Thursday, July 17, 2014

Getting Back from Giving Back


A special cookie

There are a few blogs I like to follow, most of which have to do with families. Families are what Finding Freedom is all about; the nitty, gritty details of creating an emotionally and physically healthy family. There is a common theme among my fellow blog writers: 
Being the right kind of mother is hard. 

Vitamins for Guatemala
Being the right kind of nonprofit to support indigenous mothers is just as difficult. The nitty, gritty details of running a nonprofit will suck the stamina out of the most enthusiastic, passionate person, especially if they are, as we are, volunteers. 

So when we have a few days of giving back to the givers, it is cause for celebration.

When FFF friends Holly and Maureen worked a small miracle in their busy schedules to find time for the three of us, all from different cities, to have lunch, and to bring me a most-delicious cookie from their favorite bakery as well as loads of vitamins for the children in our program, it nourished more than just our bodies. Somehow three hours buzzed by as we chatted away about our respective Guatemalan adventures. 

And when The Catapult Foundation reviewed our grant application, and sent back through provoking questions, with sweet personal responses, I got the shot of enthusiasm for our work that I needed. 

 When we needed a Facebook header for our FFF page, and Rae House landed the perfect one back to my inbox in a matter of minutes, it fed my impatient soul and my creative spirit. 


Graphic design donated by Rae
When Becky B., who is always thinking of others, loaded up my arms with new shoes for children in Guatemala and fresh organic produce from her garden for my own table, the day got even better. 

Becky's bounty
Soon after, Carol S., who leads a student group of enthusiastic future leaders, dropped off a jar of spare change the students had collected for our mother's in Guatemala. 


Donated coins

 






It was a few days of giving back to the givers. And at the end of those special moments, I suddenly noticed that the weather, which had been beautiful all day long, was just perfect. The nourishment for body and soul had given me just the right spectacles to see what was already in front of me. The kindness of those supporting the supporters helps Carol Kremer in Rhode Island sell Guatemalan crafts to support our funds. It lifts the spirits of Mike in Denver as he tries to find donated laptops for our facilitators doing our work in the mountains of Guatemala. It motivates Kathy in Lexington to learn Spanish so she can communicate with our Spanish speaking staff. Well done, all.


A perfect day

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons Learned in Guatemala

It takes a certain kind of person to travel with us to Guatemala. A gutsy, don't-care-if-I-can't-get-a-shower-for-a-few-days kinda person. On our visits to the Finding Freedom households, our volunteers work through hunger, thirst, bug bites, tummy trouble, fatigue and rib-banging drives in the back of pickup trucks through the northern Guatemala mountains. We curse at the potholes that bruise our ribs, hide under tarps in rain so hard that it feels like needles pricking our skin, and we know all along that we can't hide our true selves from each other. It is an in-the-trenches experience, and like all hard times, relationships are built on these trips that go beyond the fluffy edges of normal surface friendships. 

Desi, wind-blown in the back of the truck

Traveling with Desi was all of the above and more. Her grandmother, Jo Brewer, had promised me that if I agreed to let Desi, who was only fifteen, travel with us last fall, I wouldn't regret it. Jo reassured me that Desi wouldn't balk at the poverty we would be witnessing, that she wouldn't shirk from the work we needed her to do and more importantly, she would not cause me any concern. Jo knew how much these trips occupy my time and energy. A wayward teen was the last thing I needed to worry about in the lawless regions of remote Guatemala. 
Grandma Jo knows Guatemala, and I trusted Jo, so Desi was welcomed. 
I wasn't disappointed. 


A winner in every respect
When the rain pounded and the bugs swarmed
Desi handled it. When our pickup truck hit potholes that sent us across the truck bed she dealt with the bruises. Mayan children swarmed her in the mountains and she entertained them, allowing us to interview their mothers. She hauled things up mountains, walked through garbage and sometimes worse, and never complained. 


