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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A big little trip: Day 966

Plans are moving forward to develop a program in Solola for the 15 poorest identified families in the area.  I have to say that I'm really quite excited about this.  I've spent the last two days building an outline for the program which is multi-faceted and pretty inclusive. So, next week I'll be headed to Solola to meet the 14 additional families (as well as see Juana and her family who will be the 15th family in the program).  We will spend the first morning in a meeting with all the families, and then the afternoon of the first day and all the next day will be spent visiting their homes and learning their stories.  I'll be posting more details as they become more official.

I'm excited!  If you're only half as excited as I am, you're pretty excited too!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mission Moment: June Newsletter (Stateside)

 My clock reads 8:30 am, but I know to add 2 hours. I have found the large jars of pickles waiting for me in the cupboard, but can't seem to find cereal. I'm listening to the CD which I purchased from At some point later today, I'll have to try to find my keys to the house and car which we keep in the same place. In some ways, it's strange to be in this place that I still call home when I'm here; I won't go into all of the ways, but let's just say that sometimes I pause and think, “Something isn't right. How/What do I...?” However, this post isn't about the United States.
The past month has offered a wealth of experiences and has helped shaped my future. May 13-15, I was delivering water filters with Iglesia del Camino (the church I attend in Guatemala) donated by Compassion International and provided by Sawyer. These filters cost Q400 (about $50 each), and I'm looking at providing some of them to the families with which I already work in Guatemala. I think that God is using Solola to provide me with an area that is in need of help both economically and spiritually. He has provided me clear needs which can be quantified and categorized. It's a structure which I appreciate and feel able to work with. Additionally, the political and legal structure in the indigenous community of Solola is, in a word, “fair.” I have heard and seen many examples of their judicial system in the area, and I'd like to share a couple of them with you.
Story #1: A woman stole a chicken so that her children would have something to eat. The woman is caught, but the chicken is already dead. The woman has no money to pay for the chicken and it can't be returned as it was. The reason why the woman stole the chicken is because her husband is a drunk who works but doesn't provide for the family, instead spending his money on alcohol. Who is guilty? Well, the woman is guilty of robbery, but her husband is as well. (Most of the country is rooted in the idea that the man needs to provide for the family, and if his provision is not enough then, and only then, should the woman take work outside of the home.) The woman, whose job it isn't to earn money for her family, is sentenced to a half a day of washing clothes for the family whose chicken was robbed. The man, whose lack of care for his husbandly and fatherly duties caused the robbery, is sentenced to a week of work in the fields with part of his earnings going towards paying for the chicken and the other part going straight to his wife; he is also given a stern warning about responsibility. Should the situation occur again, the wife would serve the same “sentence” while that of the man would be heavier.
Story #2: Juana is a woman I work with. She was abandoned by her husband when she was pregnant with their 7th son. He mortgaged the house and land to the bank and took off. 5 years later, the bank wants payment or the land. He isn't interested in paying off the mortgage because he lives somewhere else with another woman. Juana was able to raise some money to work on paying off the mortgage. (I am unsure if she has completed that or not.) However, her husband—having the mortgage paid—said that he now wanted to sell the house. Basically the indigenous legal system told him “You can pay child support (including 5 years in which you have not paid anything) and the property will stay yours. Otherwise, the deed is being transferred to Juana's name.”
The plan is to move out to Solola sometime in September-November. This is still a recent decision, and I will of course be praying about it over the course of the next several months; I invite you to join me in prayer.

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary

I hope to see you all in church! I fly back to Gautemala on June 6th. I look forward to this time of sharing with all of you.

More Little Faces (and updates on a lot of things!): Day 955

Ismael and I regularly meet to discuss the situation in Solola.  We always start with and update about Juana so I can understand her situation better.  I realize she has become my "poster child."  Ismael says that there are 15 more families in Solola who are in the same or a worse condition than she is.  All, or almost all, of them have similar stories to that of Juana.

But there comes the problem of how I learn about the needs of 16 families when I live all the way near Antigua.  It is a 2 hour ride from my house to hers, and that's if the bus driver is driving a little wildly--most of them do, though--and Ismael's parents are waiting for me with the pickup when I arrive in Los Encuentros.  As there is no longer any need for me to live in San Antonio and as all of my work is slowly pulling on me to move to Solola, I imagine that sometime this fall I will be moving to the area and getting down to business.  I will ideally be able to visit each family once per month, and work on setting up a sponsorship program for them.  I will start to work with the leaders in Solola to try to bring tourism to their area (which is what they say they want; although, I have cautioned against this.)

It will be a change from everything I have known up to this point.  For the most part, I will stop speaking Spanish and take up speaking Kaqchikel.  (For those of you who were curious about those Kaqchikel classes, I bought a book off Amazon which I'm going to use with Edgar's assistance.  It was a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot more logical considering my situation.)  I will likely find a new church to attend; although I haven't ruled out spending the weekends in Antigua.  New neighbors, new place to buy bread, new place to buy everything.  Let's just say, it's going to be interesting.

God has given me all sorts of new experiences here, and sometimes I can't help but wonder if Guatemala is it for me.  Although I love where I live and what I do, some of the things I go through make me lift an eyebrow and ask, "God, this is...weird.  Are You...?  Do You have something bigger planned for me?  Because, if not, this is weird."  I recently watched the movie "Taken," and a line that resonated with me was "I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills."  Mine is a set of skills that God started putting in me long before my birth and has only continued to cultivate as I've grown.

Anyway, it's big.  It's exciting. And it's the update.