Thursday, December 27, 2012

Determination

If I lived in the circumstances that our Finding Freedom through Friendship families endure, I have to question whether I would have the emotional capacity to find joy in the holiday season. 
How many prayers from the women we help have remained unanswered? What endless empty promises from local Guatemalan governments that insist they will improve the lot of indigenous Mayan women have created resentment in their hearts? How many men have come into the lives of the women we assist, and left again after staying only long enough to create another child, loved but forever hungry? What stories have traveled back from the north, told by neighbors who have crossed, and have witnessed opportunity that is hopelessly out of grasp? What hope do our illiterate, cash-strapped mothers have for their children when faced with the obstacles they have?
Despite all of this and more, they persist, these resilient women. They continue to pray, and they offer me their prayers also. They have hope at each election, even though they don't understand the voting process and don't participate. Each man who shows interest is a potential promise of help feeding children who otherwise must go hungry. Hope? They have it, because they know without hope for a better future, one has nothing.
( Photo by Roland)
This Christmas tree, put together with care in one of the villages we work in, is a symbol of that desire. Look how carefully it is constructed, right in the center of the public area of the village, for all to enjoy. In an area lackluster in color, surrounded by drab tin and wood houses, this tree is a reflection of what the Christmas season should be. It stands for determination in the face of adversity and hope in times of scarcity. This tree took precious financial resources and time to assemble. I've seen some beautiful holiday trees this season, but this one is the best.

Friday, December 14, 2012

All I Want for Christmas

Maria (center) and 4 of her 5 children, with monthly food donation.
As the holiday season approaches, I've found my ears perking up when a moment of inspiration is spoken on the radio, or by an acquaintance. I heard the perfect phrase for the holiday season:
Don't focus on what you don't have, but instead, on what you can give.
Maria, the tiny mother shown (above) holding her gift to Finding Freedom board members, is doing just that. She is standing in her "house" which consists of a leaking tin roof, a dirt floor and until we purchased her a bed last month, no furniture. But look at her joy....she is giving instead of getting...and she is thrilled. For over a year Maria has been dependent on our volunteers to deliver food for her to feed her children. Our goal in providing this food is to prevent physical and mental stunting in Maria's children.  
Maria knows that everyone has a talent to offer, and we made it clear when she joined our program that she would be required to give back in whatever way she was able. For her, this meant weaving a child's huipil (Guatemalan shirt) as a thank-you to one of our board members. Maria doesn't have the luxury of having a radio to listen to, but I think she understands the meaning of the phrase perfectly! 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Un-Taken Photos

I've been back from my home visits to our Finding Freedom through Friendship mom's in northern Guatemala for 2 months now, but certain images stay with me. Our board members have received photo discs I copied for them of some of the special moments of the trip. But it is the un-taken photos that I think about the most. The times when I was riding while standing in the back of the pick-up truck, soaked with pelting rain, and unable to use my camera. Or when it wasn't appropriate to open my lens during a sensitive moment while standing in front of our Finding Freedom mothers who had lost a husband or a child. The times when it was so dark inside a home that was without electricity or windows, that I couldn't find my camera in the backpack.  Those moments that are burned into my memory, are the ones I wish I could share with you.
When one is riding down unpaved rural Guatemalan roads that are nearly impassable with boulders that have slid down the mountain wall and holes that were never repaired, the camera in the backpack that sits in the corner of the truck bed is impossible to reach. Many times I wished I had a camera attached to my body, so that I could capture the special image in front of me. We were sometimes driving through rain that looked like this:
And yes, that is a truck, right in front of our vehicle, that was hauling a car. You can see the lights of the car inside the open doors as the truck sped down the highway. The only thing between us and disaster was a thin chain. I'm quite sure this method of transporting a vehicle would not be remotely legal in the U.S. The fun of traveling in Guatemala can only be experienced once the traveler gets to the point of saying, "I could be in big trouble at any moment, but I have to give it up to God". Once we got into the mountains where our FFF moms live, the scenery changed, and peace felt more present.