This summer Desi decided to test herself even further by entering local beauty pageants in the counties of western Kentucky where she lives. In her words, she needed to "refine herself" by gaining poise and the confidence required to go onstage in front of an audience. 
So she has, time and again, all while wearing a tiny rope bracelet on her right arm, given to her by a grateful Guatemalan mama. And and after almost every contest she comes away with the prize most suited for her: Miss Congeniality. When the judge asked her what she would do if she had a million dollars, Desi responded "I would go to Guatemala with Finding Freedom through Friendship and build houses for women and their children who don't have them."
I would like to end this story by telling our readers how much Desi learned in Guatemala, but in truth, we learned much more than she did. We discovered, in a refreshing way that lifted our spirits, how much capacity our youth have for personal growth, for altruism and for challenging all of us to improve ourselves into our best possible beings. We learned that the world will be just fine when we are ready to hand it over to the Desi's of the world, the youth who will bring their confidence and their competence into an interesting future. 
We look forward to learning more from Desi when she travels with us in October. 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Someone Cared

Petronia before treatment in spring 2013
She is 34 years old, with four children and a husband who is a laborer in rural Guatemala, which means he can sometimes find work and sometimes not. The only unusual thing in the sentence above is that she survived to the age of 34.
In May of 2013, the day our Finding Freedom staff member took to a Guatemalan doctor, Petronia's blood sugar was over 1000. A normal blood sugar reading is considered to be under 120. Petronia knew she was sick, but her husband struggled to feed their family and to keep the children in school, and she knew better than to ask for him to take her to a doctor. The money simply wasn't there. They were 3,000 Q's ($380) in debt just to keep their children fed.

Uneducated women are not stupid, they are simply unschooled. Petronia is smart in ways FFF board members couldn't conceive of; she knows how to make a meal stretch, how to build a fire using just the right kind of wood, how to get clothes sparkling clean even when washing them in polluted water. She can forecast weather, negotiate the problems in her community and she is resilient and brave. But she didn't know how to get rid of the malaise, nausea, neuropathy and itching skin she suffered for several years before seeing a doctor. Her severe weight loss and muscle wasting was a mystery to her. She only knew enough to ask for help.

Taking a mother like Petronia into our program is financially risky. We have no separate budget for
Blood sugar check by FFF volunteer, six months later





medical needs. Medical care for mothers is more expensive for us than food donations, and furthermore, Petronia has a husband, so she does not fit the criteria for our assistance. We only took her into our circle of concern so she could access medical care; what started as one visit to the doctor has turned into a year long relationship. In the nonprofit world we call it the "gray zone"...dealing with human lives has no black and white area, no crisp edges. She has four children that we didn't want to leave motherless. It was enough reason to add her medical needs, and occasionally a food donation, to our program. Thanks to a few special donors, we have been able to keep her supplied with the life-saving medicine you see her holding below. 

Diabetic meds donated by FFF


A year ago we received this message about her from Roland, one of our facilitators:
 She has nausea after eating. She has pain in her ovaries. She has pain in bones in all of her body. She is having burning pain in her vagina. She has gastritis. She has pain in her head. Since 5 months ago she has great difficulty to sleep. During the day she has her eyes closed most of the time. Could be that she has diabetes? She has not received exams and she can’t afford exams, journey or medicines.We can travel with her to the doctor’s clinic on Monday. The doctor said he wants to make blood exams and other exams of her. She repeated, "I am having tremendous pains."
Many monthls later, Petronia's health is still very fragile. Her diabetes would be a challenge to care for here in the states; in Guatemala it takes herculean efforts on the part of Pedro and Roland to get her transported to the doctor, scrounge through local pharmacies for the right medicine, and to deliver the food we send every few months. Her blood sugar last month was still over 500. We have a long way to go, but she is still here, a year later. Her face is filling out, and her eyes have brightened. She is listening to the advice the doctor gives her and she is compliant with medical care. 

Another year of mothering her children, and year of knowing that someone cared. 

