For those of you who follow me on Facebook, this is the exciting news that I was talking about 3 weeks ago...and never got around to writing about. Sorry, but here it is. For those of you who get the church bulletin, you've already seen most of this; although the wording might vary a bit.
The opportunity has come up that I could start arranging mission groups to travel to Solola from the United States (or wherever) to work with the same area in which Camilo Tuy and his wife, Cristina, serve. This seems to be a long awaited answer to prayer as they approached me on day 407, and, as you can see, we are now on day 627. Admittedly, this has been in the working stages for about 25 days now...so for sentimental reasons, we can say day 607. For 200 days, help for this community has been in my prayers. How and when were questions not yet answered.
The answer came to me one day as my mother was signing up for this year's Now is the Time mission. When Shawn Smith originally started taking mission groups to Guatemala in 2007, they were smallish groups made up of people he had met on his travels. He knew each of those people by name and asked them specifically to come and serve with him. And sure, some word got out as people asked their best friend or relative to go with them, but there was always room for everyone. Everyone had an even shot at going.
As the years have progressed, people who came once have gone back and gathered a group from their congregation, fundraising together. Because of this, Shawn feels a certain necessity to allow these groups first dibs. I could be wrong, but I see it like this: these are groups which want to come and make a difference but have no way of setting up lodging, transportation, and finding a place to work. So, they take advantage of the fact that there is already something set up for this...but they also take spots away from people who want to go on a mission trip and have no one else to go with. The idea is not to take away from what he does. I know the groups which already go with him enjoy the places that they work, and Shawn knows the community leaders in these places. So, in a way, I'm looking for completely new groups of people. Anyway, I'm diverging from my original thoughts that I wrote down for the church bulletin (or perhaps elaborating on them as I only get one page there).
Camilo and Cristina have 5 sons: Ismael, Silvestre, Josue, Edgar, and Jhonotan. Edgar is the one I have spoken about a lot in this journal as we have a lot in common (a love of travel, degrees in religion, passion for languages, and board games); however today I'm going to talk about the oldest brother, Ismael. Ismael is part of the community council in Los Encuentros. (Think "town council" in a place that is too spread out to be considered a town but too populatively significant to be ignored. Yes, I made up the word "populatively" right now.) His parents had asked for professionals to come and train their people, but that was a nearly impossible request. I haven't rejected the possibility of it happening, but I wanted some way to help them now. I asked Camilo about the possibility of groups coming to do projects in the community. Unfortunately, he didn't understand me all that well; so he asked Ismael to speak with me. Once Ismael understood what I was requesting, he got excited. He started making out a list of projects which the council has asked the government to do something about (and to which the government has replied that they don't have the funds to invest in a place so irrelevant). This list is not extremely pricey or complicated, but the main "problem" I see with it is that much of it will affect the lives of individual families for the better and it will respect and value the traditions of the indigenous people. (Edit: I should clarify that this is not a problem for me or the people. I put it in quotation marks because there is still a very strong discrimination in Guatemala against the indigenous people. The place isn't irrelevant; it's just indigenous. Remember that there are people in this area who don't speak Spanish.)
Here, I will present Ismael's list.
1) 250 pilas--This is a type of sink that I have raved about probably every 2 months or so (if not here, then on Facebook). It is basically your utility sink which you might have shoved away in your laundry room, basement, or mud room. Here, they are the center of the home where all clothes, food, and dishes washing is done. In typical good homes, it is one of three places where there is running water, the other two being the toilet and the shower. In the pila, there are three spaces. Two shallow ones for washing clothes and dishes and one deep one which the family will typically fill every day and use as their supply of water for the day. In the plan of the community council, the pilas will be built in the homes (instead of being pre-fab like many are). It would take a bit more work, but it would also ensure that the pilas are used for their intended purposes.
2) 250 letrines--Change that first e to an a and you'll understand what we're talking about here. These people need some place to go to the bathroom. The style of most homes in Guatemala is a big fence around the property and then various small buildings on the property, including an outhouse. If you need more information about this, you can consult the video I did while visiting Caserio el Paraiso (one of the many communities affected by this community council); their bathroom is near the end of the video.
3) Reparacion del techo de una escuela o pintar de escuela--Agatha hit this area pretty hard. The roof and paint on the school got pretty battered from the weather. Paint isn't a BIG deal, although it does add one extra layer of insulation and protection; however a roof full of holes isn't conducive to having class and keeping students and materials safe and dry. (And a nice paint job cheers up the school's appearance too.)
4) Donation of school computers--There is actually a non-profit here in Guatemala which does this sort of work. I'm going to see if I can get them connected. But if the roof leaks...
5) Centro de Convergencia--This is basically a medical center. It has the same paint and roof problems as the school. It's also missing basic supplies such as a scale. Ismael told me about how the last time they wanted to check the children for health, they used a butchers hook with a meat scale and a sling for the children to sit in. It works. It's not highly accurate. And, well, it's a child hanging from a meat hook...
6) Construccion de gallinero--chicken coops. Who wouldn't want to ensure that a child has a meal of eggs every morning before leaving for school? Instead, these children often go to school hungry or perhaps with a few pieces of bread. (Note: Protein is better for learning and retaining information than carbs are...especially when it's white bread with nearly no nutritional content.)
7) Toldos--These are essentially tents, the type you might use for an outdoor party/reception with the fold down sides. They can use these as emergency housing. Unfortunately, I spent most of Ismael's explanation trying to figure out what a toldo was (and didn't really get it until I came home and googled a picture on the internet).
In addition to the written list, there was also a drawn list and one other item which sort of goes under "basic supplies" for the health center but not entirely.
8) Stone pavers--the roads are really bad where they are at and it is difficult on vehicles and people. Some stone pavers would help both...including the people who don't have shoes and must walk barefoot.
9) Moving a well--also something I'm going to talk to a group here in Guatemala about. The well they have now is currently infected. Clean drinking water is hard to come by in Guatemala. The well is too close to a polluted river. They hope by moving the well 400 meters (yards, roughly...or 1200-ish feet) further from the river that the water will be cleaner.
10) A vehicle for the medical center--Sometimes someone comes to the health center with a problem bigger than the, uh, person there can handle. Sometimes a hospital is necessary. The nearest hospital is an hour away. The nearest ambulance is about 45 minutes away. If the health center had its own vehicle, anyone who was gravely ill could be more rapidly transported to the hospital.
Anyway, while it is big news it is also very exciting news. I know I have a lot to learn, and I would continue to teach English for as long as it is required of me, but I am VERY excited to be helping out a community which has been planted so firmly in my path. What I need help with is finding groups of people--churches, schools, other groups, families(?)--which would be interested in doing something like this. I'm not really sure where to find them, but I believe they will come. I also have some more planning to do on my own end, but the plan is really just to facilitate in finding acceptable communities: communities with a genuine need for help, with a council (elected by general vote, popular vote, or open to anyone), with tangible projects to better the lives of the people.
If you know of or are a group of people who may be interested in coming to Guatemala to do mission/service work, please get in contact with me. All comments on this journal are screened and not automatically visible. If you're a prayerful person, please keep all this in your prayers.