All of the children we work with here in Guatemala, through SKD Guatemala, have at least 5 ‘risk factors,’ these risk factors help discern those most in need and that’s why work with them and their families. Therefore, all of the children we work with come from challenging and difficult family lives. Of course, there are some who have more challenging lives than others, or who have suffered under much more traumatic circumstances.
Joe is one of those children. His past and his current living situation are extremely difficult, and he has clearly suffered trauma in his shot life. There are things about his life that I won’t share here but trust me when I say when he displays challenging behaviour it is all understandable. Having come to know him over the past 2 years I have seen his vulnerable side as well as all his walls and barriers.
Joe does not always interact well with others, both adults and children, he finds it particularly hard to be in big groups and to concentrate.
Yesterday I got to witness something truly remarkable and beautiful. Joe was having his last mentoring session with Joseph, a close friend and colleague. Joseph is about to go back to the UK for 6-8 weeks and so Joe was allowed a treat and to choose a friend to go with him. He chose a boy called Max, who he plays well with. I went with them as extra support. Let me tell you about our time together and you will see why yesterday was so special.
Joseph and I arrived at our mentoring centre to find two very excited boys, ready for their outing. We first had to get their permission forms from their guardians, so we went with them to their homes. When they had their forms signed, we walked back to the centre to set off on our trip. As we walked, they both hugged and thanked me and Max looked up at me and said, “te quiero mucho” – “I love you a lot.” My heart melted, it was clear how excited and how special this was for them. We piled into Joseph’s car and off we went up to a place called Cayala, which is basically a big open air commercial centre, complete with fun places to do activities and games.
Now for Laser Quest, we arrived at the games centre and geared up for a few games of competitive laser quest. Only for these children do I engage in such activities. I am not a huge fan of running around in the dark in an intensive game of tag, but seeing their excitement and hearing them laugh certainly made it worth it. Dare I say I even enjoyed it. It was great to see them work together to beat Joseph and I. To see them letting off some steam in a fun and healthy way. The true joy was seeing Joe, a boy who can often act out in frustration and aggression, smiling nonstop and enjoy playing with his friend.
After our laser quest adventure, the boys sat and played Mario-cart to calm down a bit. They sat close to each other, chatting away as they raced their virtual vehicles. Beautiful moments like these are difficult to capture in words or photos.
Before heading back to the centre, we went across to Mc Donald’s for a quick drink. This McDonald’s happens to have a small indoor soft play, with slides and other fun things. After asking if he could go and play Max barely waited for our response before his shoes were off and he was in there.
Now, quite a lot of the children we work with feel very self-conscious about removing their shoes, due to poor hygiene. Joe frequently has low hygiene (we have often let him shower in our centre) and was very hesitant to take his shoes off. A bit of encouragement from Max to come and play and an approving thump up from Joseph meant that he chose to be brave. He took his shoes off and in he went to play.
I can’t express what this was like to witness. The trust it displayed, Joe took courage and chose to trust that his friend would not mock him or mind the state of his feet. Watching some of his walls come down, seeing a softer side of him made my heart warm. At times it is hard to like some of his choices and actions, but it is never hard to love him. He is just a boy. A boy looking for approval, a boy looking to be cared for and about. He is simply a boy looking to be loved, with a good kind of love. A love that is consistent, honest and unconditional.
I have had the privilege to see how mentoring really can change lives. Little by little Joe has let Joseph in and started to trust him. He has certainly pushed a lot of boundaries and acted out many times. He has rejected Joseph repeatedly, testing him, finding out if he really cared. If he would still be there. Joseph remained consistent, set up firm boundaries and standards, all done with love and now he is seeing the benefit. It is slow progress, often with one step forward followed by serval back, but change is happening. And we are all learning together.