Which means almost as much as the insulin she is holding.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

He Would Be A Hero

"I have spoken with many Guatemalan men and women about them coming to the USA to find work. All of them have been in a desperate situation. I have told them all it's not a good idea to go illegally to the States. It's dangerous and more than not they won't be able to find jobs.Yet this is hard for them to believe. They all know someone who made it to the U.S., found work and is now sending money to their families. One day in February I sat in a dirt floor adobe hut precariously placed on a Guatemalan mountain side. Manuel sat with his 2 year old son on his lap and his wife by his side. He was explaining to me he desperately needed to leave for the States. He didn't want to leave his family but they were hungry and he need to do something. A family living 100 yards down the road from them were receiving money from the their son in the States. They now had food, better clothing and a better house to live in than before. Manuel could not believe he may not have the same luck as his neighbor. Manuel believes he would be one of the people that made it here and found work. Then he would be able to support his family. He'd be a hero. He didn't consider what would happen if he was sent back home. None of them do."
John

The words above are taken from an email sent by a Finding Freedom friend who is expressing his thoughts about the past and the recent human tide from Central America who are crossing the border illegally. 
These concerns are not just words and feelings for us, they represent people in Guatemala who we are working with daily.  Two of the women in our program have lost, respectively, a husband and a son who died while trying to cross the border to  find work in the states. One FFF mother recently had her son return to Guatemala after he served a six month jail term for crossing into the U.S.. He now owes the coyote $5,000 that he can't repay. He supports his wheelchair dependent mother and his four siblings and he hasn't found work since he returned.
Reality is just about as authentic as it can get when FFF volunteers are in Guatemala sharing a day with a recent widow who sent her husband off to the land of opportunity, only to have him return in a coffin. 

Catarina became widowed after her husband died crossing border


Crossing the border is extraordinarily difficult, dangerous, expensive and terrifying. 
Living a life of extreme poverty is no less so. 

What would you do if you were in these shoes; when being a hero to your children simply means being able to house and feed them? 
The recent news events concerning the flood of children who are illegally crossing our borders looks very different depending on which side of the border you stand on; the side of desperation or the side of opportunity. The reasons for this current humanitarian crisis are political and economical, and very, very sad. Our board members are tired of watching the news of the new waves of arrests, looking for faces we may know.
Finding Freedom's role in this human drama is small, and seemingly insignificant against the crush of numbers. 
We simply want to feed, educate, employ and house the people in the mountains of Guatemala so they don't have to leave home to be a hero. 
It seems so easy. 
It is so damn hard. 
It involves long nights at the computer, long days writing grants and longer weeks balancing budgets, packing humanitarian supplies, documenting spreadsheets of information on our families, and working hard at our jobs so we can donate out of our own pockets to keep our program going. 
And if it keeps even one girl in school so she has earning potential, or one family fed, or a roof intact against the relentless rainy season, then it is all worth it. 

The family now walks 6 miles a day to earn money by washing laundry in a nearby village



Monday, June 9, 2014

The Boy

Finding Freedom board members are either medical professionals themselves or are intimately related to one. We have studied, worked with and cared for children with physical and mental challenges. Thankfully, our United States health care systems have excellent provisions to meet the needs of our patients. Some of us have required this same quality of care for family members. We have watched our children get CAT scans, intravenous fluids, visit local emergency rooms, undergo stitches, broken arms and car accidents. We have walked out of our neighborhood hospitals (sometimes the same ones we work in) with gratitude for the blessings of understanding the medical process and having the connections involved in getting a loved one back to health.

As medical professionals we have the ability to assess children and to have a unique understanding that certain children will always suffer challenges that will create hardships for themselves and their families. After years of working with children undergoing physical or mental disabilities, something seeps into our thought process. It is often unspoken, sometimes secretive and fear provoking. It happens when we see a child who can't be helped, children who are destined to be less than he or she was capable of being, either because of genetics or from an accident. 

 It is human nature to feel grateful that this child in front of us at the moment is not ours to raise. We can walk away, turn out the lights, lock our office doors and say a prayer of thanks that children like Jonathan are someone else's issue. Someone else, usually the biological parents, will make appointments, pace through sleepless nights with a sick child, and coordinate health care. It is a relief to be on the giving side rather than the parenting side of raising a child who will live with lifelong challenges. 

