussed again. That’s not how I’m wired and it’s caused me some headaches! Thankfully the people I work with are gracious and are used to foreigners like me being culturally insensitive.
This difference in culture does have its upsides though. Because I’m new and I see things from a totally different perspective, I have been able to bring fresh ideas and ways of working within the projects, for example in how to engage more effectively with donors. It has caused laughter as well, particularly when I pronounce something wrong or totally misunderstand what’s being said to me. People who have got to know me well can now tell when I’m lost and have stopped paying attention!
My best Spanish teachers are the young people. Jimmy who is 19 and studies at the AFE school usually corrects any text messages I send to him. It’s quite ironic as he usually replies in slang Spanish, meaning that I’m learning all his bad habits too. Jimmy and I spend quite a long time together this summer, as he did a big walk with me. Along with three young people from Manuelito, we walked 100km (62 miles) in one day to raise money and awareness for the projects. I don’t have space to tell you Jimmy’s story, but one day I will have to share it because not only is it an encouragement, but it is also a challenge to so many things we take for granted.
In the meantime, if you want to read more of Jimmy’s story on the Church Mission Society website, please visit this page: https://churchmissionsociety.org/give-gift-jimmys-christmas
As I mentioned at the start of this letter, Christian from Ciudad España legally can’t go to school. According to the law, he doesn’t actually exist. He can’t access medical care. There is no one to stand up and speak for him. So I’m going to have to. Without your partnership this wouldn’t be possible and I want to thank you for your support and prayers. My role is to help projects run better, be more organised and accountable, as well as in places where the staff can learn and grow as well as the children they exist to help. Please do keep praying and holding this work in your thoughts.
This year Street Kids Direct are running a project called Radio Christmas. It’s from 13–24 December, 6am–10pm every day. You’ll be able to listen in to live broadcasts with me from Honduras at www.radiochristmas.co.uk
STOP PRESS – NEWS UPDATE: Bishop Henry Scriven, mission director for Latin America, writes: “Many of you will have been following the political situation in Honduras following the presidential election on 26 November. Steve was able to leave Honduras having been safe with friends while the curfew was enforced. He is now working with Street Kids Direct and Mi Arca in Guatemala City and helping with their famous Radio Christmas which he has helped with in past years. Do please keep praying for him and for the situation in Honduras.”