Monday, August 1, 2016

Mission Moment: August

Around December 2014, I went to visit the families in their homes.  This is something I do every November/December for families in the program.  I see their homes, their living conditions, weigh each child and get updated shoe and clothing sizes; I’ve also started taking height measurements.  I remember one visit fairly clearly.  It was the family of one of the widows in our program.  They knew we were coming, but when we got there, only the two school-aged children were there.  Manuel--my community contact and translator--and I chatted with them for a while.  When it was obvious their mother wasn’t going to show up, we gave them their Christmas gifts--cookies and a Bible--and prepared to leave.  For some reason we asked the boy if he could read, and he said no.  I double checked my records; the boy had just finished second grade and couldn’t read the words “Santa Biblia” (“Holy Bible”).  We thought it strange and mentally put some blame on the mother for not being involved in her children’s studies.  To be fair, the kids would skip out on their way to school and spend the day playing; so we felt blaming her was justified.

Fast-forward to June 2016, and we’re looking at the report card of a first-grader in that same village.
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During 4 marking periods, students have to have an average of 60 point in each of their classes.  (If they have below 60 in up to 2 classes, they can take a make-up exam covering material from the entire year; if they have less than 60 in three or more classes, they automatically fail the year.)  So, you can see from the picture why we were concerned about Maria Isabel’s grades.  We asked her mother why she got a 46 in every single class this marking period, and she said that she had asked about that.  We were instantly happy that this mother had at least been proactive about her daughter’s education.  She said that the teacher had “gifted” her daughter these grades because the teacher says that Maria Isabel cannot read or write.  First of all, did you all catch where I said this girl was in first grade?  Isn’t it part of the teacher’s job to teach these kids to read and write?  Maybe it’s slightly different in the US where there’s a higher level of literacy, but since most of the mothers and a few of the fathers in the program are illiterate--and they tend to be a good representation of their communities--it stands to reason that that responsibility would fall 100% on the shoulders of the teacher.  Second of all, did you see that last class?  It’s Physical Education.  Since when does reading and writing have anything to do with how well you can run around cones forward and backward?  How can we set these kids up for success when their own teachers aren’t doing their jobs?  How do I convince a sixth grader (and his or her parents) to continue studying when the educational system has completely failed them?

These are the questions I’m struggling with right now.  We told the mother to take the report card (or copy of it, rather) and talk to the principal, the advisory board, her community leaders, whoever would listen.  If they won’t listen to her (and her husband), then Manuel and I might take it up with the mayor.  We never inquired about these weird grades with Luis (the second-grader) because we assumed it was related to him not going to school half the time, but now I feel like we should have.

In other news, Manuel and I are looking into other possibilities for purchasing food supplies out in the Solola area. I’m also planning on spending about a week and a half with a family out in Solola to study Kaqchikel and coming home for four days and repeating that process until I learn the language.  It may deviate a little from that plan when it is put into implementation, but for now that’s what we’re planning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mission Moment: May

A couple weeks ago, Handsome had some time to accompany me to Solola.  I had been waiting for this because I wanted to take shoes out, and that’s a little difficult on the bus.  So, one morning we loaded two large, plastic totes full of shoes as well as three medium-sized duffel bags into his car and headed out.  I had planned this trip for February, but with our cat getting sick and eventually dying, we were busy with her.  With March ending, I really wanted to do what I said I would do back in February.

The families were happy to see us.  Most of the grades hadn’t come out yet; so many of them had fewer points to spend.  However, I know what the shoes mean to a lot of these kids; as one of the mothers told me the first year, “My son realized that he could earn things with good grades when I brought home the shoes.”  As a result, I allowed some of the families to go into “debt” with their points.  I’m hoping it turns out to be an investment that results in better grades.

In mid-April, I’m hosting a retreat in my house for missionary women who live in this area.  At time time that I’m writing this, it hasn’t happened yet; so I can’t tell you about how it went.  However, it’s put on by a website called Velvet Ashes, a site which ministers to women serving overseas.  This is the first time I’ve participated (and only the second time they’ve offered it online), but I decided to jump in with both feet and host a group.  I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the other missionary women in this area and learn about the work they’ve been called to do.

