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. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Worried Child

Our board members are all parents, and in some cases, grandparents. We know what American children worry about. As their caretakers, we have watched over them and worried with them, often wondering if we had appropriate boundaries as we got a little too immersed in their issues.
They chewed their fingernails down as they watched scoreboards, test scores, took drivers education classes and fretted over prom date prospects. Julie in Kentucky rode her horse, and competed in difficult equestrian events. Kinsey in Colorado crossed her fingers behind her back as she watched from the stage for her Irish Dancing scores. Adriana in Rhode Island works hard in school and helps her mother raise funds for our work in Central America. 

In Guatemala, our Finding Freedom mother's have many children, all with their own personal concerns. Their concerns are a bit less complex...they don't have cars to qualify to drive, or horses to compete on.
Graciela (R) worries about someday finding a husband who will feed and shelter her, someone who will be faithful and who will work to support the children she will have. In a village where young men lack good role models, and many men are absent, she knows that this will be a challenge.

Maria (L) wonders what will happen if the Finding Freedom monthly food supplements stop being donated for her family. Before these donations, her mother begged from neighbors so she could feed her children. Maria hopes that she will be able to continue to go to school, not only because she likes it, but because it gives her a break from harvesting firewood and gathering herbs for soup. Her concerns are so intrinsic to her daily life that she would not understand a life without them.
Santa Ilaria (R) has trouble sleeping as she frets about her little sister, who hasn't walked for six months and has arthritis. She knows her mother won't be able to carry her sister up the mountains to cut firewood for much longer. She realizes that her mother is stretched to her limit, and her mother is the only parent she has. Ilaria's brother narrowly missed being sent to the sugar cane fields to become a contract worker, and she wonders if this will be her fate when she gets older. She knows girls in her village who are sent to live with families that hire them to do laundry and household work.

Brenda (above) works twelve hour days at a tortilla stand, and hopes that the few dollars a week she makes at age sixteen will help her mother buy food for the other seven children at home. She watches her back as she walks several miles home at night, down the dark alley to the shack her family lives in. When she turns the piece of wire that shuts the door to her yard, she knows just how fragile that wire is if someone from the local gang wanted to follow her in.
These children are some of the many in our program. They, and all children in the world, deserve to be free of worry.  We are working hard to make a carefree childhood a reality for more children in Guatemala.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Child Bride

My grandmother used to have a saying that described a particularly impressive person. Manuela was the "brightest bulb on the block;" sweet, smart and intuitive. When I was with her, I knew what was going on in the room by watching her eyes; they took in detail, processed it and mirrored back the meaning to anyone quick enough to observe the process. She had a serenity about her that denied the hardships of living in a single parent household in remote northern Guatemala.
This photo of her in 2013 shows what is special about her...the glow, the purity of her smile, the hope that her life will offer more opportunity than her mother's did. As the oldest daughter of five children, Manuela was a role model for her siblings, often acting as a surrogate mother when the younger children needed something.

Manuela, (L) with her scholar award, October '13
In February of this year, sixteen year old Manuela married a young man in her village that she has known for a long time, and because she had so much potential, I am seeking understanding about why.

As with most youth her age, this new bride's fertility will most likely make her a young mother within the year. Marrying under the age of sixteen makes Manuela four times more likely to die in childbirth. She will no longer continue her education, now that she lives in her in law's home and will be busy helping with household work.  Few Mayan women ever divorce, no matter the circumstances. Making such a major decision at a young age dictates Manuela's future in every sense of the word.

It is easy, from my position of fortune here in the states, to make unwarranted judgement on this situation. I'm fighting feelings of anger at Candalaria, Manuela's mother. This family has been in our circle of concern for three years. We built Candalaria a house, we continue to educate her children, we meet their basic needs for furniture and clothing, and we feed the family $100 worth of food staples monthly. Why then, we wonder, was this youthful marriage necessary?

Manuela's father, who died after illegally crossing the U.S. border five years ago, had favored the relationship between these two young people.The families knew each other and despite her excellent scholastic progress in her village school, Manuela knew that once school was over, there were no opportunities for gainful employment within hundreds of miles of her home. In her culture, 40% of Mayan girls will marry before they turn eighteen.
Candalaria tells us that the new in laws promised to help feed Manuela's siblings if she agreed to the marriage. 

