Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Child in Guatemala

I'm a firm believer in spiritual leaders. Personally, I need them; I seek them out, read their books, breathe their messages into my pores. I have to have mentors to keep me sane while working in Guatemala, a country of insane poverty, gender inequality and scholastic inadequacy. All of our board members are people of wisdom and seekers, some through church work, some through service work, others via role models. We understand the need for collaboration and guidance. 

Iyanla Vanzant (L) (Iyanla's blog) is one of my favorite life coaches. Her wisdom comes from a combination of seeking, immersion, and the hardest education of all....tragedy.  She knows at her core of the pain a mother feels when she suffers the loss of a child. Iyanla "gets" the relationship humans must have in order for this planet we inhabit to be a home we can grow up on instead of grow out of in this  current atmosphere of international conflict.

Iyanla believes that there is one name for each child in our world. Not the name Jane, or Jack, but rather the name Everychild. 
Each child in the world is everychild. He or she doesn't belong to just their particular country, or village or even parents. They belong to all of us, just like each woman and each man belongs to everyone else in the world. We are connected. Our joys, sorrows, success or lack of is intertwined. 
In other words, everychild's concerns are our own concerns. 

Sandra's life has been reduced to sleeping in the dirt

This is Sandra. She used to live in a house, on land owned by her parents, with a roof that didn't leak, food that was on the table at night and a bed to sleep in. Now she sleeps on the floor you see her standing on, which belongs to a relative who allows the family to rest there at night. 
Sandra's father wanted more for his family than the small income he made scratching out a living harvesting crops in Guatemala. He became one of the several million Central American men who risk life and limb to cross our border seeking work. And that is what it cost him-two limbs and a foot, when he fell off of the train as it crossed into Mexico. He is still in the hospital months later, his land and house now gone to pay the coyote fee for the unsuccessful journey. 
We met with Sandra and her mother last week. We listened to her story, heard her despair, gave her a months worth of food, some pain medication (the hospital had none) and offered her the more nebulous item called "hope."
We will  help her find a room to rent and purchase a bed to put her newly disabled husband on when he comes home. FFF found a school sponsor for Sandra. We will, within our ability to do so, make her concerns our own until the burden of her troubles feels lighter.
Sandra is everychild. Her mother is everywoman. Her father, with only one functional limb, is everyman. No child should be homeless and hungry, no matter what country they live in. There are enough resources and enough humanitarians in this world for the everychilds to be helped by everyone who desires to make the power of connection create positive change. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How Do You Find the Women You Help?

"A proposal: Widow: Maria Juarez. Her daughter's name is Catarina and she also has a son. I am including some of my photos of her and her daughter. And she is struggling hard so that they can continue to study. I have seen a document that she showed me that show that her husband died 5 years ago. She is working hard, and she is selling fruits, she does not have a shop. According what a friend has told me she does not receive any help at all. She does not owe her own land. Neither the metal shelter you can see in my photos is hers; she is paying a rent to have the permission to live there with her daughter and son. Maria’s parents have both died. You can see in my photos how small their home is. As I have understood so far Maria is in great need of support. Maybe she can be included?"

Many people ask our Finding Freedom board members how we find the women we help in rural Guatemala. After all, there are millions just like them; women who have no food in their homes, no running water or electricity, and who live in rainwater and mud during the rainy season. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of women who are parenting alone in Guatemala and a lack of abundance of any type of social services to assist them. 
We start by reviewing requests like the one above from our facilitators in the field. 
We examine our budget to determine if there is room for another family to be helped.  Annual trips to visit  the mothers in our program are essential toward determining which family on our list has the most critical needs. So we go, high up into the mountains, where the need is most acute and the geographical beauty takes our breath away. 

Maria gets a physical exam
Documenting the details

We sit; we assess; we listen. We do physical exams, and we observe. We take time to be inside homes that leak in the rain and are inadequate shelter in every meaningful way and we feel. We use our women's intuition, our male board member's critical thinking skills and our non-profit board member experience to inform our instincts on whether or not this particular family in front of us is credible, and has a desire to help themselves. 
Maria's rental house.

 If this need is acute, and the family agrees to sign our contract stating their willingness to educate their children, work toward self-sufficiency and feed an elderly person twice a week, then they have won the Finding Freedom "lottery". 

Construction has started on Maria's home, donated by a FFF benefactor
A proud landowner

Signing FFF contract with a thumbprint. Maria does not read or write.

