Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back to Meetings!: Day 1,936

I was finally able to get out to see my families two days ago.  (I would have written sooner, but my stalker has been on the move again; so I'm trying to keep him a fair number of steps behind me.  He recently took to social media which means I'm struggling to keep you all informed of the situation while worrying about what he is and is not seeing.)  One of my friends from COTA was able to join me, and she was able to identify some people that the team can possibly help in January.  Unfortunately, the COTA team won't be that close to where these people live, but transportation is available.

I haven't been out since mid-May for various reasons; so I had some apologizing to do, and Manuel had some apologizing to do.  But all in all, they were glad I was back...even if some of them admitted to me that they thought I had vanished.  Sorry.  Sorry.  Sorry!

We have also lost one family.  I didn't mention this to you before as I was hoping to cool down and mention it calmly, but since they left the program, it has helped me calm considerably.  This family's oldest son finished 6th grade last year.  His grades weren't horrible, but he wasn't earning much in the way of points, hardly enough to buy his school supplies and certainly not enough to pay private school bills.  I visited each family in December talking to them about the upcoming school year and getting updated clothing sizes and weights for each child, but when I visited this family, they mentioned nothing about planning to send their oldest son to one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the capitol...which is funny since you have to enroll there in November.  So, this frustrated me because I figured they had done it because of the program, and I decided I was going to force them to play by the rules...every single bill was going to cost them 5 points and the boy wasn't going to earn enough himself and they were going to use the points from every single one of their children to keep that one child in school which meant no food stuffs or anything for the family.  And if they had talked to me about it in December, I would have suggested it was a bad idea, but they didn't.  They simply turned in his long and expensive school supply list in January, and we were confused as to why we had a list with no name on it for a school in the capitol.  They came to our first Saturday Session, and then they stopped coming.  Manuel says he called their number and there's no answer.  Neighbors say that the entire family moved to the capitol.  I'm really not going to cry over it.

Last year, our highest point earner was Marta with 57 points.  She had a big lead on her cousin Efraim (37 points) who didn't return to school this year and Wendy (36 points).  However, this year there are a lot of other kids who are giving her a run for her, er, points.  Sadly, part of it is because Marta isn't earning the grades she earned last year.  After 3 of 4 marking periods, 22 points!  Yikes!  Her brother, Rolando, has 23 points after 3 marking periods.  A girl from a family that was going to drop out also has 22 points after 3 marking periods.  (That was encouraging; last year she only earned 9 points all year.)  Wendy is at 40 points after 3 marking periods and may win the "award" for the most points.  (There's so far no physical award, but I'm open to suggestions.)  I only have two marking periods of grades for Nelson, but he has 22 points; this is really good as he had a rough year last year only earning 5 points in total!  Mercedes, my other 9th grader, has 26 points after 3 marking periods; we're worried about her math grade, but otherwise she's doing well in classes.

Those are the good stories, especially for Yoselin and Nelson.  However, there are stories that aren't so good, and more unfortunately they have to do with the two widows in the program.  Maria Elena's husband died when she was about 8 months pregnant with their son.  She has 7 children ranging in age from 3 to 22.  The oldest three, all females, also work to help support the family, but at 15 and 22 it won't be long before the oldest two marry and have families of their own to care for.  Luis, 11, and in second grade and Griselda, K, struggled all of last year.  Griselda didn't want to go to school and was frequently absent.  Luis went but was not that interested in his studies.  On Thursday their mother told me that they both dropped out of school, but that she plans for them to go back next year.  I'm hoping things go better next year, but I worry about Luis as next year he'll be 12 and in the second grade; last year we had a 14-year old in 4th grade and he dropped out because he was so much older than his classmates.
The other widow, Marta, has four children who range in age from 4 to 10.  Her mother-in-law suggested that Marta send her the eldest (Veronica, the only girl) so that Marta would have fewer mouths to feed.  Families are much more connected in Guatemala, and a relative offering to feed and care for another relative is nothing unusual.  And really this should eliminate Veronica from the program as it serves households; so leaving the household would make her no longer a recipient.  But that's completely irrelevant.  In her paternal grandmother's home, it appears there is another girl around her age who does nothing but watch TV all day.  (This is, of course, second-hand information.  Third-hand if you count the fact that it was translated for me.)  Education is not important in that household.  Veronica's grades went from passing (60+) to failing.  Her report card was full of everything from 24 to 38.  It wasn't even something I looked at and thought "She must have forgotten to turn in an assignment."  I just wanted to cry.  The only way she can possibly pass the school year is to get 100 in every class this final marking period.  Marta wanted to earn a stove this year.  Instead she won't have the points for school supplies for all of her children next year.  She has one child who isn't yet old enough to go to school; so I can loan her the points, knowing that they will get repaid by her youngest, but it's just so hard to know what to do in a situation like this.  I feel like screaming "TV is the devil and it will rot your brain!  Save your daughter before it's too late!" but really the issue isn't the TV; the issue is the importance of education not being stressed in her new home.  I'd love for Veronica to be back with her mother.

