Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

18th—25th January 2007

The theme for the week was ‘Breaking the Silence’ based on the passage “He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”  Mark Ch 7 v 37

Prayer meetings, of about 12 people, took place at St.Andrew’s church led by a different person each day.

A United Service was held at St.Peter’s Church in Wrecclesham based on the theme ‘Breaking the silence’.  A good number of people were in the congregation.  The service included two very interesting talks;

  • One on a project - “Toybox” — with street children in Guatemala.
  • The second on a project with deaf children in Honduras.

See reports below.

“Toybox” — Let the street children live!

Every day, Toybox offers hope and opportunities to hundreds of street children and children at high risk in Latin America, helping them fulfil their dreams.

They called me a street child but nobody asked me why.”  These are the words on the grave of a street child, Ruben (12), killed by a policeman whilst he slept in a shop doorway.  Why?  Violence, poverty, natural disasters, economic turmoil, political instability and the legacy of civil war are robbing children in Latin America of their childhood and in cases like Ruben’s, sending many to an early grave and leaving others to survive a living hell.

Street children stay alive by their wits, stealing and scavenging, begging and sleeping rough in parks, shop doorways and on dumps.  Many survive through prostitution.  They are often called the ‘disponibles’ - the disposable ones.  Statistics vary widely but the United Nations estimates there are 40 million street children in Latin America.


But Toybox believes that every child needs the opportunity to experience life in all its fullness.

Pioneered in 1992 in response to a BBC ‘Everyman’ Documentary, ‘They shoot children, don’t they’, Toybox is a growing response to the injustice faced by street children in Latin America.  Based in the UK and funded entirely by voluntary donations, we work in partnership with indigenous organisations to help the people of Latin America offer a future to their children.

We focus our efforts on street children who have no home at all and on those at highest risk.  They are survivors of injustice, natural disaster and personal tragedy.

Some hope for a hot meal, a shower and some clean clothes.  Others hope for a family and a home.  For others, the dream is to play for a football team, or to go to school for the first time or to learn a trade.

Meet Aury, a living example of how God can truly transform lives.  After being rescued from a terrible situation with no hope, Aury went on to livein one of our girls homes for the past 6 years.  Over these years she did really well at school and blossomed in the loving family environment of Shalom home for girls.  She expressed an interest in nursing, and so for the last couple of years she has been training.  Just in December 2006, Aury graduated from her nursing course.  Andy Stockbridge, Toybox Chief Executive, was privileged to be at Aury’s graduation.  He described how he watched this once very shy young lady walk confidently on stage to collect her certificate.  Aury’s “Toybox” family from the home where she lived, as well as actual relatives with whom she has now been able to be reunited, surrounded her with hugs, kisses and cheers with tears of joy.  Aury has done so well and we are all so proud of her.  Now, she has ‘made it’ and moved on to build a life of her own as a young person with a real future.

Whatever their dream, Toybox aims to listen to them and make their voices heard.  We raise awareness of their plight.  We are working to bring their interests to the attention of decision-makers.  And we respond to the needs of the children now...

We give them the opportunity to leave the street.  We offer practical help, friendship, training, education and homes, as appropriate.  We find them and help them when they first become homeless which is when they are at highest risk.

“The happiest day of my life was when I moved into a home.  I have everything I ever wanted to be able to carry on my life.”  Maria, 15, Guatemala, for whom we have provided a home.

Toybox is based on caring Christian principles but we help all children who need our support, regardless of faith.  We help our Latin American partner organisations to become sustainable.

“I wish my little brother had someone to care for him” ...  “I wish I could become a professional office worker and help my family” ...  “I wish I could be safe”  These are the real dreams of real children we are working with, in need of our help.

What can you do to help?

The most important thing you can do is pray.

We believe in the power of prayer and have seen God’s hand at work in the lives of the children.  We also run a child sponsorship scheme where for £18 a month you can have a personal link with a child we support, knowing that you are helping to make a difference to their lives.

You might want to get involved by volunteering for Toybox.  For more information on all of the above, why not take a look at our website www.toybox.org

Projects in Honduras

School for Deaf Children

The school for deaf Children in Honduras is the only one that caters for children from 5—20.  There is new government school that takes children 5—11.  There are about 70 children in the school but attendance rate is poor.  You can only go to school if you live in the capital or have a friend or family in the capital that can look after you.  Honduras has always been a poor country but the situation was made worse by the terrible mud slides and the floods they experienced in 1998.  You might remember the terrible pictures we saw on the TV of children being dug out of the mud.  They are only now getting things back together.

The school was founded by an Honduran married to an American, they had a deaf child.  It was after a visit to Honduras that she realised that there were no facilities for teaching deaf children in the country and she was instructed by God in a dream to start a school.  There is a very high incidence of deaf and blind children due to poor ante natal care and due to childhood illnesses.