Children like Jonathan.

We are not sure yet what Jonathan's developmental issues are. Perhaps he suffers from birth trauma that caused a lack of life-sustaining oxygen as a newborn. He may be the victim of maternal malnutrition during gestation, or pediatric malnutrition at a critical part of his cerebral growth. His issues may be genetic; his grandmother is mentally ill and lives in his household, and is cared for by Jonathan's mother. 
For whatever reason, this boy, with his sweet doe eyes and languid features, will always be just that...a boy. His mother is afraid to put him in school; bullying among students is a universal issue. He will not meet his earning potential. He most likely will always need to be looked after by relatives who live day by day themselves and have little to offer him. Jonathan will not fill the expected role that the oldest son would typically have in rural Guatemala; to labor on behalf of his mother, to harvest firewood and crops and to help earn an income to feed the family.

There are no respite workers, no developmental pediatric centers and certainly no social service funds to help Jonathan's mother. She is the poorest of the poor in the highlands of Guatemala, and is new to our program. Jonathan will not receive interventional therapy to assist him in reaching deeply to find his hidden talents. There are no speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, vision specialists or even a basic pediatrician within hundreds of miles of where this family lives. Those of us who work daily with the realities of life for the critically poor in Guatemala have a saying: 
"It is what it is."

Jonathan's house: dirt floors, no furniture
 Jonathan and his mother Candalaria were referred to us by neighbors, who themselves live just a fraction above the means of this family. The villagers living near Candalaria and her sons knew that this mama was at the end of her ability to survive her situation much longer. 
Candalaria is the someone else that we think of when we see developmentally delayed children, whether here or in Guatemala. She is the only parent, breadwinner and guardian of everything her mentally ill mother and disabled son need. As a widow with no education and no job, Candalaria is in many ways as limited in her options as her son is. She is chronically exhausted, hungry and hopeless. 
And that is where, as medical professionals and parents, the real fear-based inner voice rises from. We all know that we would do anything humanly possible to meet the needs of our children to the best of our abilities. But what happens when the caretaker can no longer take care of those who need her most? 
Every parent has had this dark thought; the terror of wondering what would happen to your children if today was the last day you could carry on. 

 Supporting mothers so they can care for those who need them most is what we do as an organization. How we do that for this family remains to be seen. We delivered food staples last week so that the family has one meal a day for the next month. We can't help Jonathan with resources to nurture his abilities, but we can diminish some of the fear his mother feels when she wonders who the someone else is if she can't carry on.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No Idea What To Do

She was the size of a small refrigerator, with eyes so liquid and brown that you felt yourself melting right into them. Her hide was the color of warm Carmel, and it stretched over her hips so tightly that when you ran your hand over them you could feel the nuances of the bones. The rainy night she joined our family was one of complete chaos...construction on our barn wasn't finished yet so she had to reside in the garage. As we led her into her new temporary home, she lost her footing on the wet concrete floor, and each leg went a different direction as her very full udder lay under her. Caroline the cow was now in the ownership of a family who had no clue what to do with her.
Caroline with cousin Colleen

When I tell people that we grew up on five acres in central Kentucky, they assume I know about farming, that by default, our DNA has "farmer genes".  Vice President Mike and I know enough to plant a seed and water it, but we never quite got the cow thing down. Caroline eventually came down with mastitis and we sold her to a farmer with a herd and a head full of knowledge on animal husbandry.

Our flustered attempts to meet Caroline's needs taught us many life lessons, but despite this I still went into our relationships with our FFF mom's thinking that each of them must know how to garden. Indigenous women in Guatemala have lived their lives surrounded by verdant hills, with moisture providing rains and volcanic soil capable of feeding those that nurture it. Finding Freedom has purchased land for many of our abandoned mothers in our program and we are currently building our sixteenth house. Why then are these women still dependent on our food donations? Why aren't they milking their own cows or raising luscious gardens on the land we purchased for them? Why don't they just know how to raise their own food?


