I am always struck by the generosity of people who have so little. As I spent yesterday and today visiting my families in their homes, I--and the three people with me: Manuel, his son, and his son's friend--was greeted with anything from a snack to a meal in just about every home. (At one home today, I finally just had to eat a single tortilla, thank them for their generosity, and tell them I was completely stuffed and couldn't eat anything more.)
We didn't have an end-of-year meeting like we had last year. Between some personal issues and going to visit my folks, I had over a month that was taken up by non-program stuff. Which is fine. We simply asked the questions at the home visits which I do every December.
This time we started our visit with David's family. David just turned four; so he won't be going to school this year, but he's always happy to see me. His oldest sister is Wendy, one of the two I was hoping to have come live with me next year to continue her studies as there is no high school in their village. Due to their mother's poor health--which is, thankfully, improving--the family has decided that Wendy will take a year off from studying on a regular basis. She will still be taking technology classes on the weekends when her younger sister is home from school. We all hope that their mother is feeling better next year so Wendy can continue her studies.
Then we went to visit Jesus's family. (I know that sounds funny from an American standpoint, but it's actually a really common Spanish name.) He's the father of the family, and their family holds a special place in my memory because when I first met the family, they had just had a litter of kittens, and while I was doing the intake paperwork, one kitten just jumped right up on my leg and made itself comfortable there. Anyway, he has three children in school. The eldest, Olga, just finished 6th grade. I asked her parents if she was going to keep studying, and they said "no." So, I asked why, and it's mostly a money issue. When it was explained that the program helps with the costs, the "no" became a "maybe." We'll see what happens there.
After that, we went to visit the family of Luis and Mercedes, the other young lady I was hoping would come live with me to continue her studies. Luis failed his technology class and his Spanish class and didn't pass the make-up test for those classes; so he failed 7th grade. He has decided to not repeat the grade and will be heading back to work in the fields. For me, this puts a lot of pressure on Mercedes as someone has to care for their little sister Clara (a special needs child) once their parents are gone. She is a little nervous about studying so far from her family; she feels she will miss them. She has not given me an answer one way or another, but if she does not continue her studies somewhere, her family will forfeit their place in the program; they have no potential students left. (If Mercedes were to take a year off and then decide to continue her studies, I would certainly give them a spot; however, she will be 18 in March. In this culture, that is quite old to be a single female...even if the laws have recently changed.)
Then we went to visit Veronica's family. Veronica is the girl who failed 2nd grade this year after being sent to live with her paternal grandmother's family. Her mom tells me she is living at home again and only goes to sleep at her grandmother's house and that she will repeat 2nd grade. Her younger brother, Adolfo, will be in 3rd grade and another brother in 1st.
Then we went to visit a family who has always weighed heavily on my heart. You might remember Ismael who, as a 14-year old in 3rd grade, decided to drop out of school because he was embarrassed to be with classmates so much younger. I can't say I completely blame him. However, his 12-year old sister just finished 2nd grade this year and has gone to work in the capitol saying she's no longer interested in studying. Now, those of you in the States and in many other countries with advanced educational systems probably find the second part of what I just said more disturbing than the first part; I assure you that anyone who lives and works in this country is more disturbed by the first part. At any rate, we're all disturbed together. Their 10-year old sister just failed 1st grade for the second time. I suggested maybe they should have her work for a year and let her decide if brain work or manual work is more her style. Yes, I'm frustrated. Anyway, Manuel had a talk with the dad and said that as the father of the family, he needed to lay down the rules about who makes decisions in the family about work and study. So, both the girls are going back to school in 2016.
Then we went to visit the family of Ronaldo. He will be in 9th grade this year, and that's exciting for me, but it's also a little sad. Because he is missing a hand, he was allowed to continue studying while his other 4 brothers had to go to work in the field after 6th grade. This year, his youngest brother will be in 5th grade, and, quite frankly, I'm dreading the family visits the year after next. Ronaldo really isn't that great of a student unlike his other two brothers who I've had the pleasure of knowing, but his family doesn't think he can do field work. What his family sees as a weakness is the only thing that has kept him in school, but I think that knowing that his family feels he is less than whole is also what holds him back. If Maynor--the youngest boy--is taken out of school at the end of 2017, I don't know who will be more crushed: Ronaldo or myself. It feels like someone has said that Ronaldo's judgement day is coming in exactly 2 years, and I'm helpless to stop it. I asked the mother if, after working in the fields last year, Efraim would be returning to school, and she said no. Carmelina, their oldest sister, isn't doing too well either; however, they had lost the contact number for the organization that was helping with her seizure medication. Fortunately, I still had it in my phone and was able to give it to them; so, hopefully that gets fixed soon. (That was also the organization that fitted Ronaldo with his prosthetic hand; so maybe that means he can get a new one without having to go all the way to Salama in January.)
Then we went to visit their cousins. The story is much like the story we heard about Olga in Jesus's house: Marta Lidia--who earned the most points of any child in the program in 2014--has finished 6th grade, and they're not sure whether to send her to middle school because of the cost. Also, apparently, Marta is afraid of not being able to finish and making me angry...at which point I yelled--she was outside--"No, this is what's making me angry!" Of course, it was a joke because I'm not one to get angry. But if someone is sincerely trying and falls short, I'm completely okay with it. So, they're going to see if they can get her to go.
After that, we stopped in with our other widow, Maria. It was a pleasant surprise to meet her eldest daughter, Feliciana. She was a little shy and didn't want to explain who she was or what she was doing there at first, but after some cajoling--which I tend to think I'm pretty good at--she warmed up to our presence. She has a wonderful control of Spanish, but then again, her mother's Spanish isn't that bad. Luis and Griselda had dropped out of school about 3 months in. I can't say that surprised me much, but it was annoying. Some days I want to blame them. Some days I want to blame their mother. Some days I just want to flop down on the ground and throw a temper tantrum. If anyone has any better ideas, I'm all for hearing them. Their youngest sister, Amalia, will also be starting school this year.
Today we went to visit Nicolas's family. We were concerned he was going to pull his family out of the program. To be fair, last year was not a good year for them as far as the points were concerned. They weren't earning enough during the entire year to even pay for their school supplies. However, the elder daughter has improved her grades significantly, and the middle daughter's grades have stayed about the same. It was really great to walk up to their house in the drizzle and see that they had constructed a new building with two rooms in it. When asked if they had received help to build it, Nicolas told us that he had been saving for many years and that with the help from the program to buy food, he'd been able to save a little bit more money and built it during the year.
And then onto the house of Luisa. You may remember that she got lost in the first year, but then last December I asked Manuel if we could go to her house just to "make sure" that she wasn't interested in the program. They were interested, but they weren't sure how to get a hold of us. So, this was their first year actually participating in the program. The boys were thrilled with their Christmas present. This year each family got a bag of marbles, some hygiene items, mini candy canes, a pen or two, and some hair ties. After giving out 8 presents yesterday, I asked Manuel's son if marbles were popular here, and he assured me that they are. Edgar and Cristian definitely confirmed that. "BOLICHES! MAMA, MIRA! BOLICHES!!" (They're called "cincos" where I live, but also during last night's conversation, I was informed of other potential names for them.)
Luisa confirmed that her neighbors who were also in the program have moved the entire family to the capitol, and then she mentioned another neighbor, a single woman who unknowingly got involved with a married guy, had three kids by him, and then had him go back to his "real" family. So, we might go visit her at some point during the year and consider her for inclusion in the program.