If I were a good enough writer, I could create a mental picture for you of the elderly woman, dressed in her beautiful indigenous clothing, who was walking down the side of the muddy road, bent nearly double with the weight of carefully cut firewood on her back. In the pouring, pelting rain. My un-taken photos would show you mothers who walked along the mud roads, children scurrying behind, in rain so heavy that there couldn't have been one inch of skin that remained dry. And still the children smiled.
After all the rain, and hard travel, it was wonderful to share an afternoon with this little girl, and see her smile when we told her mother that she was no longer going to have to sleep on the floor of a house with 14 other people. Her new home is being donated and built by Finding Freedom as I write this. By February she should be in a real bed, with blankets. She will be back in school. She knows that this is worth smiling about. She has had a lot of rain in her young life. After the loss of her former home to a mortgage shark, her mother has had to store her household belongings in this lean-to. A housekeeping nightmare. Finding Freedom is thrilled to be part of the solution to the challenge, for this family,  of staying dry in the mountains of Guatemala.


Catarina's household belongings, open to the weather after the loss of her house.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hope


Katie in Kentucky
Estela in Guatemala
This is my daughter Katie. She is twenty, a college student and a good friend to all who know her. She recently came home to use my kitchen so she could make a home cooked meal for her best friends who were in town for the holidays. Katie cooked everything from scratch in our well-equipped kitchen. She made stuffed shells with homemade sauce, Cesar salad, Texas toast, and her specialty: a pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling. Her friends had a great time catching up after months of not seeing each other. It was wonderful to have the girls over and see how they had matured into bright young women who will change the world, each in their own way.
Estela's kitchen
Two thousand miles away, Estella lives in the mountains of Guatemala. She is equally as beautiful as my daughter. And that is about where any analogies end. Estela's home is not one that she could invite friends into. If she did, there would be no food to share. She is the oldest of six children who have no father in the home and a mother that scratches out a living doing laundry for a few dollars a week. The one thing she does have is hope. Finding Freedom has been fortunate to raise the funds available to send Estela to Adopt-A-Village Maya Jaguar School (http://adoptavillage.com/), where she will receive a quality education rarely available to girls her age in the community she resides in. Her family is targeted to have a donated house built by our organization in the spring of 2013, after which Estela will live on concrete floors and be protected from the weather. While attending school, she will be the beneficiary of good meals, fellowship with other good students in the community, and she will learn essential skills such as gardening.
Belief in herself and her ability to live a life of self-sufficiency will be her biggest benefit of these gifts. Finding Freedom through Friendship + education = hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do You See Me? Can you Hear Me?

Our six month old  white golden retriever has an endearing way of getting our attention. He brings us his stuffed animal of choice, stands at our feet while wagging his tail, and begs (which involves a low groan and lots of eye contact with those big brown eyes) for us to play. In dog language, this means "Do you see me? Do you hear me? Want to play?" We can rarely resist, which is one reason I am posting this somewhere just before 1 AM.
Max is an American dog, and has been brought up with all of his emotional and physical needs being met. He was fed when he was hungry, he is warm at night, and he is loved. He gets treats, he gets lots of attention and he has a nice dog bed.  As a result, this dog knows he is special. He is centered, emotionally balanced, and as long as he has his monkey, he is happy.
Marta has no tricks for getting noticed. In fact, she wouldn't dream of being singled out for attention. It isn't the "way" in her village, nor in her culture. Her mother is a widow, following the death of her husband who succumbed to Tuberculosis in 2010. The needs within this small family are so enormous that Marta knows better than to ask for anything. Her one meal a day is supplied by Finding Freedom through Friendship. We delivered a bed last Tuesday-the family did not have one. When I visited the family last month, I was offered the only chair, which was a tree stump. Her shirt was donated by a neighbor. There is water outside in the yard but the house has no electricity.
Meanwhile, Finding Freedom is working on finding the funds to build Marta and her family a home, so we can put them on concrete floors instead of dirt. Marta will be sponsored for school in January. Her needs, even if she can't find words to express what she dares not hope for, will be met.
We wish we could send Max to Guatemala to play with her...that would put a smile on her face!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Woman of Strength