Catarina
The answer is as different as each of the women we ask it of. Lucia owns the land we purchased for her, but it sits on a cliff so high that we had to create a guardrail at the edge of her porch so her children didn't fall off the edge. Candalaria has the land we deeded to her, but no hoe, rake, seeds or terracing to keep the soil from washing down her steep hill during the rainy season. Lucy's land sits at the bottom of a shallow, where all of the rain from the frequent showers puddles, keeping the soil too wet to grow food.  Catarina's (R) lungs are so damaged from Tuberculosis and asthma that  even walking is difficult for her. 
We have had some success. Ana's FFF donated chickens died but the land we purchased for her has trees that produce a native fruit that she sells when in season. Maria's land, where our newest home with running water is being built, is flat, large enough to garden, and Maria knows how to tend to growing vegetables. She will need tools, fertilizer and seeds, but she has the knowledge. 
 

Maria on her new FFF donated land. 


Oxfam (Oxfam), an international relief organization dedicated to eradication of hunger and poverty. They describe food insecurity this way:



 Our Finding Freedom sponsored families fit the above criteria. Finding Freedom only provides one meal a day for our sponsored families. Two thousand calories a day per person is not something they can conceptualize, or that we could afford. We have to move toward self-sustainability for our families.
We are growing as an organization, and growing pains mean that we stretch our knowledge base to meet the needs of our sponsored families. As of last week we are actively seeking other organizations and individuals to teach our FFF mothers gardening techniques. We don't know yet what this new "picture" looks like for our program, but it will certainly have a better outcome than our family had with poor Caroline the cow. 



 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

Haiti is a popular humanitarian destination for American volunteers to travel to.  Some of my friends love using their talents to make life better in Africa. Most of our readers have acquaintances who use their skills to make our local community stronger through the spirit of giving of themselves to benefit others. So why, people often ask, do Finding Freedom through Friendship board members choose to put our time, talents and treasure into a tiny Central American country called Guatemala?
Let me introduce to you some amazing board members and explain to our readers why we love Guatemala:

This is Mary Kay Hall (R). She works as a registered nurse, has a compassionate heart, and has traveled to Guatemala with a medical team. While there, Mary Kay connected with the Guatemalan women and children and she was eager to find a meaningful way to benefit them. Mary Kay is a founding board member of our organization, she serves as our secretary and sponsors one of our students. She helps raise funds for FFF by selling our craft items and utilizing her skills as a jewelry maker to create items we sell at craft fairs.

Mike and Wendy McNevin (L) live in Denver. As a physician who travels to Guatemala annually, Mike is continually reminded of the humanitarian need that exists there. He serves as our vice president, all while holding down a demanding job as a Medical Director of a surgery center, serving as a Bishop in his church and meeting the needs of his three grown children. Mike's compassionate medical care for the women and children of Guatemala is his hallmark. He and his wife Wendy have sent two of their children to Guatemala on medical missions. Wendy serves as our board president, and she covers us with prayer, willingly shares her income with our organization to benefit our abandoned mothers, and supports our project with her quiet devotion to making the world a better place.  

Carol Kremer (L) resides in Rhode Island, and is a busy mother of two, as well as a practicing CRNA. As an adoptive mother of a daughter from Guatemala, Carol has a big heart for impoverished women in Central America. Carol is one of our founding board members and works tirelessly at her online Guatemalan craft sales, the proceeds of which help us financially. Carol is an excellent communicator and her work ethic benefits many. Her financial gifts that result from her on-line sales have purchased beds, tables, home payments, stoves and bedding and educational supplies for many of our families.


Vinnie and Faby de Samoya (R) reside in Guatemala and are the parents of four. As a minister, Vinnie works long hours to meet the needs of his parishioners. This amazing couple share their love of ministry and compassion for others by mentoring several of our micro business clients, as well as delivering food, school supplies and micro business advice to one of our single mothers located three hours from them. 