There is more to say, but I think I will save it for another post.  This one is long enough.  (Also, October 19th was my 5-year anniversary here in Guatemala.  Half a decade!  Yikes!)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mission Moment: September

These are the articles I write for my sending church's newsletter.  This one, in place of being titled "Mission Moment" was titled "Political Panorama."  Guatemala has been undergoing a lot of changes in the last few months which has caused a slow season for my project.

Frustrating.  That’s a word I don’t use a lot, but that’s the word I’m using to describe right now.  This article will have nothing to do with actual mission work and a lot to do with why things sometimes don’t work.
In February of this year, it was discovered that money was being stolen from the country of Guatemala via a customs scam.  When goods are imported to the country, the importer has to pay taxes.  The customs scam was allowing importers to pay much lower taxes for their goods with a nice “donation” to someone else.  In April, it was discovered that that “someone” was probably a couple high-ranking government officials, specifically the president and vice president of Guatemala.  And so began the protests.  Since April, people have been protesting at least once per week all over the country.  In May, the vice president resigned saying that she had nothing to hide and that by resigning she was allowing herself to be investigated.  The Guatemalan people called her bluff, and she went on the run.  The president said that despite the pressure of “a few” people, he had been charged with the post of president by the Guatemalan people and that he would not let them down by giving up.
Jump forward to August 21st.  Protests have become daily but remain peaceful simply blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  In a moment of bad luck, the former vice president checks into a hospital, and she leaves in handcuffs.  Protests become constant with travel becoming essentially impossible.  The president sticks with his resolve that he has a job to do and will complete his promise to the Guatemalan people.  Then congress votes to remove the president’s political immunity meaning he can now be investigated as part of the custom’s scheme which has robbed the Guatemalan government of hundreds of thousands of dollars which affected the salaries and resources of hospitals, schools, and police among others.  The president resigns the next day, apologizing to the Guatemalan people, saying that he has some personal situations he needs to take care of.   The new vice president steps up to become president, and as he was one of the judges who overturned the ruling concerning General Rios Montt of the genocide cases during the Guatemalan civil war, no one is really sure if he’s just going to complete the last 4 months of the term he has been granted or if he’s just going to overthrow everything and turn the country back into a military dictatorship.  Indigenous people are not impressed.

One week later, normal elections are held to pick the new president of the country.  (Don’t be confused.  This has nothing to do with anyone resigning.  Just like the US, presidential elections take place every 4 years.)  A man who no one expected to win 4 months ago becomes the front-runner…probably solely because he’s not a politician and has no history of corruption anywhere in his family.  The fellow who everyone expected to win is in third place but demanding a recount of ballots.  If no candidate wins 50.1% of the votes, a run-off between the top two candidates follows in late October.  (Guatemala has somewhere around 18 political parties; not all of which necessarily had a presidential candidate running this year.)  But Mister Third Place was not the only one upset.  In many places, the vote was close, and in the weeks following, those who were not happy with the outcome had less-than-peaceful protests.  Ballot boxes were burned.  Police were shot.  And the mayor’s house in Solola might be torched for the third time in ten years and my community contact, Manuel, isn’t answering his phone…which is why I’m not traveling out to Solola to visit my families.  I don’t consider myself to be at any risk; however, the people in Solola are swift to carry out justice (i.e. lynching) against anyone they feel has wronged them…and Manuel is an advisor to the mayor.  So, until I can get a hold of him and until things have calmed down, I have no plans of going anywhere.

Please note: In most places, things are calm and orderly at this point.  Mister Third Place has dropped out.  However, many higher-ups are still being arrested as the story opens wider and wider.  Please be praying for Guatemala, but in no way, shape, or form should you think that I am in any danger.