Readers of this blog may sometimes think that the women we assist are downtrodden, faint of heart and lacking in strength. Nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact, working with them gives me inspiration as I see firsthand just how resourceful they are.
There is a popular reality show called Preppers. The series showcases different American families as they prepare, each in their own way, for what they conceive as a future catastrophic event. The participants of this show would do well to learn from the women Finding Freedom through Friendship assists.
When you are an abandoned woman with children in rural Guatemala, and there are no social services available to help you, you learn quickly how to make scarce resources stretch. Without electricity, one learns to work by dim light and get essential tasks done in daylight hours. When water is only available if you haul it from a nearby polluted creek, you teach your children to use little and use it well. One bed in the house means a mother becomes creative on how to keep children warm when they have to sleep on a cold moist dirt floor. Scarce food resources force the knowledge on which local herbs grown in nearby mountains to be used wisely, so that soup can be made to fill your children's stomachs. Leftovers at mealtime are not a problem. There is no food waste, no recycling of McDonald's garbage needed, no food container refuse. Recycling? Rural Guatemalans live this concept every day. Clothing is passed down until it no longer usable. Tree stumps become chairs. One blanket serves many. One traditional skirt is used until it is no longer usable.
When Lucia's husband abandoned the family, it was a catastrophic event for her. She was suddenly left with no income, no home, no land and no way to feed her children. Prepping for hardship felt familiar to Lucia, and she has done an amazing job of maintaining her family. She is a woman of strength.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Picture Tells Many Stories

Pictures I take in Guatemala usually tell more than one story. Much like the Finding Waldo series, a few pictures of a rural indigenous family will speak more with details than with words.
This family is no exception. Maria, the mother in the rear, is reaching out to touch her 2 year old, since she is often holding her or has contact with her in some physical way. Her toddler is in turn, reaching out for her bigger sister, and holding onto her sisters blouse. The eldest boy, who is now the man of the house since that his alcoholic father abandoned the family, stands ready to protect. The family is shy with an American women standing in front of them, the siblings do what families do in Guatemala when they are uncertain about a circumstance. They quietly, usually standing, start drawing close, all touching in some slight way. They watch, not unkindly but wary; the Guatemalans have a history of invasion and the collective consciousness does not soon forget. But the sweetest part of this photo is something you might not have noticed. Keep looking.......note the black stitching in the pink shirt on the toddler. Someone, most likely her mother, lovingly stitched this shirt back together for her.
Community of caring means nobody has to stand alone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Clean Bones

Photos of chicken bones are not usually posted, if ever, on a blog. Bones are not necessarily a photogenic item, and blogs need to grab the readers attention with captivating and heartfelt visuals.
But these bones "spoke" to me when I sat next to the Guatemalan child who left them on her plate.
Frankly, I had never seen such clean bones. I'm used to the leftovers on American plates, which in most cases, a whole new meal could be gleaned from.
Sydney had never been to a restaurant, even though the one I took her to was only six miles from her house in north west Guatemala. She was overwhelmed by the choices on the menu, and when the waitress came to take our order, the entire family ordered what their mother did. I don't think they knew what to do with so many choices. Every bit of leftovers were packed up for home. Sydney even ate the ketchup. This photo looks like a slide from an anatomy class. In reality, it is a representation of what hunger looks like. When you live in a poor community, and you worry about where your next meal is coming from, you make sure you leave clean bones on your plate. They may be the last ones you will see for a long time. Protein deficiency among the worlds poor is a chronic problem with long-term health consequences.

Monday, October 8, 2012

You Be the Judge

I am five foot three inches and I weigh 134 lbs. Most women don't like to admit their weight. But in this context, it helps to know for comparison.
The woman in this photo is the mother of one of our sponsored single mothers. Her daughter's husband died soon after being deported from illegally entering the United States. Maria (in photo) has allowed her daughter and five grandchildren to live with her and sleep on her floor while they are homeless (the home/land was confiscated after the husbands death).
Maria now shares available food rations with 14 family members. I'll always feel tall when I stand next to her, even though in the states, I shop in the petite department. And I doubt that Maria will ever have a weight problem.
My hope is that by next year, we will have available funds to allow Maria's daughter to be in her own home and that so little food will not have to be shared by so many people.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When You Fly off to Guatemala....