Manuela's mountains; beauty but little economic opportunity

  That feels like failure
No mother should have to marry her daughter off for food. Especially when Finding Freedom has been supplying the family with monthly food staples for years. But food prices in Guatemala have risen almost 30% in most areas. One hundred dollars a month stretches our budget but it doesn't go far enough to feed Candalaria's children adequately. 
Those of us who work in Guatemala know that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of any situation involving this complex culture. I know that Candalaria loves her eldest daughter, I've seen the love manifested in gestures and glances. Our board members understand the realities of life in the beautiful but severe mountains of Guatemala. Those hardships, and the culture, made this the right decision for this family. 
It is not our place to judge, only to support. Just like with our own children. Either way, it is a struggle.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Blues

 For the last three weeks, I've been living in the basement while our hardwood floors were being redone. Sleeping on the couch, feeling misplaced and disgruntled, but grateful all the same that I had floors to refinish. And a couch to sleep on, blankets to keep me warm. And heat, water, dishes, coffee. And a husband willing to pay the bill. 
The "ands" go on and on.
All of the things Magdalena's family does not have. This is their "couch"; three blankets, and a floor.
There is no heat, water, electricity, food, or father (he died when Magdalena was pregnant with the baby). The children have inadequate clothing. The oldest child is 9 years old. Their mother is 23. You don't want to do the math.

Magdalena's five children

When I was lying on the couch at night, wishing I could be back in my bed, I thought of Magdelena, a young widow in northern Guatemala. 
Here is what I would like to ask her:
How does it feel to be a 23 year old widow in remote northern Guatemala where there are no social services, no Social Security, no food banks? How do you sleep at night with no lock on the door, in a rental home with a leaky roof that turns your floor, with your sleeping children lying on it, into mud for weeks upon weeks in the rainy season? What do you do to soothe your nerves at 2 AM when you know your children are going to awaken, expecting a breakfast that isn't there? What keeps you from leaning on the next male who walks in the door promising to feed your babies, and you are just 23, and feeling like a baby yourself? How do you sustain hope? How do you nourish your spirit so that you can care for your children's emotional needs? When fear grips your throat and incapacitates you, how do you survive?
What can we do to help you? 
And then, when I heard her answers, which are the same answers of mothers in any developing country, I would ask the leaders of the world;

Why is it, in this time of incredible resources, that mothers don't have what they need to nourish and educate the next generation of children?
I want to know their answers.


Friday, February 28, 2014

The Addiction

 We are fortunate to have such intelligent board members in our organization, and some of them enjoy reading The New York Times. This nationally renowned newspaper does an excellent job of showcasing world events and stories.
The link (below) to their recent story about sugar addiction hit home with a few of us. For me in particular.
According to this report, Americans consume on average, 150 lbs of sugar annually. Our palates are "trained" over time to enjoy the overly sweet taste of food items that are made with sugar. As with many things, we often enjoy what we consume, food or otherwise, without thinking of the "cost" of having that item. 

Here is the article.

Eduardo (L) two years ago in former house.
Eduardo knows how much sugar cost, but not in the way you might think. For this fourteen year old, sugar means work. Guatemala is now the third largest sugar producer in Latin America, and three quarters of production is exported. Mills are largely controlled by elite landowning families, who together account for over 75 per cent of the country's sugar milling. And for over 60,000 men that means work, even if it is seasonal. 

In Guatemala, children grow up quickly. At fourteen, Eduardo is the man of the household and his mother did what she thought was necessary; she contracted him as a laborer to the owner of a sugar cane plantation 100 miles from home. When her alcoholic husband left the family, Lucia had five children to feed and no income, house, utilities or school fee money. 

Here is where the story gets tricky.

 Finding Freedom has donated all of the above to Lucia for the last three years. The hut you see (above) was replaced by our organization by a concrete block home with an intact roof, running water and a toilet (one of few in the entire village). The family eats one meal a day thanks to our donors. The children are in school and we purchase their school supplies. We arranged and paid for treatment for Lucia's four year old who has arthritis. We thought we were doing enough, and we knew we were doing more for this family than for hundreds of thousands of abandoned women 
in Guatemala. 

