Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mission Moment: November

Reminder: Mission Moments are the articles I write for my church newsletter back in the US; however, some content may vary slightly based on what I do or do not want publicly available on the internet and on being time-relevant as I write these articles about 2 weeks before they are published. October was a difficult month emotionally on both a personal and a professional level.  After six years in Guatemala, I attended my first funeral (the older brother of a student); two days later, I attended my second (a family member).  The second funeral caused me to delay my visits with interviewing new families by a day.

These visits were in a community where I had lived previously.  We conducted the visits over two days (and still have about three families to visit who had scheduling problems the days we were doing the visits), and the second day we got up into the part of town where I used to live; it was a little entertaining watching the shift go from “Hi, Zoila” (my community leader) to “Hi, Annalisa.”  That was probably one of the few “fun” spots in the two days.  While there’s something enjoyable and beautiful about meeting new families and hearing their stories (when they want to share), the stories are, for the most part, quite sad.

Zoila didn’t go easy on me either.  The first family we visited was probably the hardest one to hear.  It was a young woman who just wanted someone to love her for her, owes thousands of quetzales in debt she accrued getting medical services when her second child was born with a seizure problem (which he no longer has), and is now three months pregnant with her third child by a third man (who is out of the picture because her mother ran him off).  Her life has been threatened on multiple occasions as well as those of her children because she can't pay the debt.  Her house is just a few sheets of metal nailed to some wooden posts, and she hangs a sheet where a door should be; the rain comes in between her roof and wall in the rainy season.  (Fortunately for her, the rainy season decided to end a little early this year.)  She believes that her second child was born with the problems he had because she didn’t have proper care while pregnant with him.  When we passed through the next day, I brought her pre-natal vitamins and a vitamin-protein powder that is common here.

Many of the families I visited had children who had studied in the past and would like to go back to school but their family doesn’t have the money.  One which has me thinking a lot is a family where the woman’s husband left her to go to the United States.  He’s there now and no longer calls her or sends her money to help support their children (which, according to the Guatemalans, is the entire reason they go).  The woman’s brother has stepped up to take the financial responsibilities of father.  He quit his own educational goals to make sure she has everything.  However, without an education himself, he weaves to earn money.  While weaving can be quite lucrative, it’s very taxing on the body and is becoming less lucrative as machines try to imitate the weaving style of the artisans. I think I want to send him back to school as well.  I haven’t done something like that before with someone who is grown, but that doesn’t mean I can’t.

The school year is coming to a close here in Guatemala, and I’ll probably have gone out to Solola again before this article is published.  I’m excited to see how the school year went but a little nervous to find out which 6th graders will be pulled out of school because their parents are afraid to trust me and the project.  Manuel and I have talked about having a private meeting with all the students who are finishing 6th grade to see if we can keep them in school.  I don’t like going behind the parents’ backs, but Manuel is the one who suggested it, and since he knows his community, if he suggested it, I’ll be on board with it.

Wendy probably won’t be going back to school next year as her mother’s health continues to be poor.  Mercedes is now 18, and Manuel is going to see if she wants to go back to school as she no longer needs anyone’s permission to do so.

Everyone has a story.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Visiting New Families: Day 2,187

Tuesday and Wednesday, I went with Zoila (the community leader in a new village) to meet families for inclusion in the program.  You never know who you're going to meet or what they're going to say, and this was no exception.

Zoila started me off with a real doozy.  The woman is a single mother.  Her commonlaw husband (with whom she has one daughter) was abusive and a drunkard; so she left him, taking the girl with her.  She was determined to find someone who would love her for her.  Eventually, she met another fellow, and they started going out.  Before long, she decided that he loved her, they had sex (once), and she got pregnant.  The man, insisting that you can't get pregnant from having sex once, decided that she had been cheating on him and sleeping around; so he left her.  She was depressed and didn't take care of herself during the pregnancy, and when the baby was born, he had a lot of seizure problems.  The woman didn't have money to buy medication, and the baby's father didn't accept that the child was his and therefore didn't give any financial support; so she borrowed money to pay for the medication.  The boy is now 2 and no longer has seizures, but she still owes the money.  And in the midst of being broke and having two children, she did apparently find a fellow who loved her for her and took him as her new commonlaw husband.  But the woman's mother decided to run the fellow off...a week before she found out she was pregnant again, and she has no way of contacting him to let him know he's going to be a father.  So, single mom of three, thousands of quetzals in debt, who can't get a job because no one will hire a pregnant woman and is receiving death threats for her and her children because she can't pay off what she owes; she's depressed about her current pregnancy and not taking care of herself, doing hard labor in the fields because it's the only job she can get.