Language Learning

Your word in Kaqchikel for this month is “xajab” (sha-HAB).  (I don’t think I’ve given you that one before.)  It means “shoe” in English.  In Spanish, it’s “zapato.”  When I ask the kids (or their parents) what size shoe they wear, I say, “Ach kin numer xajab?” (Besides the last word, that’s all phonetically for those of you who are trying to learn Kaqchikel or for those of you who read the newsletter to someone else.)

I have one delightful woman in the program who only speaks to me in Kaqchikel.  Sure, she doesn’t know much Spanish, but she won’t even say “hello” (“hola”) or “goodbye” (“adios”) to me in Spanish.  I find it funny because this woman who has never even gone to school is utilizing one of the best ways to teach a language with me.  If all the rest of my parents would follow suit, I’d probably be fluent in Kaqchikel in no time.

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Some of the mothers looking for the perfect pair

Friday, April 1, 2016

Shoe Crazy: Day 2,089

Yesterday, Handsome and I went out to meet the families.  Most of them don't yet have their first-semester grades--they'll probably come out next week--but it's been about 2 months since I was out there.  I had planned to go in February, but one of our cats became ill--we think it was a spinal tumor--and was eventually put down.  So, Handsome's days off became "deal with cat" days instead of "drive shoes to Solola" days.

Anyway, the families were happy to see me and happy to see the shoes.  There is a rule of "one pair of shoes per person in the family," but I just kept recalling the story of the boy who realized that hard work does have rewards, and I didn't deny them a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of dress shoes.  I took my entire shoe stock out to Solola, and Handsome figures we brought back only 25% of it.  The rule mostly exists so that families don't just buy a lot of shoes and then go and sell them elsewhere for actual money.  Additionally, it takes a long time (and a fair amount of money) to get that many shoes bought and down to Guatemala, and my mother (predominantly) spends a LOT of time trying to get the sizes and styles which are most needed.

Some of the women look through the last remaining shoes in the box



Their purchases will be noted in Annalisa's binder

The crates were donated by one of our good friends at COTA and are very helpful for storing project materials.  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Kiss: Day 2,023

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of yesterday was as the families were leaving.  One of the new boys in the program took my hand and kissed the back of it.  This is a sign of deep respect reserved for the elders of the community.  In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anyone under the age of 65 be the recipient.  I must admit that I typically foster affection with my families which, while not contrary to respect in any way, typically fosters hugs, not hand kissing.  I was very touched that the child thought to do that and quite surprised!  (I'm only 30!)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Saying Hello to 2016: Day 2,022

Yesterday, I headed out to Solola once again.  I had bought school supplies on Saturday and sent them with someone trustworthy going that way.  This time I took my friend Genesis with me; she blogs over at Expat Mom if you want to read her stories of life overseas.

Sunday afternoon was interesting as we went to visit three families for possible inclusion in the program this year.  The first family we visited was a lot further of a walk than we expected, but it wasn't any harder than I had experienced.  The woman's story is that she was living with a man--marriage isn't common out in the areas where I work--and he decided to leave her and their daughter and go illegally to the United States to find work.  He managed to do that...and also find an American woman to marry legally.  He came back to present his new wife to his family before leaving again, and the woman called him out on it saying that he had, at the very least, a daughter to support.  That daughter is now grown and married.
However, about 7 years ago, the woman took up with another fellow and had three children with him.  According to her, he only recognizes the first two children as his own--meaning his name is on their birth certificate--while the baby, who is a year old tomorrow, has no listed father.  This should, in theory, mean that the fellow vanished about a year ago.  The second man was already married, maybe even legally, and decided to go back to his first wife.  The woman says she receives no support from him.
And if all of that were true, then the big screen TV and the sound system wouldn't be such a problem to have found in the house.  However, what we did find were men's shoes and men's clothing, not in a big bag as though she were a clothing vendor, but scattered around in a bedroom and the living room.  Manuel is looking into the situation, but until it can be confirmed by outsiders that the man is gone, has been gone for a while, and is not supporting the family (and that that big-screen plasma TV isn't hooked up to Q150/month or more cable), we cannot take this family into consideration in good conscience.

