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.
( 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

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 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?

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