Yesterday was a big day for me. Yesterday was a big day for a lot of people.
Some of you may remember Juana. In case you don't feel like viewing the YouTube video, she's a mother of 7 (all boys) whose husband abandoned them all. The oldest two boys--still minors--work to help support their family. I took Juana's story back to Michigan with me, along with some of the crafts that she and her sons make. This story, through a really strange route, made its way to a woman named Christina. Christina is a mother of 8 whose husband is very much in the picture. And Juana's story touched Christina's heart. So many people want to help and don't know how, but Christina took a step and asked me what could be done.
In the year and a half since I met Juana de Leon and her family, their condition has worsened. Their roof had significant leaks. They had no bed. (The bed in the video is reportedly just a few elevated planks which they were sleeping on.) They had no money to celebrate Christmas (until I returned in late November with some money from items which had been sold). It seems as though only two of her children are in school this year. The oldest one of the five who I met on my last trip has a large open sore on one of his hands. In fact, none of the three boys who were present at the house when we arrived yesterday seemed to have grown an inch. (We can probably attribute that to some low-level of malnutrition. The boys don't look malnourished, but they aren't growing. And considering that the three who we saw were aged 13, 10, and 5, they should have grown in a year and a half.) And, perhaps worst of all, a large crack has formed in the side of their adobe house. (It is slightly visible in the video, but now it is pronounced on both the front and backside of the house.)
However, one thing had changed for the better: Juana de Leon had a peaceful smile on her face which didn't seem the least bit strained. Yesterday, she received a new roof through a donation made by Christina and one of her daughters (really, in a way, the whole family). Sadly, the donation did not quite cover an entire new roof, but that was partly due to the decisions which I ultimately made. In Guatemala, there are two thicknesses of roof. The thin one is cheaper, and the thick one is more expensive. I'll give you one guess as to which one holds up longer. (This is part of the reason that the poor stay poor.) Luckily for us, the man who runs the only hardware store in Los Encuentros is a member of the church where Camillo (Ismael and Edgar's father) is the pastor, and he was able to sell it to us for less than he would normally. Even so, in the end the decision was made to use two of Juana's existing roof pieces which weren't in too bad of shape to finish covering the roof. The even better news is that we had estimated a little poorly, and we only ended up needing to use one of the existing roof pieces.
Juana had a basket which she had woven and presented it to me. I had a loaf of bread I had baked (especially for her family using incaparina in place of 1 cup of flour) which I presented to her. I was also able to present her with a Spanish-English New Testament which came to me in August 2012 complements of some Gideons. (Please, bring me more Bibles!) And if that wasn't enough, Juana's day only got better...
...And my day only got more crazy. You see, we were slated to talk to the mayor of Solola concerning the formation of a group of artesans to travel to foreign countries. I'm supposedly the one who is supposed to make this all happen. Anyway, Ismael called to double check about this meeting. We were supposed to bring the artesans to the meeting! So, we drove around to the houses of the two other artesans in Los Encuentros and advised them to pack up a sample of their work and get to Solola (the capitol of the department of Solola...I know, confusing), and then we drove towards Solola and picked up another artesan. Shortly thereafter started a series of meetings which lasted about 3 hours. The main language in which these meetings were conducted was Kaqchikel, the native language in Los Encuentros, Solola; and San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Sacatepequez (where I live). However, my neighbors don't speak anywhere near as much of it. I don't understand Kaqchikel. I speak about 20 words of it (11 of those being numbers). It really is on my list of things I urgently want/need to do. Let's just say that meetings of any length being carried out in a language you don't understand are exhausting. I was asked to share a few opinions which I did...in Spanish. And then I was asked to name their artesan group. Wow. Talk about an honor. But no one had warned me and I was supposed to come up with a name on the spot? So, throwing a random idea out there, I said "Artesanos de Solola Internacional." They seemed happy with it, and it describes the group perfectly. Then they said I needed a name. I don't know. I think my parents gave me a fine name. They said I needed an organization. So, apparently, I need to become an NGO. I've had a day to think about it, and I think I've decided on a name; I just know nothing about becoming an NGO.
As I said, Juana's day got better. At the first meeting, we discussed Juana's situation a little. At the end of the day, she not only had a loaf of bread, a New Testament, and a roof, she also had 2 foam mattresses, and a (supposedly, but I think more) 10-pound bag of healthy food for herself and children. I was also able to talk to the woman who was in charge of our first meeting and share with her about the wall at Juana's house. She explained a little about a new kind of house that some people are trying to build in the area which looks a little like an igloo. She asked me to send her the pictures, and she'd add them to the list of cases to try to get the project funded.
Things are going to get better for Juana and her family. This weekend I will be sending some toothpaste, antibacterial cream, perhaps another loaf of bread, and a couple toys to the family. Sadly, I don't think I have any spare toothbrushes sitting around. A lot of the time, we say that there is nothing to be gained in just giving to a family. They don't gain anything because they get used to receiving. However, Juana didn't ask her husband to leave her pregnant and with 6 boys under the age of 10. And yet, for 6 years, she has managed to the best of her ability. I know very little about the oldest two boys and haven't seen two of the other ones in over a year and a half, but I do know that none of the boys have ever appeared neglected or unloved. For a woman who likely had no schooling to have to suddenly provide for so many by herself, the woman hasn't done so poorly. She is one of the 19% in Solola who lives in extreme poverty. If you recognize those who are willing to put in the effort and you give them a hand up to get to even ground, that's when you can see them fight a fair fight. It's not about giving her a car and a TV and a laptop to each child. It's about putting a roof over their heads, a meal every day to take the edge off, and a place to sleep at night. Once they have that, they can work to get the other meal or two per day; they can work to put the boys through school, and they can mend the clothes and buy new-ish ones (and no, we're not talking Abercrombie & Fitch here).
And today, it started to rain at my house. I think God was waiting for the roof.