The second and third families we went to visit were families which we had visited a while back.  However, with one family leaving the area and another family choosing to not send any children to school this year, we had two empty places and I had these two families on my heart.  Mostly our visit was to confirm that they still wanted to be a part of the program, update the information I had on the family, take a new picture of the family (which I lost when my hard drive died last January), and see if they had already bought their school supplies.

We added their school supply lists in with what we still needed to buy (things which had been out of stock when I bought supplies in Antigua the day before), and we headed to Manuel's house for the night where we ate dinner and then divided up the school supplies among the families.  I was reading off the lists while the kids put the different things in the bag.  They all have good educations and are going to good schools; so I decided to start doing the numbers in English.  Then I started doing some of the items in English (glue, scissors, pen, etc); however, one kept tripping them up.  I would say "pencil" and they would hold up a pincel, a paint brush.  We got to bed sometime around 11 pm.

Today we had to buy school supplies for the new families and the supplies I didn't get in Antigua, give out supplies, and meet with the mayor.  I met Andres Iboy (the mayor of Solola) a few years ago during his first term in office.  I had started the program in another part of his municipality; he had heard about it and wanted to know if it could be offered elsewhere.  So, he's always interested in hearing about the project, and in the time I have known him, he has never claimed that Educacion con Esperanza was ever his doing (unlike other politicians I have heard of concerning other organizations).  However, I told Manuel that it would be better to have that meeting after our meeting with the families; we had too much to do beforehand.  So, we went and bought school supplies and headed out to the meeting location.

All of the families were there and waiting for us.  They were all happy to see us.  They were all happy with their school supplies.  And I got a sunburn.  Manuel told them that if the first marking period grades were not adequate that he would start going around to the schools and talking to the teachers.  One mother--whose kids tend to have good grades--wasn't pleased with that; she thinks that if other people start realizing that some families are getting help that all the families will demand to receive help as well.  To some extent, I see her point, but at the same time, why do the neighbors think a white lady visits her family every year?

Near the end of the meeting, Manuel asked me if we were going to stay for lunch.  I asked about the meeting with the mayor; so he called about that.  The mayor wasn't available today, only the vice-mayor.  Since that fellow probably has no clue who I am and probably wouldn't be able to have the conversations we need to have, I said that Genesis and I would head home instead; we both have responsibilities here.  Besides, I already had plans to stop at my very favorite eatery in Chimaltenango for lunch.  So, at the end of the meeting, Manuel dropped us off in Los Encuentros, and we headed for home.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Disappointment and God Reasons: Day 2,004

You might remember that about 2.5 years ago I dealt with a little disappointment concerning moving out to Solola where I thought I'd be more useful; I cannot find that I ever explicitly told you about this, but God had a reason for me to not move, and that was to watch two neighbor boys while their sisters were in school and mother was at work.  (Their grandmother had been watching them, but her son--who lived in another town--got sick; so she went to care for him.)

Right now I feel like I'm going through something similar.  A friend had thought about putting a bakery in one room of our house which was going to help out a lot with the rent; while I was in the States visiting family, she decided not to and didn't tell me.  So, I came back to that.  (She had posted on Facebook, but I hadn't seen it.  Still not a great way to find out.)

So, we talked about what to do with that room, and I had pretty much decided that I would use it as my office.

Today I found out that neither young lady will be coming to study in Antigua next year.  (One isn't going to study at all while the other will only be studying on the weekends in Solola.)  In short, we prepared our house to have two rooms not being used by us in addition to having a guest room...and then neither of those two rooms' intended purposes happened.

