Sunday, February 17, 2013

Three Women, Ten Children, Two Different Worlds

Jennifer with Manuel's manager and owners.

When Jennifer McNevin in Austin decided to dream big, and raise $10,000 for our organization, she already possessed a passion for changing the lives of our FFF clients. As my sister, she had listened to my stories of the women we assist. When our brother Mike (our vice president) shared his photographs after visits to Guatemala, she poured over the visual details. She most likely will never travel the three hour trip from Austin to Guatemala City, but she doesn't need to travel to a developing country to understand that her "sisters in spirit" needed help. 
Catarina, on land purchased for her through FFF funding

Lucia and her children
Ten thousand dollars worth of help. So that Catarina and her five children could sleep in a secure, waterproof home, and Lucia can look forward to living in a house that doesn't turn into a muddy swamp in the rainy season. Two plots of land deeded to these two widows means a lifetime of security in a country where very few indigenous women own land or houses. Two new houses to protect ten children from the weather and intruders ensures that the odds against these families are more favorable.
Jennifer assembled her resources, which meant implementing a team consisting of a graphic designer, a lawyer, an accountant, public relations staff and a printer. Did I mention that she had to convince them to donate their services? She organized her restaurant staff, all fifty of them, and oriented them to what our organization's mission was. No friend was safe from her request to purchase a raffle ticket that was part of the fundraiser meant to bring in the necessary money for these houses. One thousand tickets had to be sold by December 31st. For Jennifer, it wasn't an option to fall short of the goal. 
The staff at Manuel's restaurants worked very hard on this fundraiser. Convincing customers to purchase raffle tickets to benefit women in remote Guatemala was not an easy job. The staff had to create a connection between their customers and this cause. And they did...right down to the last ticket. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Interview

Ana, being interviewed by AAV Staff member, 2011
In 2011, when Finding Freedom through Friendship first accepted Ana into our program, we needed to know more about her in order to help her with her most acute needs. How much schooling did she have? What was her upbringing like? What skills did she have that we could network with our partner organization, Adopt-A-Village Guatemala, to develop? How many children depended on her for food and shelter? How was she currently meeting those needs?
Unfortunately, Ana's story was not unusual. Both of her parents had died within the last year. She married as a teenager, and has five children, including a three year old. One of her sons was missing and presumed dead after attempting to cross the U.S. border. Her husband, before he abandoned her, was an alcoholic who beat her. Starting work as a young child didn't allow for even a day of schooling, and she was frequently in pain from long days of labor in the fields of Guatemala. 
This interview was important to us. We keep a solid database on all fifteen mothers in our program, which is vital for tracking services and staying within our budget. In retrospect, I think it was important to Ana also. She was, perhaps for one of the few times in her life, being listened to respectfully...heard in a meaningful way. Sharing her burden and having it recorded. 

AAV staff member teaching gardening skills to Ana
Based on this interview, we developed a plan of care for Ana and her children, which included donations of a daily meal, the gift of a new house, a health physical for Ana and school fees for her children. Under the guidance of AAV, Ana participated in gardening classes, (left) and for perhaps the first time in her life, was starting to see a brighter future for her family. In February of 2012 Frances, President of AAV reported seeing Ana "looking so good with her lovely smile, so happy for her new house". 
The news of Ana's death last week was sent in an email marked "urgent". She died of unknown causes while on a visit to her former village. My guess is that her recent diagnosis of diabetes was the cause. She leaves five children under the age of 17, who are foundering in their despair. Available social services in her remote location? None. Orphanages willing to take five siblings? Non-existent in Guatemala, where adoptions are no longer allowed and those orphanages that are still open are packed with waiting children. During the 10 day period of mourning customary in Guatemala, the children are with their 19 year old sister, who is also the mother of a toddler. Finding Freedom paid for the funeral. 
Two of Ana's children, with corn donated by Finding Freedom
This is a hard post to write. Our work assisting abandoned women and their children in Guatemala may seem depressing to some, but our board looks at it differently. We see hope flourishing, families strengthening, children growing. We watch our mothers brighten when they realize someone, somewhere cares enough to help. 
But this is different. Ana's death is life-changing for her children. The facts are real and no amount of hope or care will change them.  We are designating this coming Valentine's Day as a memorial to Ana. Donations made to FFF during the week February 7-14th will be earmarked for her children.
Our commitment to her family's well-being remains strong. 
Just as she was. 

(photo credits: Adopt-A-Village, Guatemala)