I mean, we could have just stopped my work day right there.  Some people have mentally tiring jobs.  Some people have physically tiring jobs.  I have an emotionally tiring job.  We saw 7 other families that day--none quite as difficult as this one--and afterward I came home and slept for 2 hours.

Since I had to go back the next day, I took her some prenatal vitamins and some Incaparina (a vitamin-protein powder that is common here) before heading out to meet 6 more families.  In Educacion con Esperanza, I tend to not gift anything (outside of Christmas every year) because I don't want to create a culture of dependency.  However, there is a proper time and place for emergency aid, and I think a broke woman with hardly enough to eat who is depressed and creating a tiny human is an obvious recipient for emergency aid.  Once the baby is born, there will be time for other conversation and working to make ends meet, but for now, she just needs to be healthy.

I was talking to a friend of mine who makes cloth menstrual pads, and she thinks that's an employment which would be good for these women who can't find jobs elsewhere.  Sure, they can weave, but that market is pretty flooded around here.  I have another friend who grows loofahs, and she has mentioned the idea of loofah farming; however, that would only be a sure plan for the families that own their own land.

It's all a lot to think about.  As I continue digesting all of this, I'll share more stories with you from my visits.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Logos and Funerals: Day 2,180

Apparently, my day count was off by A LOT!  So, now it is fixed.  But the short version is that I complete 6 years here in less than 2 weeks.

So, after nearly 6 years, I've decided I should probably get important things like business cards which means having a logo which means making a logo which means designing a logo.  And since I'm not very good at drawing what I see in my head, I talked to an old high school friend about it.  I haven't heard back from her (but she wasn't optimistic that she'd be able to do it from where she's at anyway).  Today I saw an ad for someone who is here in Guatemala doing graphic design, and that's probably the more economic way of doing this anyway since living costs are lower here.  I sent her a message and she's optimistic about the project...and gave me a quote at the very maximum of what I can pay and still eat this month.  I might save half the money this month and then have her do it next month if I can't find anything more in the budget.

Also after nearly 6 years, I attended my first funeral in Guatemala yesterday.  I didn't know the young man (age 23) very well, but I taught his younger sister English for a few years, and she asked me to be there.  So, I went.  The funeral was 4 hours long, but it felt good to show up and support people going through the completely unexpected event of burying their son.  I was really nervous about going because I had never been to a funeral before, but fortunately (perhaps?) the young man who died was good friends with a young man who is associated with our family, and the deceased's family had asked him to be one of the people who carries the coffin; so, I attended the funeral with him and made the entire situation easier on both of us.


And then this morning my handsomer half called me to inform me that his uncle has passed away.  If he can get off work, we'll be attending that funeral as well; so I guess it's a good thing I got some practice going to funerals. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mission Moment: October

I often get people who ask what I do here in Guatemala, and after explaining it to them, they often want to know if I can come to my project in their area.  So, a friend of mine who does fundraising for a lot of different projects sat down with me the other day and we crunched some numbers.  We learned that it currently only requires $250/month to add another location to the project; this amount may go up in the future if students start going to the university--but there are free universities in Guatemala if you’re good enough to get in--or saving their points to buy more expensive items as the point-money ratio is on a curve.
This provides school supplies to approximately 25 school children and food staples for 10-12 families, roughly 80 people.  Depending on the community leader and his or her level of initiative, this also provides secular and religious workshops for both parents and children.  For those of you who aren’t aware of how the program works, the students attend their normal community schools where they are given number grades starting in first grade.  Those number grades are then translated into program points which they can use much like money to purchase things from the program.  In Guatemala, a student needs to have an average of 60 in each class to pass the school year.  Because we know that accidents can happen, we push the kids to have a 70 in each class just in case that last marking period is a bad one.  (If they finish the school year with less than a 60 in 1-2 classes, they can take another test covering all of the material in that course from the whole school year.  If they have less than 60 in three or more classes, they have to repeat the school year.)  However, to earn a point, students have to get at least a 77-79 in a class; that lower range is a little flexible just because some kids just need to feel like they’ve accomplished something.  If they earn an 88, they receive 2 point in that class, and if they earn a 97, they get three points.  So, they’re actually earning the points which they use to buy the dry goods or shoes or school supplies or whatever else they choose to purchase through the program.