When the stars line up for one of the women we assist, and we have funds to include them in our program, miracles happen. Children are included in our scholarship program and become educated. Food is delivered once a month and bodies receive nutrition. Medical needs are address, and people heal. Homes are built and shelter becomes a reality instead of a dream. Water contracts and land deeds are legally filed, securing futures. Mind, body and spirit flourish, because women now know that someone cares enough to give them a lift up and out of the abyss of grinding poverty. After five years of doing our work, not one of the women we have helped has said they were sorry we found them, listened to them, heard their needs and helped. 
Connection, caring, compassion....the three "C's" at the core of the three "F's."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Partnering with Catapult to Educate Mayan Girls

The Catapult Foundation in New York City was started by a group of professionals who have backgrounds in journalism, technology and design, and who have a passion for gender equality and the needs of women and girls around the world. Catapult shares our strong belief that there is an urgent need for increased financial and social engagement on the part of donors to eradicate the obstacles women and girls face globally. 
You can learn more about Catapult here.

Finding Freedom is thrilled to announce our partnership with Catapult in our mutual desire to see positive change in the lives of indigenous girls in the mountains of Guatemala. One of the most significant ways to create this change is through lowering the barriers associated with getting an education. The obstacles our Mayan girls face in trying to gain even a rudimentary education in the mountains of Guatemala are stunning. Here is one small (literally and figuratively) example:

Alba, at home with her bedridden mother
 This is Alba (above). She is nine years old. Alba and her eleven year old brother are the caretakers for her widowed mother, who has been bedridden since Alba was a baby. As the only female in the household who is physically capable, Alba is the cook for the family. She is learning how to care for a household without a capable role model. Alba has the weight of the world on her small shoulders.

Even at her young age, gender roles are playing a formative place in her life. 

It is hard for an American mother to imagine a nine year old attending school while worrying about her bedridden mother, or after walking a long distance to a school that does not provide meals, school supplies, heat, or even a marginal education. What makes the effort worthwhile when you have to walk up steep mountain paths, in shoes that fit poorly if at all? In the rain, or fog without protective waterproof outerwear, after a night of restless sleep under a pile of used clothing because there are few blankets in the home? What motivates a young girl to bother going to school at all under these conditions? How does she do her schoolwork at night when there is no budget for candles?

Here is why girls like Alba care enough to try:

School, even as basic as the ones in remote rural Guatemala, offers a respite from the daily chores and helping with child care that many young girls do at home. Central American culture thrives on companionship and connection; being part of a classroom offers this. Without television or radio at home, where there is no electricity, sharing even rudimentary information within a classroom is the only way for a girl to learn outside of the constraints of her home. Alba's mother does not read or write. Her life choices were dictated for her by her limited options and her cycle of poverty. Alba, even at the young age of nine, knows that the classroom is her only chance to create any opportunity for a life that does not mirror her mother's. 
For this child and the twenty-nine other girls we are opening educational doors for, we are thrilled to announce that our partnership with Catapult has been a success. 

Our Catapult Project was successfully funded!
To read more about what this project will do for thirty fortunate girls in rural Guatemala, go to our Catapult Project page here: FFF's Education Project
Meanwhile, our deepest gratitude to Catapult, and to their donors, for making Alba's future brighter. A friend who met Alba recently remarked: "I love this child. She is going places!"
Thanks to Gucci Parfums, who donated the majority of the scholastic funds we needed, we have faith that she will indeed. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hunger

— Central America is having one of its worst droughts in decades, and experts warned Thursday that major farm losses and the deaths of hundreds of cattle in the region could leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.
The agricultural losses are largely in corn and beans, basic staples of the region's diet, the United Nations' World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a joint statement.
"The impact of the prolonged heat wave is having on nutrition and food security in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua is very worrisome," the agencies said.
The food agencies said the situation needs to be addressed immediately or what is already a food crisis could worsen in the coming months.
In Guatemala, about 170,000 families lost almost all of their crops.
(BND.com press)

These are some of the children we serve in our organization. These children already knew of this natural disaster, before it gained international attention:

Jose's family lost their father five years ago after a long struggle with tuberculosis. Jose is the only son in the family, and without brothers to plant and tend crops, the family soon fell into a food crisis. They were referred to Finding Freedom in 2011, and since then have been receiving a daily meal that is sometimes all they eat in 24 hours. Our cost for their food staples went up 30% in the last two years. We anticipate a rise in prices again soon, due to country wide crop failures of corn and beans. Our commitment to Jose's family remains strong but our financial resources will feel the strain. As the only wage earners in the family, his teenage sisters spend their days weaving traditional crafts. This family is trying to help themselves but without the ability to enter a formal job market, which does not exist in their village, they are relegated to a life of extreme poverty, and with it, chronic hunger. 