Eduardo, putting ink on Lucia's thumb to sign contract

It wasn't enough for Lucia, and instead of asking us for more food for her children, she arranged to send her son to the sugar cane fields. Entering 7th grade meant that Eduardo's school fees and supplies would now cost over $250 per year, which was more than Lucia's annual income.  Her children needed more than one meal a day. Lucia did what millions of mother's worldwide do when they are financially desperate: she contracted out her child for labor.

I have visited these fields. Sugar grows best in the lowlands of Guatemala, which means the temperatures are usually in the high 90's. The fields are infested with snakes, causing fatal bites annually. Worse than the snakes are the red flies, which inject a bacteria into the skin of their victim and cause tissue decay. The bites I got while walking in the fields left scars. The smoke from burning the fields (to rid the fields of snakes) causes respiratory infections. Kidney disease from chronic dehydration kills some of the workers. Harvesting sugar is one of the most physically brutal jobs in Guatemala. 

Fortunately, our FFF facilitator who is in charge of this family did his monthly home visit the day before Eduardo's scheduled departure. When Lucia shared her plan with Rolando, he notified me.
 "Please help", he wrote, "Eduardo desperately wants to continue in school."
We are still working on funding, but meanwhile, Eduardo has his school supplies. He can return to being a student. There are no more worries, at least for this year,  of becoming  a contract farm hand, far from home and at risk for abuse. 

Eduardo with new school supplies
During my visits to Eduardo's home, he hovers close to his mother, quietly watching over her needs. It was a very sweet moment when he helped his mother ink her thumb (above) so she could "sign" the FFF contract holding her accountable for our donations. It would be hard to imagine the family without him. 

Unfortunate circumstances have caused him to grow up faster than he would have liked to. We are glad we can help him be a child for one more year. And when I have my morning coffee, sugar included, I'll think of Eduardo, with gratitude that we had one tiny victory in a world where consumer consumption and poverty creates a need for children to leave their mothers.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Oxygen Mask

On my recent flight to Guatemala to visit our Finding Freedom mothers, the airline stewardess announced the same message that I've heard countless times.

 "In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it."

Finding Freedom has nothing to do with the airline industry, but we both understand the same basic precedent.

If a parent does not have their basic needs met, oxygen being one of them, they can't begin to care for their children. 
With limited, if any, social services available in rural Guatemala, the death of a single parent means orphaned children live with whatever relative will agree to house them. Upon the international ban on adoptions from Guatemala in 2009, orphanages are full. The future for an orphan is grim, as it is throughout the world.
Catarina was one of those parents who was at the end of her oxygen mask output...literally, and after being abandoned by her husband because she was TB positive, Catarina was the only parent of three girls. 

When she first came into our program, Catarina was malnourished, and she suffered from TB, hepatitis and chronic asthma. Lack of oxygen made breathing so difficult for this mother that she was not able to work in the fields. She had no income, very little food and three young children who depended on her for all of their needs. Catarina's medical and situational crisis was so acute that it was hard to know where our priorities should be in helping her. 

Catarina with asthma meds
We started by helping her to breathe. 
We hospitalized her, and paid for her medical care when she almost died from an acute asthma attack. We supplied her with inhalant medications that she now uses daily, in the nebulizer we donated. We have fed her children one meal a day for the last three years.

Donated stove

 In May of 2011 our donated stove cut down on her respiratory infections, since she no longer had to inhale smoke when cooking. Finding Freedom also donated a house for the family, therefore reducing the mold and dust once the family started living on a concrete floor instead of dirt. A water filter was an essential donation, to prevent further Hepatitis infection. We have paid her children's educational expenses. 