When your flight to Guatemala is just hours away, insignificant things suddenly become more significant. The broken dishwasher gets the attention it should have gotten last week, when I was busy packing. The mailbox gets cleared, the refrigerator gets cleaned, the dogs get a bath. Potted plants are watered, lists made, relatives called and banking done. You hug your kids tighter than you have in months.
The reality is, that traveling to and within Guatemala is not the stuff of sissys. The airport is one of the more risky international landings for commercial airports. The water and food issues need due dilligence, the remote rural roads I will be traveling on are in poor condition following heavy rains, and there will be weather extremes from 30's to over 100 degrees, all within one weeks time. And did I mention that I don't speak a word of Spanish (yes, this is my 15th trip to Guatemala, but I just don't "get" the language). In summary, right about now, I'm finished distracting myself by cleaning and my nerves are releasing their energy into my feet, which can't stop jiggling. Here is my true confession: I have major anxiety when I travel to Guatemala. Not just a little nervousness. We are talking anxiety attacks and all of the physical manifestations that accompany them. It-is-no-fun.
So right about now I am daydreaming of what it would be like if I were a "normal" mom of three, wife of one, owner of two dogs. No international volunteer work to occupy my every free moment. No realization of how much help is needed in rural Guatemala, and indeed, worldwide. No need to feel like that just because I can make a difference, I should. How relaxing it would be  to attend local football games without my mind drifting off to whether Maria in Solola, Guatemala ate today or was even able to feed her children yesterday.  The oblivion of a lack of awareness would make such a peaceful life.
But that isn't the case, so I keep going. I weather through the anxiety attacks and in the end it is always worth it. On this trip, I will meet five of our Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers and will see firsthand the houses we built last year. My friends Barb and Jo will help assess each family for ways we can help bring the single women we assist into economical self-sufficiency. We will get to deliver these wonderful donated items from Kathy King's church in Lexington.
It will take about 24 hours to find my emotional ballast again. I'm not sure which FFF mom will help me right my emotional ship, but one of them will remind me, through her circumstances, that if anyone should be having anxiety attacks, it should be them. I get to come home eventually. They are living in poverty that is almost impossible to overcome. "Home" for them will always be a place of hardship, no matter how much we are able to help. These generous donations should offer a bright spot in their day.
Bon Voyage!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

2,000 miles of Difference

I took this photo on a recent holiday in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The beach was a child's fantasy of warm water, gentle waves, skim boards and buckets of sand being made into castles. This particular location is a popular family destination for families from all over the south east. This photo shows the ambiance of the island--relaxing, family oriented, healthy happy children who have few concerns. The little girl who was flying the kite was adorable in her pink bathing suit and sun hat.

Eulalia (below) has never seen a beach. She has no concept of a kite. Her "playtime" consists of
washing the family laundry, hauling firewood and walking long distances to her school when she is able to attend. When her mother died, Eulalia's father abandoned his children and Eulalia is now being raised by her 57 year old grandmother. With four children in her care, Isabela is bone weary and has no ability to generate an income or house her grandchildren.  A neighbor has agreed to host the family temporarily. The growth stunting that Eulalia and her siblings have suffered is not reversible with the current food available to the family.A washing machine? She has never seen one. Her sand bucket? It is the washing tub you see in the photo.
In partnership with Adopt-A-Village Guatemala, we will be building a home for this child and her family, while we continue to feed them critical food supplies monthly.
Finding Freedom through Friendship can't give Eulalia a kite, but we can help release her from some of the burden of chores and poverty so she is free to grow into a healthier young lady. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stove Donations Vital in Preventing Deforestation in Guatemala