That being said, we’re hoping to add not one, but two, new communities next year.  Perhaps it’s a little optimistic, but as we’re not currently using all of our monthly funds, we do have some savings to hold us through until we get the ball rolling.  Even some Guatemalans have approached me asking how they can donate.  We’re planning on re-adding the other community I was working with in Solola the first year and perhaps adding a location in the town where I was living up until recently.  It’s all very exciting and I’m so glad that I can share this with you!

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Villages: Day 2,222

Our waiting list is currently at five.  That's not five families, that's five communities, and there are more who would probably be interested in joining if they were aware we existed...and there are probably more who I would present it to if I knew they existed.  So, while I've been adamant about adding no more than one new community per year, I'm thinking about maybe adding two in 2017.

The main reason why I've been interested in only adding one is quite simple: it takes time and energy to build a relationship with a new community.  Trust is not something easily built in this country.  Their government says they will change things for the poor, but no change ever comes.  Foreigners come and then go back to their country, forgetting all about the people they've met.  So, when I say that I am going to do something, they don't believe me.  It puts an emotional strain on a person as I struggle to learn names and familial connections in an effort to prove to these people that I am who I say I am.  Currently, Educacion con Esperanza serves 11 families with 24 children in school, but because we work for the economy of the entire family, it can be said that we serve 80 people, half of those either in school or pre-school.  But let's stop with those numbers for now because I don't want any of them to become just a number.

However, numbers are the other reason why I've hesitated to add even one more community.  This sort of work takes money, and I haven't started a 501c3 (NGO).  Why?  Well, because I don't know how to.  And I read things online and it says to fill out this form or that form and, quite frankly, it all sounds really difficult to do from here and really time-consuming to do from there.  But I did some number running the other day.  To support the village where I'm working right now, I require $3,000/year.  Yes, that's food, school supplies, and bills for 80 people.  (That's only $250/month.)  Obviously, that can vary based on the enthusiasm of the students for their studies, and the bulk of that is needed in January when the school year starts.  However, after doing that math, I felt a lot better about adding one community this coming year...and then I felt a lot better about adding two communities this coming year.

Do you have $10 you could spare per month?  Do you have 24 friends who could spare $10 per month as well?  You could adopt a community.  You could make life better for about 80 people.  You could send about 24 students to school.  Be on the lookout later this month for an online campaign to raise the money to send a community to school.  Or, if you prefer a paper version, I can get you the address of my sending church and you can mail them a check.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

These are a Few of my Least Favorite Things: Day 2,217

So, I headed out to Solola on Thursday afternoon.  It was to be an overnight trip.  I don't do a lot of those just because I like sleeping in my own bed with as many blankets as I want and the bathroom all to myself.  I also like having a door on my bedroom so teenagers don't accidentally come barging through the curtain to get their own clothing out of the wardrobe while I'm changing, but maybe that's just me.

On Thursday, Manuel and I talked about the meeting the following morning with the mayor.  Manuel had called him on Monday to set it up.  And while I don't prefer mornings as that means we have our normal meeting with the families in the afternoon, I figured that it might be okay just this once as the mayor and I have been trying to get together since February or March; if there was a set meeting with him, I was going to be there.  We also went to get many of the food staples we would be distributing the next day, and his kids helped us divide them up into 2- and 3-pound bags.

So Friday morning arrived.  We ate breakfast and headed out early to make sure we were on time for the mayor.  We got to the municipal building and...the mayor wouldn't be in.  So, between the options of twiddling our thumbs until our meeting with the families at 1 and meeting with the vice mayor, we opted to meet with the vice mayor.  Now, since we're not actually affiliated with the government, the vice mayor really had no reason to know who I was or why I was in his office.  He sure pretended to know why I was there, but some of the things he said made it obvious that he had no clue what I was about.  It was probably the most unproductive meeting I have had in my life...and it's certainly the most unproductive one I've had in recent memory.  (At least Manuel had a chance to share about the project with some community leaders seated behind us in the waiting area; that felt productive.)  If the mayor still wants to meet with me, he's going to have to come to me...or at least to one of our meetings with the families.