 


Jody Greenlee (L) is a pediatric nurse and has fostered two children from Guatemala that came to the states for donated surgery. She has traveled to Guatemala for the last fourteen years to volunteer her medical and humanitarian services to women and children in our organization. She serves as our Executive Director.

In addition, Erin Ballard (KY), Violeta Archer (TX) and Rae House (KY) act as advisory board members. Erin is a student at the University of KY and despite a busy schedule, is always ready and willing to pack medical supplies and gather items needed in Guatemala. Violeta developed our business plan and shares her passion for sustainable architectural plans for the homes we build in Guatemala. Rae does an outstanding job of creating our PR work (Rae's website), and gives our organization a "face" to go with our name.  
 Finding Freedom was founded out of our board member's desire to create positive and long term meaningful change for Guatemala's abandoned women and their children. We all have a part of our hearts in Guatemala, for various reasons. Maria and her children are a few of those reasons.

Maria and her children, with first FFF food donation




Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Mother's Thank You

I know you can't understand her. If it helps, I can't either. Candalaria speaks a dialect that I will never master, but thankfully our Guatemalan facilitators speak it fluently.
So you will have to trust me when I tell you that she is saying "thank you." She is expressing her gratitude for your concern, for helping us to help her.
I love this particular dialect. It is spoken softly, and when we are in a room of women who are speaking this language, it feels like a soft flow of warm water, easing through the room without sharp edges, smoothing everything in its path.

video

Candalaria's life changed dramatically when Finding Freedom added her to our program. As a recent widow, she went from sleeping on her father's floor with her five children to being a landowner, homeowner and the proud mother of students who excelled once they were back in school. The family has running water for the first time ever, and they eat at least one meal a day.  
She has much to be grateful for, and she wanted to thank you. 
As do we. 

 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mother to Mother

Stella Leona Ad promoting FFF

 We at Finding Freedom through Friendship firmly believe in the power of women to connect with each other in life-changing ways. It is a risky proposition, this emotional connection we are capable of creating. By extending our hearts, spirits and energy, we risk being hurt. And when we hurt, we feel it at a level men can't always relate to. Making the choice to put ourselves "out there," whether it is in a relationship, a business proposition or for a volunteer prospect can go in any direction. Not all of us are brave enough to make this venture. 
 Nancy Bontrager is making the decision to continue with her family's dedication to being world-changers. 



Nancy Bontranger, founder of Stella Leona Chocolates

A few years ago, Nancy suddenly became a single mother after the passing of her husband. You can read more about her business and personal journey here: Stella Leona Blog.
Nancy knows firsthand what FFF mother's experience when they are suddenly faced with raising children by themselves. She "gets it" in ways that I'm sure she wishes she didn't. 
Sometimes the best way to travel a difficult path is by pulling someone else up to walk along side you, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. Supporting our program through the sales of a specialty Mother's Day product is Nancy's way of pulling some of our mother's up, by offering them support through raising revenue. 
We are honored to have Nancy, as a business owner, and her staff, as chocolate artisans, stand with us in our desire to ease the difficulties of abandoned and widowed mothers in our program. 
Here is the link to the product that is being featured for the Stella Leona Mother's Day fundraiser.  (FFF Fundraiser). 
All proceeds from the sales of this beautiful and edible Pansy basket will go toward our program. Making life a bit easier for Mayan mothers is Nancy's gift to them on this upcoming Mother's Day. Helping other single mothers doesn't come any sweeter than this.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Boys

Juan with school supplies from FFF
We write so often about girls on this blog. Girls who lack education, who live lives of servitude or grinding poverty which keeps them from blossoming into women who can live their best life.  Finding Freedom is all about supporting mothers who lack the critically important things like adequate food, shelter and medicines for their children. As a reader, you might think we concentrate only on females in Guatemala, and that we have forgotten about the boys.
This post is about a few exceptional boys, who we hope, with our support, will grow into even more exceptional men.