Stove Donation (before assembly) with wood pile
I rarely link to other articles about issues in Guatemala. I know our readers have other more pressing issues than reading lengthy publications about problems in another country. I'm making an exception with this article,  http://phys.org/news/2012-08-forest-razing-ancient-maya-worsened.html since it validates concerns our board members have had about deforestation in Guatemala. We see it first hand when we visit our Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers, and see the large stacks of freshly chopped wood. We hear the fatigue in the voices of the women and children who spend many hours a week walking into the woods and harvesting trees. We see valuable income going to purchase firewood if a woman is too elderly to chop her own. Every year I visit Guatemala, I am struck by how denuded the hills are, often to make room for scrappy crops of corn that occupies every vacant hillside that used to be full of trees.
Catarina is shown in front of her wood pile. Once her donated stove was assembled, Catarina's needs for wood decreased by 60%. Wood efficient stoves are a vital resource toward reducing the need for freshly harvested wood in rural Guatemala. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Finding the Energy to Move On


Today was one of those days that I needed for catching up. After hosting a large family gathering, my laundry room was full, the dishwasher was running non-stop and the dogs were in the mood for some much-needed attention. Flower beds needed weeding, the car was dirty and somewhere in the day, I had to find time for catching up on bills, correspondence, etc. 
Rosa, sewing despite blindness
Running a non-profit organization, and doing so without a staff or salary, requires passion, practice and persistence. I was out of all three of those when I woke up this morning. My "fuel tank" was empty. It looked like a good day to attend to the needs of my own family. 
I had recently sent the final payments toward our newest donated home. The construction is well underway and on-time for a finished home before the next rains come in. Rosa is a blind widow in remote northern Guatemala, and will be the recipient of this  gift from Finding Freedom.  In collaboration with Adopt-A-Village, Guatemala, we are replacing the "house" that Rosa inhabited. She will now have a concrete floor to replace the mud, and a stove that is suited for safety while cooking without the ability to see. Her walls will be waterproof, as will the roof. The house will be fenced for her safety. This latest effort on the part of FFF was well underway, or so I thought.
Rosa (second row, left) and children with food staples from FFF
My first call of the day was from the company that I used to send the final payment to Guatemala for Rosa's construction supplies. The company was suspicious as to who we are, why we were sending funds to Guatemala, and what our intention was for this money. The investigator on the other end of the phone line was not in the mood to hear about a blind widow who needed this house, and needed it soon. She had never heard of Finding Freedom through Friendship, and didn't really care to learn. Ultimately, they declined to send the money, and stated that they intended to send the transaction record to the FBI for investigation. I was still in my bathrobe, coffee in hand, and my plans for having a day off from the concerns of women in remote Guatemala suddenly evaporated.
Practice-Passion-Persistence. Suddenly I needed big doses of each: Practice from twelve years of working in Guatemala had taught me that nothing in Guatemala comes easy. Passion for working with our great board members to assist these women in raising their children in safe homes with adequate food suddenly got a jump-start, fueled by caffeine and anger. Persistence found me in my car, on the way to Western Union to work out the details of the transaction.
 If the FBI calls, I will tell them about Samuel, Rosa's son (above in red jacket), and how he is now back home with his mother after she was forced to send him away to live with another family because she could not afford to feed him. I will explain who we are, what we do, and after another cup of coffee, I'll find the energy to move onto the next challenge, because in Guatemala, there will always be one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fortitude

This is Manuela. She is one of our original Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers. Born with a disability, Manuela continues to inspire us with her ability to quietly and competently do what her son,  elderly mother,  and mentally ill sister need her to do in order to survive. There are no disability benefits, no social welfare, no food pantry locations in rural Guatemala. 
This amazing woman washes clothing for people in the community who have disposable income, which provides her with a few dollars a week. Soon after this photo was taken, FFF was able to provide Manuela with an enclosure for her pilia (sink) that we purchased for her. No matter how strong she is, nobody should have to stand in the rain and mud to wash their dishes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Catarina's new house


Catarina was first referred to Finding Freedom through Friendship in April of 2011. Since being accepted into our program, this mother of three adorable girls has had some profound life changes. 
Catarina suffered from Tuberculosis and hepatitis when our facilitator, Roland, first met her. She was so thin that it was easy to assume she was an older sister rather than the mother of her girls. 
Catarina sitting on her wooden plank bed in her former home, April 2011

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What is Wrong With This Picture?

Dog beds the size of a twin mattress sell for $200 in U.S.