So happy for her school supplies!
How many financial resources has this one family taken out of our program?
 A lot. 
Including Catarina and her children in Finding Freedom has meant extra trips to the local doctor, more funding for medicines, and emergency trips to the hospital in rented vans.  We had to find designated donors to help with medical supplies, the stove and medicines. None of the children have sponsors for school, meaning that we fund all of the educational supplies, uniforms, fees and shoes for her three girls. 
We measure progress in our program not by how much money is left in our bank account, but by the health and well-being of the women and their children whom we assist. 
By this measure, we have done our job. The children are safe and healthy, Catarina is gaining weight and has stayed out of the local hospital for over a year. When I said good-bye to her in January, Catarina tearfully mentioned that she felt she would have died without our help. As a nurse, I know this to be true. 
This family is not without their challenges. Life is hard in rural Guatemala, and as an illiterate Mayan woman who does not speak Spanish, Catarina will always struggle to find work. But the family is together, her health is improved, and she can breathe.

Catarina and daughters in January 2014.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Childhood; Interrupted

Four of Sylvia's seven children
Last month, when my friends and I were doing a home visit with Sylvia's family (above) in Guatemala, our minds and bodies were assaulted with the usual overload of sensory input when in Guatemala. When traveling from the U.S. to Central America in January, just getting used to the weather change takes a day or so. Added to this disconnect is the sense of chaos from the traffic, the smell of diesel fumes, the sounds of engines without mufflers. Color saturates the clothing worn by indigenous women, but the hills are brown from dried up stalks of corn. The color of dried mud floors inside the houses makes everything else look more colorful by contrast. And curious children are everywhere. American visitors always draw an audience. 

I didn't notice her at first. She blended into the confusion in the courtyard; she seemed like one more Mayan child who had decided to see what all of the excitement was about. 

A life of labor starts early in Guatemala

Once I saw her, I couldn't stop watching. She was quiet, diligent and every few minutes, would look out of the corner of her eye to see what and who we were. Her eyes were wary, her facial expressions guarded. 

Sylvia's hut is surrounded by metal walls, and a gate. This girl, who didn't belong to the family, had been let in, but I didn't know why. 

"She does her family's laundry in our sink," Sylvia explained. "I let her in because her house has no running water or sink." 

Childhood; interrupted. 

It took some time, but for a few brief moments, this nameless girl allowed herself to get lost in a moment of fun. She relaxed. She laughed. 
We stood by and watched, happy that this child of the slums could forget that her childhood was interrupted by the scarcity of chronic poverty.

FFF friend Gerry shows the children photos of themselves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who Are you, Anyway?

Many people wonder about the name of our organization, but they aren't forward enough to ask. Today was the day.
Our local postal worker, who has seen our return address label many times, couldn't help himself.

"Just who is this Finding Freedom through Friendship organization anyway?" he asked. 

There was a long line behind me, it was 20 degrees outside, we were nearing  the end of a hard winter, and people were edgy. Our post office is small; I knew my answer, as well as the question, would be heard by all who stood behind me.
I was stumbling...I needed a short, concise answer. It wasn't a good time to engage in conversation, unless I wanted the customers behind me to stampede the line.

" We promote positive feelings by fostering friendships," I replied.

There was a long pause on his part.

"Well I have lots of friends,"he replied," and I don't feel positive or happy."

To which I mumbled something about how sorry I was, as I scurried out the door.

Here is what I wanted to tell him:

We work on building up the emotional and physical stamina of abandoned mothers in rural Guatemala through supporting their critical needs. We supply them and their children with food, housing and education. Our friendship promotes freedom from worry, from stress, and, most importantly, it gives Mayan women the freedom to be better mothers, because they are the only parent their children have. 

View from village in Guatemala

Except of course, I didn't have the time to say all of this, and he most likely didn't have the inclination to listen. Which is for the best, because once I start, it is hard to hold me back. The Finding Freedom through Friendship board members who are mothers know that parenting is one of the hardest jobs. The hours are endless, the rewards not always immediately visible, and the end result....we may not live long enough to see it. 

And this is on a good day. 
Add chronic hunger, lack of housing, inaccessibility to medical care for your sick family members, a lack of transportation to get your children to school and absent fathers and the obstacles are insurmountable. 

Paul the Postal Worker didn't have the time to understand that our board members are not necessarily concerned about creating friends in Guatemala. We have plenty of those here in our respective communities. 
We are however, heavily invested in creating a safer, healthier and more intellectual world for those abandoned women and their children who are within our circle of concern in the mountains of Guatemala where these resources are not available to them. 
 If, in doing so, if friendships are created, all the better.  