This (above) is Juan. At just over four feet tall, he already stands over his mother, who has lost most of her teeth and some of her bone density from maternal malnutrition. As one of two brothers in a fatherless household, Juan would soon be required to try to find a menial labor job to help his family financially. Keeping his family fed and Juan in school will stop that from happening. By supporting his family's critical needs for food, medical care and shelter, Finding Freedom is taking some of the financial pressure of of Juan's widowed mother. 
Juan doesn't know it yet, but without our support, his life would be one of endless menial low-paying jobs. Rural Mayan boys rarely get through secondary school in his village. Their labor is more valued, and the meager income more vital, than their education.


This (below) is William. When I stand in front of William, I see a quiet strength that could move mountains, if given the chance. William's desire in life is to be a teacher. This is an admirable goal; his father is deceased and his mother (shown) is illiterate. I made a personal promise to William that if he can get through high school, I will be at his graduation. So few young men in his village graduate from high school that it would be a cause for celebration!

William with his mother, Maria
Meanwhile, we are working on gathering funds to build William and his mother a house, so that the precious financial resources of $15 a month for rent can be used for food and clothing. The land that Finding Freedom donors purchased for the family last month has secured a future for William after his only parent passes away.
The benefits of this land purchase allows Maria to live on her own property throughout her lifetime, while giving her children a place to build on after marriage, should they choose to do so. William promised me that he will always look after his mother and sister. Supporting the needs of this young man will ensure that he in turn is a support system for his female relatives.
We recently secured water rights for the new land for William, his mother and sister. One small improvement at a time adds up to life changing security for this family. 

Eduardo with his new school shirt



Eduardo (R) is sporting his new school shirt that FFF donors paid for. He is the oldest male child in a fatherless household, and he understands his role to provide for his siblings. When his mother conscripted him as a contract laborer in the sugar cane fields two months ago he didn't question the need, but he desperately wanted to stay in school. Fortunately, a GoFundMe campaign raised enough money to allow this to happen, meaning that Eduardo may use his brains instead of his brawn for one more year. Educating Eduardo protects his mother from financial corruption by giving her an educated family member to turn to during transactions with the man who consigns with her for her craft items. 
Small improvements in the lives of these boys and the many others in our program bring big benefits to their current and future families. Sustaining young men gives them the tools they need to be strong fathers and spouses someday.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Mistake

The words on this post start here because this is a half-picture. I was importing photos of Manuela and her widowed mother into our data base. I went onto start printing them, but I forgot to set my printer default to the smaller size. When her photo started emerging from my printer, I abruptly stopped the page from printing. The result? Half an image. Half a child. Half a girl child, which in developing countries usually means less than the value of a male child.
When her image inched its way out of my printer, I was struck by the brightness of her eyes, the smile that a child has before she realizes the limits poverty are going to impinge on her. This is the face of expectation that the future will be what she will make of it, not what will be dictated to her by a lack of education or opportunity.
We are able to start feeding this child and her siblings because a woman named Cindy in Europe decided that $100 dollars a month needed to go toward something important.
The rest of this image shows a thin child with a belt wrapped twice around a tiny waist. Maybe it is best that the photo didn't develop properly. I want to share her with you this way; with a sparkle in her eyes and hope in her heart. 
If we find the funds for a house that doesn't leak in the rainy season, school supplies and a micro business loan for her mother, I'll look forward to showing you a whole child. 
One with a future.


Friday, April 4, 2014

The Boys


 Sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith. The faith in this case meant believing that if we took the boys and their mother into our program, funds to meet their needs (read former post here) would appear before us. It sounds biblical, but it is the reality of running a nonprofit. 
Meanwhile, the messages from Roland kept coming:

" Their mom Navia told me that a person/persons of the community there they lived made a decision that her sons were maltreated, their mother told me that some people of the community had misunderstood not knowing that the boys have this skin disease, and that there people of the community were afraid that it could be contagious, also she told me that her daughter was malnourished last year. I think the mom and her sons were at the hospital since December till early February. There is a court date on April 9th for the judge to decide to take the children because they don't understand the disease and they think it is abuse."