Petrona in her "kitchen"

Many dogs in America are admittedly (mine included) spoiled. It is a new social trend to dress, bathe, feed and tuck in our canine friends with only the best. Shoppers can hardly get through the aisles without encountering monogrammed clothing, hand painted food bowls, and yes, even birthday cakes for our furry friends. I'm used to this barrage of over-the-top consumer spending, even in a state that still has many versions of a "good old farm dog" hanging around rural barns.
But today it was just too much.
Our organization had just added Petrona to our list of women we help with critical needs. She is an eighty year old woman from remote northern Guatemala who has no living family members, and lives in a dirt floored "house". We are partnering with Adopt-A-Village Guatemala to get food delivered to Petrona monthly, so that hunger can be a memory instead of a reality.

Corn Donation from FFF

We are blessed to have the funds to be able to include Petrona in our feeding program. When we learned that Petrona has no bed, and sleeps on her dirt floor, we sent money for this also. I had just mailed the check to cover these costs when I saw these dog beds for sale.
 It takes a lot to stop me in my tracks. I spend my days trying to fit more in; more volunteer hours, more time with my children, more productivity in my patient care.  I'm used to consumer driven excess on store shelves. But seeing these dog beds, which would sleep a small family in Guatemala comfortably, gave me pause.
The lack of this basic human need--a warm, dry place to lay your head at night, is not unique to the poor in Guatemala, it is a common problem for millions of impoverished people world wide.
Our Finding Freedom through Friendship board members hope to someday live in a world that values a woman who has endured eighty years of a life of hard work, hunger, inadequate housing and the loss of everyone she holds dear as much as we value our dogs. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How Often Do We Really Listen?

This is Ana. She has had a very difficult life, which was made more so by the recent diagnosis of diabetes. Left alone to raise her five children in remote northern Guatemala, Ana had no social welfare resources available to help her with the critical needs of food and shelter for her family.
Adopt-A-Village Guatemala has networked with us to help Ana with food donations, educating her children and by providing funding for the construction of a new house for the family. They now have some basic essential household items, including beds and blankets and a wood-efficient stove.
Juan Francisco, a student in the school program under the direction of AAV, is seen in the photo on the right during his recent interview with Ana, which was part of a community school service project. It is one of the few times Ana had the pleasure of feeling listened to. Supporting the emotional needs of abandoned women in Guatemala is difficult at best...we are so busy assisting them with food deliveries and education assistance.
Everyone has a story. The history of survival and determination in the absence of hope is difficult at best. To sit and share her history with this student was a unique and precious moment in Ana's life journey.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Would Your Child be This Happy about Cabbage?

 When Adopt-A-Village Guatemala founder Frances Dixon sent me this photo yesterday ( we partner with AAV to help this family) three things came to mind.
  •  I have never seen children this happy to see cabbage, eggs and beans.
  •  Guatemala's verdant land is capable of feeding its citizens. These are some great looking cabbages!
  •  Land ownership among single-mother households is essential toward enabling these Mom's to     feed their children. It is the only way to avoid the need for FFF and AAV to provide food donations on a monthly basis. We would love to be "out of a job" and empower Candalaria to feed her children without assistance. Owning enough land to plant a garden and support farm  animals is our is the key to self-sufficiency for this family.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day Rosa

Rosa, with food donation
Rosa became a widow three years ago. As the mother of five children, she has a bleak future in remote northern Guatemala. Rosa has no wage-earning skills, and she lives in very impoverished circumstances, with no running water, electricity or enough food to feed her children. Her 14 yr old son is the only wage earner for the family. He makes $3.50 per day hauling firewood for neighbors.
Did I mention that she is blind?
Rosa can't see the cabbage, beans and eggs that we donated yesterday, but she can feel the warmth of friendship from her American sponsor. Helping Rosa would not be possible for us without the assistance of Adopt-A-Village. It takes a group of determined women and an engaged sponsor to create significant change for women like Rosa who have so many needs. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lesbia awaits her next meal in Guatemala