However, a friend called looking for a place to stay for a while and occupied my guest room a couple days ago.  And so I need another guest room.  But I have the room that was prepped for the girls.  (Okay, I don't *need* a guest room, but they're useful.)  In short, God knew I would need the space for my friend.  It doesn't really make it less disappointing that Mercedes and Wendy won't continue studying, but at least we didn't prepare the house for nothing.  And, trying to look on the bright side, as I don't have my residency yet, leaving the country in May was going to be difficult while juggling my responsibilities with them.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saying "Goodbye" to 2015: Day 1,985

I am always struck by the generosity of people who have so little.  As I spent yesterday and today visiting my families in their homes, I--and the three people with me: Manuel, his son, and his son's friend--was greeted with anything from a snack to a meal in just about every home.  (At one home today, I finally just had to eat a single tortilla, thank them for their generosity, and tell them I was completely stuffed and couldn't eat anything more.)

We didn't have an end-of-year meeting like we had last year.  Between some personal issues and going to visit my folks, I had over a month that was taken up by non-program stuff.  Which is fine.  We simply asked the questions at the home visits which I do every December.

This time we started our visit with David's family.  David just turned four; so he won't be going to school this year, but he's always happy to see me.  His oldest sister is Wendy, one of the two I was hoping to have come live with me next year to continue her studies as there is no high school in their village.  Due to their mother's poor health--which is, thankfully, improving--the family has decided that Wendy will take a year off from studying on a regular basis.  She will still be taking technology classes on the weekends when her younger sister is home from school.   We all hope that their mother is feeling better next year so Wendy can continue her studies.

Then we went to visit Jesus's family.  (I know that sounds funny from an American standpoint, but it's actually a really common Spanish name.)  He's the father of the family, and their family holds a special place in my memory because when I first met the family, they had just had a litter of kittens, and while I was doing the intake paperwork, one kitten just jumped right up on my leg and made itself comfortable there.  Anyway, he has three children in school.  The eldest, Olga, just finished 6th grade.  I asked her parents if she was going to keep studying, and they said "no."  So, I asked why, and it's mostly a money issue.  When it was explained that the program helps with the costs, the "no" became a "maybe."  We'll see what happens there.

After that, we went to visit the family of Luis and Mercedes, the other young lady I was hoping would come live with me to continue her studies.  Luis failed his technology class and his Spanish class and didn't pass the make-up test for those classes; so he failed 7th grade.  He has decided to not repeat the grade and will be heading back to work in the fields.  For me, this puts a lot of pressure on Mercedes as someone has to care for their little sister Clara (a special needs child) once their parents are gone.  She is a little nervous about studying so far from her family; she feels she will miss them.  She has not given me an answer one way or another, but if she does not continue her studies somewhere, her family will forfeit their place in the program; they have no potential students left.  (If Mercedes were to take a year off and then decide to continue her studies, I would certainly give them a spot; however, she will be 18 in March.  In this culture, that is quite old to be a single female...even if the laws have recently changed.)

Then we went to visit Veronica's family.  Veronica is the girl who failed 2nd grade this year after being sent to live with her paternal grandmother's family.  Her mom tells me she is living at home again and only goes to sleep at her grandmother's house and that she will repeat 2nd grade.  Her younger brother, Adolfo, will be in 3rd grade and another brother in 1st.

Then we went to visit a family who has always weighed heavily on my heart.  You might remember Ismael who, as a 14-year old in 3rd grade, decided to drop out of school because he was embarrassed to be with classmates so much younger.  I can't say I completely blame him.  However, his 12-year old sister just finished 2nd grade this year and has gone to work in the capitol saying she's no longer interested in studying.  Now, those of you in the States and in many other countries with advanced educational systems probably find the second part of what I just said more disturbing than the first part; I assure you that anyone who lives and works in this country is more disturbed by the first part.  At any rate, we're all disturbed together.  Their 10-year old sister just failed 1st grade for the second time.  I suggested maybe they should have her work for a year and let her decide if brain work or manual work is more her style.  Yes, I'm frustrated.  Anyway, Manuel had a talk with the dad and said that as the father of the family, he needed to lay down the rules about who makes decisions in the family about work and study.  So, both the girls are going back to school in 2016.