So we leaped. This family had all of the regular FFF issues and more....malnourished children, no income, a missing father. But they also had gifts...a hospital director who was willing to help us fight the courts to allow the mother to continue to parent her children, and they had the greatest ally ever; Roland, who was already emotionally invested in helping this family. 

Roland's notes continued:
"And I also have a medical certificates that Dr Julio C. sent to me that I will print and give to their mom. He wrote one document for each boy, I asked him for these documents that can help their mom.   
I will tell you if a document can be necessary to show the judge that the boys have a disease and are not mistreated. She has documents signed by the hospital director of the national hospital of the city of M., there he wrote that the boys are not mistreated, I have a copy of one of these documents that he wrote."


We were hooked. Grinding poverty does not lend itself well to happy stable households, especially when there is only one parent. Navia was strong enough to look unfavorable odds right in the eye and try to do her best for her sons who were going to need every bit of strength she could muster. She needed exactly what our name indicated; freedom from worry and friendship


Matthew in Colorado sent $200. This allowed us to get the boys to the doctor for an accurate diagnosis. I will write more on this in another post.



Food Supplies from Matthew's Donation
Trip to pharmacy for skin lotions
For now, we have a new family, a lot of faith and an unknown future. The judge could decide to ignore the documentation showing that we intend to help this mother and her children. The boys have an auto immune disease that would be a medical challenge in the states much less in Guatemala. For now, we will do what we should do anyway, and take one day at a time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

We Said No More

Our facilitators in Guatemala know better. They understand that Finding Freedom through Friendship is limited in our financial resources, as are most nonprofit organizations in our current economy. It takes money to feed, shelter and educate children, and this money squeaks from being wrung dry. 
So we said, and have said for months,"no more." 
No more emails asking if we can help this mother in a village, or that mother in a small rural town. No more pictures of children sleeping on dirt floors in houses with leaking roofs. But Roland, our Guatemalan facilitator, didn't listen. Because he was there in the hospital, with his big heart and his beaten up camera and his indefatigable stamina for helping one more..... he sent me this:

The 2 brothers are; Larry; 8 years old. And Arles; 4 years old. Their mother’s name is Navia. Both brothers are suffering from burning, much itching all over their bodies and also in their mouths, tongues and throat, and it also affect their eyes.
 
The nurse said aging skin disease, but they don’t know exactly what skin disease the boys have. The nurse and social worker said they have no treatments for the siblings in the hospital, and asked me to search for help for the brothers. The mother and her 2 sons now live now in the hospital temporarily; they do not have their own home. The mother is a single mother. She also has a daughter, but she does not have the disease, and now her daughter is in a special shelter for children in another city. I saw that the mother does not have many teeth. Her two sons have not received exams or treatments by dermatologists.

And with this request, he sent these pictures.
I stood my ground with this picture. Larry is cute, he is malnourished, but then so are millions of children in Guatemala and we can't take them all:


Eight year old Larry



Four year old brother, Arlis
And we only slightly wavered when we saw this one (above right), because his little brother is so sweet, but don't all (at least to us) Guatemalan children look sweet?

Larry's hand
Disease process leaves open sores and scars
But this one got us. The disease process has made a webbed mess of what used to be hands, and his back looks like a burn victim.





 



Roland's message continued; 
" I have met them 4 times and I have seen how the boys love their mom and how she loves and care very much for her sons, that is my impression, I think my photos shows that. The brothers get hurt easily in their skin and they need lots of attention, many times yesterday her mother had to carry her youngest son. So this is the reason why her daughter temporarily is in a shelter, she was malnourished, the mother had no food for her children."
 
We could push ourselves harder, work longer for more donated dollars, and network more resources to help. It feels scary and insecure. When we "adopt" a mother with critical needs in Guatemala, we put 100% of our effort into helping. She and her children become part of our "family". These boys have a life threatening, lifelong disease that could suck the financial lifeblood out of our organization. Their mother has nothing, which means getting the family from nothing to something will take hours and hours of time and effort. Hours we don't have.

In the next post, I will tell you what we decided to do.