Thursday, June 20, 2013

When "Poverty" Starts to Mean Something More: Day 974

In short, I have never seen the level of poverty I saw today, not on any trip with any person or group ever.  you all are familiar with Juana de Leon.  Today I met two families which make her seem rich...economically speaking.  This is not anything a person could say lightly because Juana de Leon is far from rich; in fact, she's pretty happy to just have a roof over her head.  All this being said, I want to share those two families with you.  I'm just going to copy and paste from the report I just typed up of today's activities because I fear that a "cold, detached look" into their lives is going to be about all that most of you can stomach.  (I'm sparing you the pictures because a) I didn't bring the camera cable, and b) if you haven't noticed, I'm not really sure how to get pictures onto my blog...but the second is something I'll be looking into in the coming days.)

Camelina C. T. – This family lives at the very end of Juana de Leon's road. It is a very young family. There are twin 3-year old daughters and a baby boy of about a year and a half. It is also a very poor family. They have two rooms in their home. One is a small kitchen/bedroom, and the other is a storage room (wood and clothes). The twin girls are fairly ill. Laura was up and greeted us, but she shows obvious signs of malnutrition and parasites. Ingrid, however, was laying in bed with a bottle and barely opened her eyes to acknowledge our presence. Camelina does artisan work, and her husband is, what I will call, a round-up worker (meaning that when someone needs to do a big project, they round up workers). Their floor is made of dirt. Water hardly ever reaches up to where they live; so they carry water up and store it in uncovered 3 liter pop bottles. Their kitchen has a stove, but they don't really have much in the way of pans/dishes. Camelina's clothes were in very poor repair, and I was actually a little embarrassed that I had two men—Camilo and Ismael—visiting her with me because of the threadbare state of her clothing.

Maria C. X. – This visit was completely unplanned. We were headed to another house, but weren't sure which one it was when we stopped to ask for directions. Maria's husband committed suicide by drinking poison at some point. They have two children: Juan (age 11) and Elena (age 10). At some point, Elena tried to go to school, but it was too expensive for the family; so her mother sent her to work in a tortilla stand, but the people there said that she was too young and didn't make tortillas well enough; so now she stays home and helps care for the “house.” Juan sells gum in the buses. Their mother makes baskets. Their house is one room made with metal and wood walls and a metal roof. The metal seems to be in fairly good condition. They cook over an open fire in their room, and the “bed” is literally elevated planks of wood. They have a good sized piece of land which they mostly rent to a potato farmer for a very low price just to have a little steady income.  

To me, these are two very different situations, but both are going to be handled similarly.  These two families--barring any grand disagreement from anyone (which I don't imagine I'll get)--are going to be accepted 100% into the program.  Obviously Camelina's children are not yet ready for educational support which is fine.  The main focus with Camelina's family will be nutrition and health standards.  Both of the girls show signs of illness, and I worry that the only reason the little boy does not is because he only drinks breast milk and is probably still carried everywhere.  This family needs help.  

Maria's children, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from being able to go to school.  Per the program guidelines which I invented, only Elena will automatically be enrolled in the program; my cut-off was age 10.  Children aged 11-14 would be enrolled only if they did not work; however, I do not consider Juan's employment to be very significant at least as far as help goes.  When a family makes maybe $1 per day, your son's 25-cent contribution is obviously very significant; however, if I can find someone to sponsor this family, those 25 cents become very insignificant, and an education becomes entirely possible.  (Also, the boy is no longer spending time on buses which can be very dangerous.)  We obviously did not meet Juan, but we did meet Elena.  She seems to be a bright girl with a lot of potential.

These two families redefined poverty for me.  I have no doubt that tomorrow will prove to be just as educational and interesting for me.  Kaqchikel still makes my head spin.  

The original plan was to take on the 15 families which Ismael identified, but after visiting and understanding the extremes, some cases just don't seem that bad.  In addition, early this afternoon, the mayor of Solola asked me to take on 15-20 more families.  So, at that point I was "committed" to 30 families.  After 7 home visits, I don't feel that the initial number will reach 30 because I don't think we'll come up with 15 from our "home area."  However, as the program expands, I imagine that more people and families will be included.  Additionally, tomorrow I will head out with Edgar and a friend of the mayor (Manuel, I think) to visit the 10 additional communities where he would like me to take on 15-20 more families.  I think we'll easily find even more who need help.  Let's just say that this is so much bigger than myself now.

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