Lucy, (Right) only receives $10 worth of food per month from our program. Her mother is given this food as an extra incentive to attend our weekly literacy program, so that in the future she can read and write. Ten dollars provides Lucy and her siblings with some bags of rice and pasta, which doesn't answer the need for protein, but helps fill little stomachs. Lucy is too young to understand the lack of economic opportunity that affects her family. FFF has provided funding for a community garden that her mother can benefit from. This garden will not provide protein that is essential to developing pediatric brains and bodies, but it is a start. 

Sylvia is a mother of seven children (right) in the slums of Guatemala. Financial limitations keep us from feeding this family on a monthly basis, but we were able to deliver food to them this past January. Last week, Sylvia called to ask for another delivery. She is a proud and resourceful mother, and we know that when she asks, the need is acute. We sent her food, and will visit her in October to assess how she can help herself with food security for her family with a micro business grant from Finding Freedom. 

There are so few, if any, solid answers for how to effectively feed all of the hungry children in our program. Ideally we would teach their mother's a skill so that they could work and raise money to take care of their children themselves. 
Five years after the inception of our program, we have not found a way to teach women who are illiterate how to run a business or perform product development. The few dollars some of them earn from doing traditional weavings don't begin to cover their cost of living. All nonprofits face the same dilemma: how to offer a hand up instead of a hand out, because the "hand" may not always be attached to a financial arm. 
Meanwhile, we will keep fundraising and feeding, because hunger is not something any child should experience, no matter what country they live in. 

Adopt-A-Village Guatemala and Finding Freedom collaborate to feed 7 families in remote northern Guatemala. Antonio is one of the recipients of this partnership.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Trying to Sleep at Night

She was our poster child of what a little Mayan Guatemalan girl could look like with proper nutrition, housing and a mother who was receiving all that she needed to care for her children properly. Ana was radiant. When I looked at her photos, I knew our hard working little organization was doing great and wonderful things because photos are proof.

Ana, a year after staring our program
Until they aren't. 
Until the story behind the photo becomes something you don't want to write about.
Which is what happens when dysfunction, and addiction and poor decisions made by the adults in her life fall in the lap of one precious little girl who didn't ask for any of it.

 We purchased land for her mother after the alcoholic father sold their first house out from under his children's feet.
We built a new home, deeded it to the mother, purchased water rights, piped in liquid gold (water) right to the door and luxuries of luxuries...even put in a real toilet. The children were back in school thanks to FFF scholarships, and the easiest thing on our list of donations was the most important and nourishing...we fed the family one meal a day. Ana flourished. Her siblings gained weight. Her mother gained her pride back after we helped her in a micro business. Life for this family in the mountains of Guatemala was good.

Until slowly, it wasn't so good anymore. Ana became sick, pale and swollen. She cried very often and hard and refused to walk for six months. We got her to the doctor once a month for too many trips to count, and despite antibiotics, a consult with an American doctor and a hospitalization in Guatemala City, she declined physically and 

Swollen hands, knees and feet
I don't know what was behind her mother's decision, but suddenly and inexplicably, Ana's  alcoholic father was back in the picture, demanding that his daughter be released from the hospital and returned home to the house we built after he sold the first one out from under his family. The house that he wasn't supposed to be in, according to our written contract with Ana's mother and the wishes of the community who had banished him after his mistreatment of his wife and children.
I have never walked a day in this mother's shoes (or lack thereof), and it is not our place to judge her decision. Maybe her husband was the one true love of her life. Maybe she is an eternal optimist and thinks he will change. Most likely she is just terrified of life without a man to harvest crops and firewood for her. For all she knows, FFF could vaporize some day and our support would evaporate. For reasons none of us could rationalize, the father who had created havoc in the lives of his wife and children was now in charge again.

