Sitting at home looking out at deep snow, it’s hard to believe that only a couple of weeks ago I was in a sunny park in Guatemala City, playing games with local street children. I was there with a group of volunteers from North East England to see the work of Global Care, to spend time with the children they support and to understand better the challenges they face and the solutions the charity is finding.
I have to admit I was reluctant – initially at least. Everybody seemed to think it was a good idea, but I’m not a great traveller and on every level this trip was way outside my comfort zone. Concerns about robbery, kidnap and violence just added to anxieties about long flights, health risks and discomfort. My friends rallied round with humorous but morbid offers of help if the worst happened, which strangely, helped me stop worrying and see instead an amazing opportunity to do something very different. I became excited by what might unfold and I remain excited by how the experience has affected me already and how it may continue to shape me and influence the people I meet.
In all, we spent nearly two weeks in Guatemala and Honduras. In Guatemala we spent all our time in a wonderful project for Street Children in the capital city, taking time to get to know the children a little, see aspects of their difficult lives and appreciate the help Global Care is able to give them through the work of its local partner.
We then had three days in the beautiful but deeply troubled country of Honduras where we visited several projects supported by Global Care, including one where I met a child whom my wife and I sponsor through the charity. It made me realise the importance of the child sponsorship programme.
We were very fortunate to make the trip in the company of John White, Global Care’s CEO, which gave us a better sense of the purpose and scope of the work in that part of the world but also its place in the wider activities of the charity. John is a man of faith with a passion for justice who takes his job and the responsibilities it carries very seriously, but he also has a real sense of fun which always helped lighten our mood and counter the problems. Although we didn’t see a lot in the way that tourists would, we did eat lots of wonderful local food, visited a Mayan site, had views of incredible volcanoes set in stunning landscapes and saw macaws flying between trees.
Our trip was busy, full of colour and intense emotion. Much was shocking and heart-breaking, but there was also a constant thread of hope, a belief that things could change because God was in the midst of the mess and cared deeply about each of the street children we met. Things have improved – few if any children actually sleep on the streets now, though they may still spend up to 80% of their lives there, and the authorities no longer see killing the children as a solution to the problem, though the children’s lives are still scarred by abuse and exploitation. All too often they die prematurely, as a visit to the cemetery/city rubbish dump reminded us. Even in death people are not equal.
I was deeply impressed by the loving attitude of the project workers. The children drew so much from the conversations, laughter and encouragement they received – quietly, consistently and at every opportunity. Seeing a couple of children running across the slum, with shouts of joy, leaping into the arms of an outreach worker they knew, is a beautiful memory I will hold for a long time. The projects too were all safe, nurturing environments where the children not only escaped from the harsh realities of life on the streets, but were able to develop their education and to learn other life skills to build their resilience. In spite of much sadness and struggle there was joy and laughter too.
I was also very impressed by the quality and professionalism of the staff. Their programmes were based on research and evidence of what works, and didn’t just rely upon good Christian intentions. The excellent mentoring programme for the children in Guatemala is making a real difference because it is built on these strong foundations. Education is recognised as a key factor in helping children escape from grinding, inter-generational poverty, and staff advocated for the children with parents who would rather they went out to work instead. The charity also took safeguarding very seriously and ensured that policies and procedures were in place and practice was good, important in the light of very recent failures within the overseas charity sector.
The faith and courage of the workers I met was amazing. In some instances they were putting their lives on the line, but in all cases they were giving up more comfortable lives back home to reach out to these children, to work with the parents, the abusers and the authorities, to create opportunities for the children to be safer, to have a chance to break free from the poverty and abuse which traps them. And the staff consistently showed the love of God in what they did and how they did it. All had a strong sense of calling that they were in the right place at the right time.
Since I returned home I have thought a lot about the people I met, the places I visited and the experiences I had. I have prayed a lot too. I feel an enormous sense of gratitude, am more accepting of the things I have, the difficulties which crop up and the fact that if you really believe in something, it’s possible to make a difference. I have spent a lot of time reading up on the research and looking at how other organisations in different parts of the world help street children, how we can help people with severe and adverse childhood experiences overcome these, and how I might play a part in supporting the work of Global Care in a more practical way than fundraising alone. I’ve had some great conversations back home too, talking about the work of the charity and encouraging people to consider sponsoring a child or making a donation, because I’ve seen the difference it can make.
I’ve supported Global Care for many years and have always believed in the work that it does, but seeing it in action has cemented my commitment to the organisation. Global Care does what it says on the tin and I am confident that the money we give is going to the right places and being spent in the right ways. I saw just a few children, from a few Global Care projects, in just one part of the world, but Global Care does equally important work across other continents and in many other countries, with needy children who live in dark and dangerous places, enduring extreme hardship and difficulty. And it values these children and loves these children, giving them a hope and a future away from poverty, abuse and exploitation, whilst pointing them to the God of love, who cares for them every bit as much as for us. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never put it out.”
Ollie Batchelor, child sponsor & volunteer.