After that, Manuel apparently had set up another meeting without telling me anything about it; needless to say, I felt a little awkward.  There is an "obras sociales" office in Solola that he's apparently connected with.  They don't know much of what I do either, but at least they were a little more interested in listening instead of taking over.  They only opened their office in March, but they help the poorest of Solola find the help they need.  I was quite impressed.  They asked if they might use me in case they need to go to the US embassy; I don't know how much help I'd be, but I told them that if I could help, I would.

Then we went over to the bank to withdraw some money out to buy the beans (and to pay Manuel back for some of the stuff we had bought the day before) before heading back to his house to eat lunch.  His wife is a good cook with the ingredients she has.  We had time to put the beans in bags before we ate, and we even got the stuff packed in the back seat of the truck.  That was good as it started pouring while we ate lunch.

Fortunately, Santa (the woman whose house we meet at) has a large enough kitchen building that we all fit inside.  Little Maria Isabel's grades didn't improve, but the teacher got more creative at marking her report card.  Another little boy's grades tanked, and I'm not sure what's going on there; his teacher apparently said that he doesn't understand anything (after two semesters of understanding a lot?).  He could still pass.  We ran out of sugar and soap.  Two families are still in the negative, but one has a child not yet in school (and is guaranteed to get out of the negative next trip) and the other family has a child whose grades weren't out yet and usually earns at least 7 points; so I expect them to be out as well.  I offered to let them buy a few things because I don't want anyone going hungry.  One family turned me down; the other family bought a few pounds of beans.  There's a saying in Guatemala that if more people show up to eat than you had planned on, you just put more water in the beans.  I'm curious how long that family can make those few pounds of beans last.

I don't often let families go into negative points, but I do if I feel that spending the points which put them in the negative is more important than not spending those points.  I also have a limit of sorts.  It's a rough calculation based on how many points the family normally earns coupled with any guaranteed point earners (kids under school age, special needs kids).

Chickens (good for both eggs and meat) and fruit trees (avocado, plum, apple, and limon) are in the plans to add to the point catalog for next year, at least in the Solola area, but that's a potential update for sometime later this month.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Language Thoughts: Day 2,216

So, I realized that I haven't posted a normal update here in a while.  I kind of let my "Mission Moments" cover the bulk of what is going on with the project and little updates over on the Facebook page have helped some of you stay up to date as well.  (If you are on Facebook and haven't "liked" our page, I invite you to do so!  I'll try to do better about keeping the blog up to date, but the Facebook page is just so handy for quick little updates.)  I did take a trip out to Solola last week, but I'll write about that in another post.

This post is about language.  I sometimes feel like there are four languages going on around me.  First, obviously, Spanish.  Second, English.  The third and fourth are two similar situations: words that were English and are used in Spanish with little to no change and words that were English and are used in Spanish with Spanish pronunciation.

Let's start with the first of those two: words that were in English and are used in Spanish with little to no change.
Examples: e-mail, internet, chat. (Are you sensing a theme?)  Many of these words are based on technology, and rather than inventing a new word for them--okay, sure "correo electronico," but I don't know anyone who uses that; although they might say "correo" since the postal system here is basically non-existent--they simply adopt the word already in popular usage which happens to be in English.  You also see this somewhat in verbs such as textear, but since Spanish verbs have to follow a certain pattern in order to be conjugated (that thing we do in English when it's "I run" but "he runs"), they can't keep there exact English appearance.

With the second, I can only think of one good example right now, but I know I've heard others.  That's chance.  Now, remember, these words are English words but they have been taken to fit Spanish pronunciation.  That word right there in italics is a two-syllable word: Chan-say.  I have no clue how or why this happens.

Now, in the multi-lingual community, there's something called "code switching."  This refers to switching of languages during a conversation.  The rules about it are interesting with plenty of theories by linguists who study this stuff.  (I suggest the Wikipedia article for a thorough overview.)  I don't claim to be a studied linguist, but I have noticed a few things.  Words which retain their same pronunciation can be code switched.  Words which change their pronunciation don't really work with code switching.  I'm not positive why that is, but I have some theories.  First, it could be because any true bilingual knows that "chance" (since it's the only example I can recall right now) is an English word and should therefore be pronounced as such.  Second, it could be because, in Spanish, "chance" doesn't usually use its article ("un," masculine).  In English, I would say "Give me a chance!" but Spanish would simply be "Deme chance!" not "Deme un chance!"

Just some language ramblings.  Hope you are all doing well.