Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Hidden Face

I pride myself in my photography, especially when I am in Guatemala,
a country rich in visually compelling photographic moments, but this little boy's face, photographed last week while interviewing his mother, has been left intentionally blurry. His mother can't be indentified by the viewer, which is what I intended. I need to be able to tell her story without her worrying that someone, somewhere, will be able to identify her. She deserves the discretion. Her story is not one she wished for, but it is all too common among economically disadvantaged women all over the world. 
Two years ago, Maria (*not her real name*) approached a young missionary couple from America who were working in her village building homes. The couple was nearing the end of their time in Guatemala and funding for any future homes had been spent. In desperation for a place to house her family of five children, Maria offered the missionary wife her toddler son in exchange for a house. This was not a casual exchange. The conversation was repeated, and confirmed, since the missionary did not want to misrepresent what she had heard. The request from Maria was real, spoken out of desperation. She could not feed her children, and she had no hope for a better future.
By networking with Finding Freedom, the missionary couple was able to use our funds, raised quickly and generously by a FFF donor, to build a small but waterproof home for Maria. She now had a home and was able to keep her beautiful son. Or so we thought. 
Maria has the added misfortune of having a mother-in-law who is mean spirited. The mother-in-law had promised to sell the land we built the home on to Maria and her husband, but once the home was built, she took back her offer and evicted Maria. Finding Freedom was able to dismantle the house, and use the materials for another mother we assist. But Maria was now in a rental, with a leaking roof, no water, a dirt floor that turned to mud in the rainy season. 
Soon after these events, Finding Freedom arranged for Maria to have a tubal ligation at her request. She knew that with a husband who could not find work, the family had little hope of being able to feed more than the five children they already had. We arranged for her to be brought to a visiting medical team who offered to do the surgery free of charge. A van driver was secured, arrangements made and the surgeon was waiting. Maria's minister had other ideas. He convinced Maria and the four other women in her village who requested the same surgery that their cooperation would amount to a sin against God. 
You have probably guessed the conclusion to this story. Maria is due in two months with her next child. She is thin, and her baby is hanging low in her uterus, due to the lack of muscle support from maternal malnutrition. I spent the day with her last week, and she is an excellent mother-attentive, patient and kind, but her abilities will be stretched when the new baby arrives. While it is tempting to discourse on the right of the local minister to intervene, I choose instead to put our energy into helping Maria with much-needed food, and perhaps a house, if we can find funding.