As a teacher I am blessed with a first-rate holiday allocation and it has been my very great privilege to visit a number of friends in all manner of locations down the years. Reconvening with my great schoolmate Jonnie Welford in Guatemala has long been an ambition of mine, as has my intention to garner a better understanding of his work with the Nicodemus Trust.
My recent trip to Central America did not disappoint on either front as I spent a truly memorable week with my friend, combining a thorough catch up, a spot of tourism and a first hand exploration of the difficulties facing certain fragments of Guatemalan society, and the phenomenally productive work being done to remedy these issues by the Nicodemus Trust and its associates. Our first project visit was to a house offering temporary residence to young men in Chimaltenango who are part of the 'Young Adults with Purpose in Guatemala' movement, run brilliantly and lovingly by Ruben and Reina. Jonnie and I joined three of their residents in a five-a-side football match and I am pleased to report a convincing victory!
The next day we visited a school for children from under-privileged families in the same town, many of whom are put to work on the local rubbish dump with next to no sanitation. Thanks to the work of Luis, Vanessa and their staff, children are able to escape this incredibly challenging environment for a few hours each day and better their chances of a more prosperous future. We then spent a great afternoon with the residents of 'My Special Treasure', a home for girls aged 7-20, expertly led by Cesar and his wife Carol, and ably assisted by Magdelena. We enjoyed more football, and even managed a 'Spanglish singalong', incorporating a guitar and some quick-to-learn songs in our respective languages.
My visit finished in Guatemala City, where we accompanied Cesar and Carlos of 'Time of Rescue'. Their unique operation involves visiting a great number of young people living in appalling conditions, providing the kind of care and attention that cannot exist in donations alone. We spent some time with a group of four homeless youngsters - one of whom, aged 16, is days away from giving birth to her first child - and once more used music to connect, drumming along to Memfi's exceptional rapping and helping Kimberley to master some guitar chords. At the same time, Cesar and Carlos were clipping toenails, cleaning feet and distributing new socks, small yet essential comforts that would otherwise be overlooked. Throughout my time with all of these young people, I was struck by their fundamental similarity to myself and all those with whom I come into regular contact in my daily life. A series of utterly appalling occurrences and backgrounds have propelled them through very difficult childhoods, thoroughly different to my own. I have learnt however, that different should certainly not be disregarded as far-removed.
Issues of physical and sexual abuse, under-nourishment and neglect are all too often misrepresented in the media, either rendered faceless by statistics or somewhat dramatised by hard-hitting, albeit well-intentioned, advertisements. Regrettably, I had felt my own sensitivity numbed, and it was through meeting the affected individuals, without numbers or added effect, that I was reminded of the lottery of birth. * Born into and afforded a background of privilege, it will take considerable misfortune for my own life to develop unfavourably. Born into and neglected in a background of poverty, it will take considerable fortune for these youngsters' lives to develop favourably. Thank goodness therefore, that people like Ruben, Reina, Luis, Vanessa, Cesar, Carol, Magdalena, Cesar, Carlos and Jonnie are prepared to devote their careers to redressing this imbalance in a country where many children remain unregistered and thereby receive no social welfare whatsoever. I look forward to raising awareness and building a connection with my pupils in the UK, and sharing my newly discovered appreciation of the overused and under-appreciated turn of phrase: 'there but for the grace of God go I'.