The school exists by charity funding, mostly given by the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches in America.  When there is money there are 5 teachers, otherwise the teacher pupil ratio is very high.

The building is sound but the sanitation is poor, there is no playground or dinning room etc.

As a volunteer, I had no set role and was told by the organisation I went with to be adaptable.  So you can imagine my horror when on the first day I was given a long pointer, a whiteboard marker and told teach sign language and Spanish.  It’s amazing what you can do when pushed!  I had the class of about 10 children on my own for 2 weeks.  Then another teacher was employed who did not know sign language either, so we learnt together.

None of the children have hearing aids; only 2 in the whole school had some hearing and about 5 had the ability to lip read.

The school day starts at 7:30 with prayers and bible readings.  Then from 8—9:30 it is Spanish and sign language.  9:30 it is a break for breakfast; many of these children leave home very early in the morning to get to school on time.  Some children have a tortillas, cold egg and beans, others have a bowl of cornflakes and the poorest have nothing.  From 10—12 it is maths.  Then a break for lunch.  For many this will be the only decent meal they get in a day.  It can just be a bowl of Yucca soup, chicken and rice (mostly rice) or tortillas, beans etc.  In the main, they have a very repetitive vegetarian diet.  School starts again in the afternoon with prayers.  The younger children go home and the older ones stay on to learn a skill.  As in most 3rd world countries, if you have a disability, you are left on the scrap heap.  The school tries to give the children a skill that will earn them a few pesetas to live on.  The boys learn carpentry, tailoring, pressing and the girls, hairdressing, manicure, pedicure and general sewing.  A volunteer who goes to the school must have one of these skills and mine was sewing.  The equipment is basic and facilities very limited for example the hairdressing salon has no running water, no drainage and only one point for a hair dryer - not very satisfactory when you are trying to teach 8 girls.

Although each child has a pencil, exercise book and text book, there were no stimulating games or toys to encourage the children to learn.  It was very difficult to understand why a child of 12 could not write their name or count to 10 but, if you have only just started school and have not been previous encouraged, it is hardly surprising.  So with some of the money I took with me I brought very easy jig-saws to try and help them understand numbers.  I also set up a fund so that the 4 poorest children could attend school every day for a year.  Transport is very cheap, but most families only have 1 parent - the men seem to do a disappearing act - and menial jobs are extremely poorly paid.  A person working in a big shop will only earn about £70 a month.  Many of the mums work on street corners preparing fruit to sell.

Friday mornings are exercise, football and basket ball.  The teacher who takes them is the Chairman of the Para Olympic Committee for Honduras and head teacher of the school for blind children and director of a home for disabled people, a fantastic person.  He takes blind and deaf children running on marathons and has to scrounge the money needed from friends etc to pay their expenses.  He is permanently broke as he pays out so much for these children.  So I gave him money towards their expenses.

Milo had us helping at a marathon; it is amazing how the deaf children had the blind children on a bit of string so that they could run.  At the end of the run, all the children were given a very basic bowl of soup but there was nothing for us or the 2 mums who had come along.  Kate (the other volunteer) and I offered to buy the mums lunch and after much persuading they agreed.  Lunch was a couple of tortillas, kidney beans, fried banana and a minute piece of steak.  The mums put the steak and tortillas in their bags, when we asked why they said they would give it to their sons for their supper that night.  We also offered to buy them a beer, but they turned that down as it would cost nearly as much as they earned in a week - how humble that made us feel.

Many families out of the city still live in homes made of adobe bricks (mud and straw) with no glass at the windows and mud floors.  They cook over wood fires and the toilets are just a hole down the garden.

This left me with about £900.  I would have put more into the deaf school to improve the facilities, but the founder is hoping to have a purpose-built boarding school.  She has the land and is waiting for planning permission.  Then she will have to wait for the hand of God to find the money.  What the children needed most was stimulation, more exciting toys, puzzles etc.  I couldn't source them there, so I have friends who live part of the year in Spain and they are going to get me some for when I next go back.

Save the Children

The Director of Save the Children found out that I had this pot of money and he took me to a school right down on the Pacific coast that 2 years previously had lost its roof in a storm and the government refused to repair it.  This meant 70 children all had to share 1 classroom.  The centre wall had fallen down in the rainy season; the plaster was beginning to fall off the walls etc.  Save the Children believe that if they fund a project the people benefiting must do the work.  So I left the money there - rather nervously.  With this money they have built a new storm proof roof, rebuilt the dividing wall, tiled both classroom floors built a shaded area for the children to sit and a new path to the school.  I have received from them a large wad of invoices for every penny they spent.  So that was very rewarding.  I have also received the final photos of the repaired school but unfortunately they are not on this presentation, but they are in my photo album.

Future Plans

I plan to return in October for another month.  I will go back to the deaf school and Save the Children are looking for another project probably up in the hills where they are still rebuilding whole villages that were destroyed in 98.

Maureen Grew