Thursday, December 27, 2012


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.