Manuela's hand-stitched thank you note following the donation of her new house

Friday, January 31, 2014

This is Progress

When I saw her last week it had been four months since my last visit with Sylvia in Guatemala, and I was anxious to see if her life had improved. Finding Freedom has supported the family's nutritional needs by supplementing their food supplies every few months for the last two years. With seven children to feed, food scarcity is something Sylvia deals with daily. On an average income of less than $25 a week, there is rarely enough money for anything but tortillas sprinkled with salt for the nightly dinner.
The definition of the word progress changes depending on the individual. Most of our board members would consider progress to mean an increase in salary, or a job promotion. Our children may think of it as a graduation from high school or college, or the attainment of a great job opportunity. On a busy day, progress for me means staying one step ahead of housework and paperwork.
Our board members are impatient people; we want to see significant change in the lives of our Finding Freedom mother's and their children.  We work very hard, on a volunteer basis, to gather funds and do the work required to bring our FFF mothers up from an abject poverty level. We know the obstacles we face while doing our work in Guatemala, where millions of women and their children face one of the highest rates of malnutrition world-wide. Because we are tireless in our efforts, we expect big things from our work. 

For Sylvia, big things come in small packages. She is much more patient than we are, because dreaming of a better life is not something that used to occur to her.  
In Sylvia's world, Progress looks like this:

Assistance with school fees for her children

Money to purchase chickens

Purchasing seeds to grow plants

Having running water to do laundry

Freedom from future pregnancies
Dreaming of a better future for her children
As I mentioned, we are impatient: in a perfect world, there would not be any mothers who can't meet the basic needs of their children. Real progress would mean that FFF  board members no longer need to raise funds and awareness of what poverty indicators mean for the future of our world. 
Meanwhile, Sylvia feels better about her life, and things have improved, marginally. The children now eat eggs, and five of them are in school with supplies and fees donated by our organization. Donated food from FFF helps balance the family's diet. Sylvia sells used clothing for 20 cents per item. We have helped her start a microbusiness. Sylvia is slowing starting to think beyond the slum where the family lives, to a place of expectation that things just may be different for her children than they were for her. 

By anyone's definition, this is progress.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Gift

  During our youth, we spend the days, if not months, before this Christmas holiday, wanting. If you are over 40, you may remember doing that "wanting" by thumbing through the Sears catalog, one miraculous page at a time, dog-earing the ultra thin pages, and making our list, so Santa would know exactly what we wanted under the tree.
Something internal shifts as we become older. Responsibilities grow, material objects take on less meaning, and we realize what is really important at this most holy of holidays. And here is the big reveal, which we all already know but a little reminder never hurts.
When two of our board members lost their father a few weeks ago, he didn't take a single item to the grave with him. All that is left of his life is the memories of the people he chose to have relationships with.

Our Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers know their priorities better than most. All of them have experienced loss in profound ways, either through the death of a husband, a child or the passing of parents who helped support them. When FFF first brought each of these mothers into our program, they were either living with relatives or renting huts with roofs that leaked onto dirt floors. Their children went to bed hungry and often missed school while they accompanied their mother's to the fields to work.
Does the fact that they came into our program with so little mean that they wish for nothing? Not at all, but their "wanting" is a bit different than ours. Sinks, tables, beds...essential and rudimentary household items are what they hope for.  And they wish for freedom from worry. 

Catarina and daughters with new Guatemalan sink

Our volunteers are often given small gifts from the women and children we help. They are usually hand made, and given from the heart. The best gifts of all- - three apples picked from a nearby tree, a handwoven belt, or a piece of loomed textile. Gifts from women and children who know what empty feels like: empty cupboards; empty huts; empty promises.
Marta (left) is full of hope for a better future. By definition, the word hope means to open your heart to possibility. 
Our Christmas gift to Marta, and the other 42 children in our program is not only the daily meals we provide, or the school supplies we purchase or even the new shoes we give them. Finding Freedom through Friendship offers the intangible gift of hope. You can see it in her face; read it in her note; catch it in the glimmer in her eyes. 
Feliz Navidad