This toddler has a brighter look in her eyes now that Finding Freedom through Friendship has started sponsoring her in our program. The monthly food donations are rounding out her cheeks, and she will soon be too big to ride on her mother's back, as she is shown above. Her mother still needs a water filter, and a wood stove to keep Lesbia safe from open fires, and yes, that is a pig in the street outside of her home. We can never make things as right for this toddler and her family as we would like to. But our board members sleep better at night knowing that we are making things better for 12 abandoned mother's and their children. Lesbia didn't ask to be born into this kind of grinding poverty that keeps her Mayan family and neighbors tired, malnourished and under-educated. But when she is older, she may ask why there weren't  more resources available to help her get the education, healthcare and shelter she will need. We hope to have the answers for her.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

No Easter Basket for Miguel in Guatemala

Miguel and his mother Maria, receiving their food donations last week
Maria, the widow shown (right)  with one of her five children, has never seen an Easter basket. She most likely would not understand the concept of using valuable eggs as decorations, or of filling decorated baskets with dyed eggs that won't be eaten. The broom behind her sweeps  a dirt floors and yard; there is no grass to hide Easter items in. Her children will not receive new holiday clothing, or shoes. Candy is not in their reality. Money, if it were available to this illiterate impoverished rural Guatemalan mother, would not be used for frivolous holiday items for her children, it would be used for corn, the vital staple of Central American Mayan diets. On this particular Easter holiday, Miguel and his family are fortunate to have received the donation of 100 lbs of corn, 50 lbs of beans, rice, cooking oil, sugar and coffee. The Easter gift for Miguel and his siblings is not Easter candy. It is having a mother who smiles more often, knowing that she can now meet the basic needs for education, shelter and food for her children. Thank you, Finding Freedom through Friendship donors, for sharing the true meaning of Easter with this family.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This is What the Joy of Adequate Hearing Looks Like

We thought you might enjoy seeing the lovely face of Catarina, the 22 year old who is holding her new hearing aide, which was made possible through our donors.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Serenity Trickles Down

All of our board members have had hard days as a parent.
Carpool runs late, a child is sick, work issues abound or we wake up with a headache that just won't go away. There are good days and then there are "those" days that are best forgotten.
For Catarina in Guatemala, there were many of "those" days, but the solutions were not better the next day, nor the next. She lost her house and her land after her husband died. Her children were hungry. She had to move into her father's home, which added five more occupants to a household that already slept eleven, which meant her children slept on the floor. And job issues? She had no job. There are no jobs for illiterate women in her remote village.
All of this makes Catarina's smile all the more precious. It means that we at Finding Freedom through Friendship are doing what we love doing...supporting mothers so that their serenity, and smiles, pass down to the next generation that they are trying to raise under the most difficult of circumstances.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How Much Would You Pay to be able to Hear?

Our Finding Freedom through Friendship board members are fortunate to have our health. None of us have lost our vision, hearing or any major sensory ability. It was therefore understandable that we were reluctant to spend $700 of our funding to assist a young lady in remote northern Guatemala with the purchase of a hearing aid. In fact, we couldn't afford to do so, despite our original intention to help. When the bid for the hearing aid came in it was twice as much as we thought it would be. Thanks to our close working relationship with Adopt-A-Village's founder and director, Frances Dixon, we were able to combine our funds with AAV's and work together to help with this request.                
 Candalaria's father had moved to Guatemala City and worked for three years to be able to afford her original hearing aid, which was now too old and damaged to function. He had carefully packaged the original aids manual and receipt in a plastic bag and carried it to Frances in Huehuetenango when he originally sought help. Frances mailed it to me in Kentucky so that I could seek a donation. Replacing it with a model from the U.S. that was logistical and would function without frequent follow-up was not possible. AAV and FFF worked together to get this young woman to a credible ear doctor, to have her hearing tested and to provide the long transportation to and from her village. We assisted with $400 of the needed funding and $100 in transportation costs.
But admittedly, I still struggled with this expense...our funds are so precious...and it was enough money to feed all of our students for a month. And then I received this from Frances today. The expense seems trivial in light of the positive effect it had on Candalaria's life. We think you will agree.

