I hope you all had a wonderful Christ-filled Christmas and a happy New Year. I will be spending Christmas with the future in-laws, joining in their holiday traditions and sharing with them some of my own.
As for “Educacion con Esperanza” (“Education with Hope,” it needed a name), I had some great end-of-year visits with the families. Manuel—the community contact with whom I work—drove me around to each of the houses. Each family received homemade Christmas cookies and a Bible for Christmas.
As with almost every visit, there were some highs and some lows. One girl did not pass her classes. She says that she likes school, but her parents say that she doesn't do her homework. Her brother dropped out this year because he felt stupid being a 15-year old in 4th grade. I hope that both of his younger sisters don't follow his example.
|Ronaldo holding the Bible we distributed |
to each family with his prosthetic hand.
(Yes, it's white.)
One family prepared a special lunch for us. It was such a special lunch that they laid fresh pine needles on the floor. This is something reserved for only the most special of occasions—such as weddings—or the most special of guests. Our lunch was “caldo de gallina criollo” which roughly translates to “virgin hen broth.” It is completely delicious; it's actually my favorite dish that my future mother-in-law has prepared during my visits to their house. Basically, this family took one of their egg-laying hens which had not yet laid an egg and killed it and made soup with it. That hen was worth a lot of eggs still. So, when it came time to tell them—all of us sitting there in that beautifully pine-covered room—that they did not have enough points to buy school supplies for both of their daughters through the program—a fact I didn't know before eating lunch—I wanted to cry. In the end, I let them borrow points. It's not something I'd do for everyone, but as children who cannot go to school because of their age or physical/mental limitations receive 5 points every marking period, I knew, because of their youngest daughter who turned 3 this month, that they will soon “repay” the points. How did this happen? Well, the short version is that their family felt the need to buy more with the points than their daughters earned during the school year. This either means that the family's financial situation is really bad or that the girls simply aren't getting very good grades. Neither situation is ideal, but now that we've gotten through one year, we'll see how they improve.
We made one surprise visit during our trip. There was a family who had been selected to be in the program which had never come to a meeting. Supposedly, they had been informed of the meetings and simply not come. I know Guatemala, and I was a little skeptical that I was getting the whole truth. So, armed with just the family's name and a vague memory of where they live, Manuel and I set off to find them, and when we found them, I was glad we had gone to look for them. Due to a family emergency, they hadn't been able to attend the first meeting, and after that, they were never informed of any other meeting. It is interesting to me to compare our visit with them with those of the other families who have spent the last year getting to know and trust me. If I weren't used to it by now, it really would have been off-putting how closed they were to my presence.
Wendy, who I mentioned to you all in August 2013 when I first met them, and her family were excited to see me as always, and I was out of breath when I got to their rented house as always. Wendy will be starting 9th grade in January, and the question of what to do with her and Mercedes (who I'll talk about in a bit) is troubling. I won't say much more about them in this newsletter, but Wendy was very happy to receive the Bible. She said that she just started going to the youth group at church and that she felt it would be very useful to her.
Mercedes and her brother Luis are already signed up for school, something most families won't do until January. My fiance, during his visit at the end of September, had had a man-to-man talk with Luis about the importance of education and promised him a soccer ball if he would go back to school. It's not my style, but it was out before I could stop him. Luis agreed. (I just hope we don't have to buy soccer balls for all of the 7th graders.) I was a little chilly having left my coat in the truck; so they decided to give me a beautiful Christmas scarf that Mercedes had made. I was so cold that it didn't make much of a difference, but it is gorgeous all the same. I think in the future I'll use it with a coat.
So, this year Mercedes and Wendy will be the first two to graduate from 9th grade. Mercedes wants to go on to become a “secretaria bilingue” (a bilingual secretary, which is, by default, Spanish/English, not Kaqchikel), and Wendy wants to go on to become a “licensiada” (which is actually just a level of education that allows a person to be titled; I have yet to figure out in what subject she wants to have her “licensiatura,” but the most common is as a lawyer.) However, there are a couple of bumps in this path. First of all, there is no school in their immediate area which provides for schooling above 9th grade. They would have to pay around Q20 (round trip) and travel an hour (each way) to be able to attend high school. In one week, that would be Q100 for each of them. In a month, that would be Q400. In 9 months, that would be Q3,600 or $480 just in bus fare...just for one of them. Second of all, their education up to this point is probably a little lacking. One boy in the second grade told us that he hasn't yet learned how to read. Manuel says that's common which is why he actually moves his family into the city during the school year. However, these two girls have already accomplished more schooling than any of their parents and most of the village; so helping them catch up to where they should be to attend one of these school isn't something that anyone is very capable of.
All of that is why I'd like to bring them to live with me in 2016. And for 2016, that's fine if the families are interested. I have a spare room with a spare bed in my house. The girls could help me with my Kaqchikel, and I could help them with their English and any educational issues in general. However, at the end of 2016, Ronaldo will graduate from 9th grade. At the end of 2017, Efraim, Estuardo, and Luis will graduate. At the end of 2018, Marta Lidia and Olga Maria will graduate. So, if their families are willing (and I think they will be), in 4 years from now, I will have a household of at least 10, counting myself and my husband-to-be. There's a house here in town that would be perfect for housing us, but it's way out of our price range and your price range. However, this situation—specifically this house—is something I'd like to ask your prayers over in the coming year. In the past four years, I've found that if I am in a situation where I don't see the solution and suddenly all the pieces fall into place, that's typically the solution. I have at least two years before I would need something larger than the house I rent right now.
If you want to read more in-depth stories of my visits with the families, you can check out my blog: http://GringaOnTheGround.blogspot.com, if you have any questions, comments, life updates, or just want to get a hold of me, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In November, we learned how to say “Good morning” in Kaqchikel. As most of my visits to families took place in the afternoon, I had to learn how to say “Good afternoon.” In Kaqchikel, this is spelled “Xqa q'ij.” The apostrophe in Kaqchikel is a glottal stop. I really wasn't sure what that was or how to do it until someone pointed out to me that Michiganders use it all the time in words such as “kitten” or “button;” it's that little stop that you do right about where that first t should be. If that doesn't do it for you, try “uh oh!” Try saying them out loud. Still not sure what I'm talking about? I'm betting you're probably not originally from Michigan or you've spent a considerable part of your life outside of Michigan. Anyway, back to Kaqchikel. My second struggle with this “word” was the space. It makes the glottal stop nearly impossible to hit; so forget the space is there. “Shcack-eeh” is about how it sounds, so incredibly different from the “buenas tardes” of Spanish or the “Good afternoon” of English.