Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No Idea What To Do

She was the size of a small refrigerator, with eyes so liquid and brown that you felt yourself melting right into them. Her hide was the color of warm Carmel, and it stretched over her hips so tightly that when you ran your hand over them you could feel the nuances of the bones. The rainy night she joined our family was one of complete chaos...construction on our barn wasn't finished yet so she had to reside in the garage. As we led her into her new temporary home, she lost her footing on the wet concrete floor, and each leg went a different direction as her very full udder lay under her. Caroline the cow was now in the ownership of a family who had no clue what to do with her.
Caroline with cousin Colleen

When I tell people that we grew up on five acres in central Kentucky, they assume I know about farming, that by default, our DNA has "farmer genes".  Vice President Mike and I know enough to plant a seed and water it, but we never quite got the cow thing down. Caroline eventually came down with mastitis and we sold her to a farmer with a herd and a head full of knowledge on animal husbandry.

Our flustered attempts to meet Caroline's needs taught us many life lessons, but despite this I still went into our relationships with our FFF mom's thinking that each of them must know how to garden. Indigenous women in Guatemala have lived their lives surrounded by verdant hills, with moisture providing rains and volcanic soil capable of feeding those that nurture it. Finding Freedom has purchased land for many of our abandoned mothers in our program and we are currently building our sixteenth house. Why then are these women still dependent on our food donations? Why aren't they milking their own cows or raising luscious gardens on the land we purchased for them? Why don't they just know how to raise their own food?

The answer is as different as each of the women we ask it of. Lucia owns the land we purchased for her, but it sits on a cliff so high that we had to create a guardrail at the edge of her porch so her children didn't fall off the edge. Candalaria has the land we deeded to her, but no hoe, rake, seeds or terracing to keep the soil from washing down her steep hill during the rainy season. Lucy's land sits at the bottom of a shallow, where all of the rain from the frequent showers puddles, keeping the soil too wet to grow food.  Catarina's (R) lungs are so damaged from Tuberculosis and asthma that  even walking is difficult for her. 
We have had some success. Ana's FFF donated chickens died but the land we purchased for her has trees that produce a native fruit that she sells when in season. Maria's land, where our newest home with running water is being built, is flat, large enough to garden, and Maria knows how to tend to growing vegetables. She will need tools, fertilizer and seeds, but she has the knowledge. 

Maria on her new FFF donated land. 

Oxfam (Oxfam), an international relief organization dedicated to eradication of hunger and poverty. They describe food insecurity this way:

 Our Finding Freedom sponsored families fit the above criteria. Finding Freedom only provides one meal a day for our sponsored families. Two thousand calories a day per person is not something they can conceptualize, or that we could afford. We have to move toward self-sustainability for our families.
We are growing as an organization, and growing pains mean that we stretch our knowledge base to meet the needs of our sponsored families. As of last week we are actively seeking other organizations and individuals to teach our FFF mothers gardening techniques. We don't know yet what this new "picture" looks like for our program, but it will certainly have a better outcome than our family had with poor Caroline the cow. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

Haiti is a popular humanitarian destination for American volunteers to travel to.  Some of my friends love using their talents to make life better in Africa. Most of our readers have acquaintances who use their skills to make our local community stronger through the spirit of giving of themselves to benefit others. So why, people often ask, do Finding Freedom through Friendship board members choose to put our time, talents and treasure into a tiny Central American country called Guatemala?
Let me introduce to you some amazing board members and explain to our readers why we love Guatemala:

This is Mary Kay Hall (R). She works as a registered nurse, has a compassionate heart, and has traveled to Guatemala with a medical team. While there, Mary Kay connected with the Guatemalan women and children and she was eager to find a meaningful way to benefit them. Mary Kay is a founding board member of our organization, she serves as our secretary and sponsors one of our students. She helps raise funds for FFF by selling our craft items and utilizing her skills as a jewelry maker to create items we sell at craft fairs.

Mike and Wendy McNevin (L) live in Denver. As a physician who travels to Guatemala annually, Mike is continually reminded of the humanitarian need that exists there. He serves as our vice president, all while holding down a demanding job as a Medical Director of a surgery center, serving as a Bishop in his church and meeting the needs of his three grown children. Mike's compassionate medical care for the women and children of Guatemala is his hallmark. He and his wife Wendy have sent two of their children to Guatemala on medical missions. Wendy serves as our board president, and she covers us with prayer, willingly shares her income with our organization to benefit our abandoned mothers, and supports our project with her quiet devotion to making the world a better place.  

Carol Kremer (L) resides in Rhode Island, and is a busy mother of two, as well as a practicing CRNA. As an adoptive mother of a daughter from Guatemala, Carol has a big heart for impoverished women in Central America. Carol is one of our founding board members and works tirelessly at her online Guatemalan craft sales, the proceeds of which help us financially. Carol is an excellent communicator and her work ethic benefits many. Her financial gifts that result from her on-line sales have purchased beds, tables, home payments, stoves and bedding and educational supplies for many of our families.

Vinnie and Faby de Samoya (R) reside in Guatemala and are the parents of four. As a minister, Vinnie works long hours to meet the needs of his parishioners. This amazing couple share their love of ministry and compassion for others by mentoring several of our micro business clients, as well as delivering food, school supplies and micro business advice to one of our single mothers located three hours from them. 


Jody Greenlee (L) is a pediatric nurse and has fostered two children from Guatemala that came to the states for donated surgery. She has traveled to Guatemala for the last fourteen years to volunteer her medical and humanitarian services to women and children in our organization. She serves as our Executive Director.

In addition, Erin Ballard (KY), Violeta Archer (TX) and Rae House (KY) act as advisory board members. Erin is a student at the University of KY and despite a busy schedule, is always ready and willing to pack medical supplies and gather items needed in Guatemala. Violeta developed our business plan and shares her passion for sustainable architectural plans for the homes we build in Guatemala. Rae does an outstanding job of creating our PR work (Rae's website), and gives our organization a "face" to go with our name.  
 Finding Freedom was founded out of our board member's desire to create positive and long term meaningful change for Guatemala's abandoned women and their children. We all have a part of our hearts in Guatemala, for various reasons. Maria and her children are a few of those reasons.

Maria and her children, with first FFF food donation

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Mother's Thank You

I know you can't understand her. If it helps, I can't either. Candalaria speaks a dialect that I will never master, but thankfully our Guatemalan facilitators speak it fluently.
So you will have to trust me when I tell you that she is saying "thank you." She is expressing her gratitude for your concern, for helping us to help her.
I love this particular dialect. It is spoken softly, and when we are in a room of women who are speaking this language, it feels like a soft flow of warm water, easing through the room without sharp edges, smoothing everything in its path.


Candalaria's life changed dramatically when Finding Freedom added her to our program. As a recent widow, she went from sleeping on her father's floor with her five children to being a landowner, homeowner and the proud mother of students who excelled once they were back in school. The family has running water for the first time ever, and they eat at least one meal a day.  
She has much to be grateful for, and she wanted to thank you. 
As do we.