Again, this is the newsletter article for my sending church. Due to the public-ness of this blog post, some information has been removed for privacy.
So much has happened in the last month! At the very end of September, I had the opportunity to take my fiance out to Solola to meet the families I work with there. In addition to meeting them, he also had the opportunity to share his story with them. For many of the mothers in the program, they understand this struggle. Two of the ten women are widows. Among the other eight, at least one of them has an alcoholic husband who will drink any money he finds in the house. So, to meet a young man who comes from the same situation as their children are in and who is graduating from the university this year, it gives them hope.
At that meeting, we also checked the grades to see how the children are progressing. Most continue their slow progress upward. One boy's grades plummeted downward, and when I asked his father what was going on, he stated that his wife had lost a pregnancy (which is why she wasn't there), and that the boy was so worried about his mother that he refused to go to school. Sweet, but I really hope he brings his grades up in the last marking period; I don't want a lost pregnancy to be a lost year in school as well. I imagine that if I were in that financial situation, two stresses instead of one would not be preferred. On a happier note, one boy's grades skyrocketed! I asked his mother what happened. “It was the shoes,” she told me. The previous visit, I had brought shoes that they could buy for 2 points per pair. (With the rough calculation from dollars to “points,” it was about $1.) I had brought them for the people who had asked me to bring them, and then I had brought a few more to give some variety. After those who had asked for them had picked out their shoes, I allowed the other families to look through the remaining shoes. Anyway, this boy had received a new-to-him (secondhand) pair of school shoes, and, according to his mother, that got him excited about doing better in school and earning more points! Some of the girls are receiving low grades in gym class because they don't feel comfortable wearing gym shorts. We're looking at the possibility of sweat pants for next year as that is a uniform option that the school allows; however they do cost more than the shorts which is why lots of families don't get them.
We also had the chance to visit some new families which might be added to the program next year. At one house, a woman showed us what she does. Her eyes are no longer good enough to weave, but she does make baskets. It was a gorgeous basket with a lid, perhaps the size of a large saucepan. My fiance asked her how much she sells them for, and she said that she sells them for Q5 each once she has decorated them. (The one she showed us wasn't yet decorated.) Q5 is about 62 cents in US money. Needless to say, he bought it and paid her double (Q10), but we can't do that for everyone nor on a regular basis.
On October 1st, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar via the internet. (Bonus: it was free to online participants!) It was called “Helping Without Hurting,” and it's about the proper way to help people so that they don't become dependent on the help they are receiving. It gave me a lot of thoughts to take with me when I went to visit my families again.
So, two weeks later, I went to visit my families again. I had them sit in a circle with women from the different villages all separated so they could see the women they know best, and I asked them “What are you good at? What do you like doing?” I'm sitting there ready for someone to tell me that they love to write (even though all 10 of my mothers are illiterate), and for someone else to open up and say that she loves to paint (even though even the kids rarely have paint for school). And no one had an answer. The community leader said, “Well, they all weave. That's what they do.” Fine. “Well, what are they good at weaving? Do they have any particular shape they love to weave? Flowers? Birds?” Nothing. So excited about bringing this up, and nothing. So, I gave it one last shot. “What if there was one more hour in the day. No, I'm not God. I can't gift you another hour, but what if? The laundry is done. The dishes are done. The sweeping is done. The mending is done. There is nothing that needs to be done! What would you do?” Well, it got some of them laughing, but one woman said, “Well, I might like to learn how to use a sewing machine.” I asked her if she had ever used one before or if she would have to learn, and she said she would have to learn...but that it was something she'd like to do. And before long, I had about 7 women who were thinking that a sewing machine sounded like a great idea. And another woman said that her husband is a barber, but that he is paid little where he works because he has to pay to use the clippers of another guy. “He's a really great barber, but he needs his own clippers.” I asked them about their dreams for themselves, and most of them said that they would really love to have a real house; one man went so far as to remind me that his kitchen is just 4 poles with tarp wrapped around it. (Don't worry. I haven't forgotten.) One woman said she'd like to learn English to communicate with me better; I told her I'd trade her English classes for Kaqchikel classes for the same reason.
So, the community leader, in front of everyone, decided to ask me how possible these houses were. I said that I really don't have that kind of funding, but if we can work towards sewing machines as a group, the women themselves can work toward houses. The women weave, but they don't have anyone to sell the weavings to as all of the women do the same kind of work. So, people come along and they pay them $10 to weave these typical shawls. If the women can sew the two halves of the shawls together (with a sewing machine), they can earn $31 per shawl. Note: as a beginner, I have been working on something the size of one half of the shawl for about 5-ish months (off-and-on for a year and 2 months), and while I've seen my time go from 2 hours per row to 45 minutes per row, these women are at least twice as fast as I am and dedicate much more time to it per day. Still, assuming that they can do the entire shawl in 1 month, they are earning $10/month or roughly 33-cents per day. Once the harvest is over, that is the only income the family will have for a couple months.
The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
I am looking forward to seeing you all in November. I will be there for only ONE Sunday this visit instead of my typical two; it will be the second Sunday in November. If I miss you in person, well, I'll be here in the newsletter.
Please be praying for these 10 families as well as the other 12 families who I had planned on serving this year. For those who have been meeting with me, pray that their lives be made better from the program, that they feel strengthened and encouraged as people. For the other 12 families, pray that they have gotten through the year well, without illness, injury, or danger. Pray for their community leader who decided he wanted more time with his family and store than he did meeting with other families. (I can't blame a guy for wanting more time with his family, but he could have passed along the leadership to someone else. Please pray he still does so.) One of those twelve families moved, and we don't know where to; please pray that God watches over them and guides them. One of those twelve families is a widow with two children who I have written about before who decided she didn't want to be part of the program; please pray for her family that they continue alive and that their emotional situation improves.
Shoes and backpacks are on the list of items which the families most want for school. If you or family members have gently used backpacks or shoes that you are willing to donate, I will take them!
So far, we have learned “Thank you”and “You're welcome” in Kaqchikel. Today I want to add “Good morning” to your vocabulary. (If you all greet me on Sunday with this, I'll be impressed.) So, in English, we say “Good morning.” In Spanish, we say, “Buenos dias.” In Kaqchikel, we say “Xseqär,” which we pronounce “sah-car.” (It is actually pronounced a variety of different ways depending on which town you are in. I have also heard “sah-quer,” “shah-car,” and “shah-cash” in different Kaqchikel speaking towns; however, where I work, the first pronunciation is the most used.