I am happy to tell you that prior to my departure from Guatemala, I had the opportunity to visit Candalaria, the girl who you helped with the hearing aid, and her father.
My only wish is that you could have been with me, because truly, your heart would have been so full at meeting her.  She is a lovely, gracious young woman of 22, and was so overwhelmingly grateful for the help you and Adopt-a-Village provided her by giving her back her hearing.  Her father and brother were equally as grateful and it really struck me how much care and love exists in that family, one for the other.  The family is very protective of Candalaria.
Between them, they told me that after her original hearing aid “gave up”, Candalaria no longer left their hut, she stayed inside day and night, fearful to leave because she could not hear.  Now, she told me proudly, she goes out to talk to the neighbors.  And the big prize was when her brother recently took her on the bus to visit a distant aunt, it sounds like it was a very special vacation for Candalaria (although a trip that neither you nor I would dub a vacation!)
I have a letter of thank here that I will mail to you on Monday.
Thank you for participating in this deeply meaningful project with Adopt-a-Village.
Sincerely,
Frances

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Roland, Working Hard in Guatemala to Help Our Single Mothers

Roland, with his appreciation award, January, 2012



Roland has volunteered for Finding Freedom through Friendship since we started our program. His stamina for helping our single mothers has never wavered, and he spends the majority of his time networking the needs of women and children in rural Guatemala for us and other non-profits. Roland is in charge of delivering food, supervising construction, assisting with healthcare needs and purchasing school supplies for seven of our single mothers.
FFF board members recently awarded Roland a Volunteer Appreciation Award for his three years of service to our organization.
Thank you Roland!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Samuel

Samuel, age three
This is Samuel. If he were your child, you would most likely wash his clothes, feed him adequately and tuck him into bed at night. You would educate him, raise him to be a young man who contributes to the world and you would hope that all of your dreams for him come true.
His mother feels the same way, but her outlook is shaded by the fact that she already lost a 14 year old son, as well as a husband. Her son is lost in every sense of the word....he has not been seen or heard from since he tried to cross the border. He is presumed to be dead.
The loss of her husband left Catarina alone in her household to raise her remaining four children. With no running water, no furniture, a leaking roof and inadequate food supplies, she is described by our facilitator as "completely distraught and exhausted."
Samuel is the "man of the household" at age three.
Catarina's "kitchen"
He is too young to understand, but Samuel's outlook just got brighter. Finding Freedom through Friendship is sending food monthly, and we have send funds for a bed for him to sleep in so he will no longer be on the floor at night. His sisters are back in school. There is renewed hope for a brighter future.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How excited would your child be over a bag of oatmeal?

This is Francisco. Finding Freedom through Friendship started providing his family with monthly food donations last fall.
These food donations are not exciting...100 lbs of corn, rice, 50 lbs of black beans, cooking oil, sugar, and eggs. No junk food, no desserts, no soft drinks. Nothing that a typical child would be excited enough to smile this big for.
The incaparina that Francisco is holding is a nutritious cereal that is similar to our American oatmeal.
I grew up eating oatmeal. In the 1960's it was an inexpensive way to fill the stomachs of our large family at breakfast. There was nothing about oatmeal that would have elicited a smile like Francisco's. But then I was never this thin, with no father to provide food, and four siblings who were as hungry as I was.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Catarina's health improving in Guatemala

Catarina (right) looks more like one of her own daughters than the mother of these three beautiful girls. She shows the effects of maternal malnutrition in her lack of appropriate height and weight.
It has been a difficult year for this 32 year old single mother in northern Guatemala. She suffers from tuberculosis, active asthma and hepatitis. This past fall she was hospitalized for pneumonia. Lack of adequate shelter and nutrition made healing difficult.
Finding Freedom's facilitator, Roland, has taken extra care to meet the needs of this family. He provided oversight during Catarina's hospitalization, and he has taken her to doctor appointments, as well as purchased medication that was critical to help her during asthma attacks.
Our organization recently donated a newly constructed house for this family, also supervised by Roland, and the girls have been included in our school sponsorship program. Monthly food donations will provide essential nutrients to keep this little family healthy throughout 2012.