Then we went to visit the family of Ronaldo.  He will be in 9th grade this year, and that's exciting for me, but it's also a little sad.  Because he is missing a hand, he was allowed to continue studying while his other 4 brothers had to go to work in the field after 6th grade.  This year, his youngest brother will be in 5th grade, and, quite frankly, I'm dreading the family visits the year after next.  Ronaldo really isn't that great of a student unlike his other two brothers who I've had the pleasure of knowing, but his family doesn't think he can do field work.  What his family sees as a weakness is the only thing that has kept him in school, but I think that knowing that his family feels he is less than whole is also what holds him back.  If Maynor--the youngest boy--is taken out of school at the end of 2017, I don't know who will be more crushed: Ronaldo or myself.  It feels like someone has said that Ronaldo's judgement day is coming in exactly 2 years, and I'm helpless to stop it.  I asked the mother if, after working in the fields last year, Efraim would be returning to school, and she said no.  Carmelina, their oldest sister, isn't doing too well either; however, they had lost the contact number for the organization that was helping with her seizure medication.  Fortunately, I still had it in my phone and was able to give it to them; so, hopefully that gets fixed soon.  (That was also the organization that fitted Ronaldo with his prosthetic hand; so maybe that means he can get a new one without having to go all the way to Salama in January.)

Then we went to visit their cousins.  The story is much like the story we heard about Olga in Jesus's house:  Marta Lidia--who earned the most points of any child in the program in 2014--has finished 6th grade, and they're not sure whether to send her to middle school because of the cost.  Also, apparently, Marta is afraid of not being able to finish and making me angry...at which point I yelled--she was outside--"No, this is what's making me angry!"  Of course, it was a joke because I'm not one to get angry.  But if someone is sincerely trying and falls short, I'm completely okay with it.  So, they're going to see if they can get her to go.

After that, we stopped in with our other widow, Maria.  It was a pleasant surprise to meet her eldest daughter, Feliciana.  She was a little shy and didn't want to explain who she was or what she was doing there at first, but after some cajoling--which I tend to think I'm pretty good at--she warmed up to our presence.  She has a wonderful control of Spanish, but then again, her mother's Spanish isn't that bad.  Luis and Griselda had dropped out of school about 3 months in.  I can't say that surprised me much, but it was annoying.  Some days I want to blame them.  Some days I want to blame their mother.  Some days I just want to flop down on the ground and throw a temper tantrum.  If anyone has any better ideas, I'm all for hearing them.  Their youngest sister, Amalia, will also be starting school this year.

Today we went to visit Nicolas's family.  We were concerned he was going to pull his family out of the program.  To be fair, last year was not a good year for them as far as the points were concerned.  They weren't earning enough during the entire year to even pay for their school supplies.  However, the elder daughter has improved her grades significantly, and the middle daughter's grades have stayed about the same.  It was really great to walk up to their house in the drizzle and see that they had constructed a new building with two rooms in it.  When asked if they had received help to build it, Nicolas told us that he had been saving for many years and that with the help from the program to buy food, he'd been able to save a little bit more money and built it during the year.

And then onto the house of Luisa.  You may remember that she got lost in the first year, but then last December I asked Manuel if we could go to her house just to "make sure" that she wasn't interested in the program.  They were interested, but they weren't sure how to get a hold of us.  So, this was their first year actually participating in the program.  The boys were thrilled with their Christmas present.  This year each family got a bag of marbles, some hygiene items, mini candy canes, a pen or two, and some hair ties.  After giving out 8 presents yesterday, I asked Manuel's son if marbles were popular here, and he assured me that they are.  Edgar and Cristian definitely confirmed that.  "BOLICHES!  MAMA, MIRA!  BOLICHES!!"  (They're called "cincos" where I live, but also during last night's conversation, I was informed of other potential names for them.)
Luisa confirmed that her neighbors who were also in the program have moved the entire family to the capitol, and then she mentioned another neighbor, a single woman who unknowingly got involved with a married guy, had three kids by him, and then had him go back to his "real" family.  So, we might go visit her at some point during the year and consider her for inclusion in the program.