Hospitalization before release to father
Meanwhile, without social services or government officials to intervene, all we can do is respect the mother's wishes that Finding Freedom no longer deliver our services. I'll try to get the sounds of Ana's crying out of my mind, and we will move forward in our efforts to help one of the many families on our waiting list. I will block out our concerns that she has no pain medication, no steroids for her swollen joints, ad may in fact be terminally ill without proper medical care. 
Nothing about this seems right, or comforting; it feels like a wrong decision made by parents who have the right to make it, at least in Guatemala.  
A famous philosopher once said, 
"You can't change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails".
I understand the sentiment. But it doesn't change my feelings. And it won't help me sleep at night.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Remember the Guatemalan brothers?

 Our loyal readers will remember this story below, which we first wrote in March. 
In hospital, 1/14

This family was found residing in a rural Guatemalan hospital after the loss of their rental shack, their sibling and their income. Because of the lack of knowledge about the genetic skin disease the boys have, the court system was going to go through legal means to also remove the brothers from their mother's care. In the eyes of local medical staff, the ulcers caused by EB looked like child abuse. 
For those of you who haven't read the story before, here is the correspondence that first came out of Guatemala when we were asked to assist this family:

In hospital, 1/14
"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 their mom asked me if it can be possible to give her a document; Constancy (as a proof) that her sons will receive help from FFF for medicines and food that she can give to the judge. She said this can help her so that they don’t take away her sons, including her daughter. She asked if that document can include the names of Finding Freedom helpers, with their signatures, and my signature. What do you think?"  
"Navia said yesterday if possible a letter with stamp from FFF it can be a great help for her. With the doctor certificates from Dr. Cabrera (who made the genetic diagnostic) and executive director of the national hospital, perhaps it can be enough to help her so they don’t take her sons and daughter away from her." Roland.

Their sister, waiting to come home

To make a (very) long story short, several generous donors, one determined FFF facilitator in Guatemala and many hours of documentation came together to change the fortunes of this rag-tag little family. 
Nurse Geri who works with The DEBRA Society in NYC (DEBRA web site) went to the trouble to send a large box of special creams, bandages and antibiotics to our facilitator in Guatemala, who hired a private car to get such a big box of miracles to the family. He spent hours with mama Navia, teaching her how to care for her son's skin with the donated products, so that Arles would not have to suffer the loss of his hands like his brother has. Geri in NYC is working with surgeons in Guatemala to arrange donated surgery for Larry so his fingers can be surgically separated.

Everyone looks healthier!

Shopping for groceries with mama

Meanwhile, FFF has paid for rent for the rest of the year in the room you see (R), the family gets monthly food donations, and the boys have a tutor to keep their school skills up to par. The judge has agreed, after careful documentation and a promise of assistance from us, to release sister S. from the orphanage in a few weeks. 

When our board members first founded Finding Freedom, we had no knowledge of the journey we would take, only the understanding that we were meant to take the first step, and trust that doing so would lead to what FFF was meant to grow into. We are glad that we found our way to this particular family, and we are so pleased with how good they look. 
A special thanks to all of our "FFF villagers" who came together to help this family. They have a long road ahead of them, but at least they will do it with full stomachs, a roof over their head and they will be together. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Faces of Hunger in Guatemala: Not Who You Think

Much has been written in the last few weeks on the causes behind the surge in undocumented children finding their way into the United States. Children from Central America, who are fleeing, some with parents and some without, from hunger, poverty and violence. 
These children on the front pages of the press are the faces that represent these problems in Guatemala, a country endemic for all of those problems and more. The wide-eyed infants and fresh faced toddlers who stare at us from the pages of national newspapers or websites captivate us with their promise of blooming if they are planted on American soil. Their plight tears at the very fabric of our country, dividing our opinions as we each stand on our respective sides of the issue. 

The faces of the elderly rarely make the press, either here or in Guatemala.They are the forgotten few who are behind closed doors, in their villages, waiting and wanting. Guatemalan elderly are at risk for malnutrition for all of the same reasons that the very aged are world-wide. Their legs no longer make their way to the market, and arms are not strong enough to chop firewood for cooking fires. Their minds and vision are cloudy, and contributing to the workload of the community; highly valued in their society, is no longer an option. The elderly in Guatemala who have no family to care for them are the most fragile, but least vocal of an already marginalized indigenous society.  
Meanwhile, our Finding Freedom families are looking better nourished. Their faces are filling out, the children who benefit from our food donations are growing taller and their eyes have a brightness that was absent before we took them into our program. The lines of worry on the faces of our abandoned mothers are softening. 
It is time for our mothers to pay it forward. 

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."

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