Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Faces of Hunger in Guatemala: Not Who You Think

Much has been written in the last few weeks on the causes behind the surge in undocumented children finding their way into the United States. Children from Central America, who are fleeing, some with parents and some without, from hunger, poverty and violence. 
These children on the front pages of the press are the faces that represent these problems in Guatemala, a country endemic for all of those problems and more. The wide-eyed infants and fresh faced toddlers who stare at us from the pages of national newspapers or websites captivate us with their promise of blooming if they are planted on American soil. Their plight tears at the very fabric of our country, dividing our opinions as we each stand on our respective sides of the issue. 

The faces of the elderly rarely make the press, either here or in Guatemala.They are the forgotten few who are behind closed doors, in their villages, waiting and wanting. Guatemalan elderly are at risk for malnutrition for all of the same reasons that the very aged are world-wide. Their legs no longer make their way to the market, and arms are not strong enough to chop firewood for cooking fires. Their minds and vision are cloudy, and contributing to the workload of the community; highly valued in their society, is no longer an option. The elderly in Guatemala who have no family to care for them are the most fragile, but least vocal of an already marginalized indigenous society.  
Meanwhile, our Finding Freedom families are looking better nourished. Their faces are filling out, the children who benefit from our food donations are growing taller and their eyes have a brightness that was absent before we took them into our program. The lines of worry on the faces of our abandoned mothers are softening. 
It is time for our mothers to pay it forward. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Getting Back from Giving Back

A special cookie

There are a few blogs I like to follow, most of which have to do with families. Families are what Finding Freedom is all about; the nitty, gritty details of creating an emotionally and physically healthy family. There is a common theme among my fellow blog writers: 
Being the right kind of mother is hard. 

Vitamins for Guatemala
Being the right kind of nonprofit to support indigenous mothers is just as difficult. The nitty, gritty details of running a nonprofit will suck the stamina out of the most enthusiastic, passionate person, especially if they are, as we are, volunteers. 

So when we have a few days of giving back to the givers, it is cause for celebration.

When FFF friends Holly and Maureen worked a small miracle in their busy schedules to find time for the three of us, all from different cities, to have lunch, and to bring me a most-delicious cookie from their favorite bakery as well as loads of vitamins for the children in our program, it nourished more than just our bodies. Somehow three hours buzzed by as we chatted away about our respective Guatemalan adventures. 

And when The Catapult Foundation reviewed our grant application, and sent back through provoking questions, with sweet personal responses, I got the shot of enthusiasm for our work that I needed. 

 When we needed a Facebook header for our FFF page, and Rae House landed the perfect one back to my inbox in a matter of minutes, it fed my impatient soul and my creative spirit. 

Graphic design donated by Rae
When Becky B., who is always thinking of others, loaded up my arms with new shoes for children in Guatemala and fresh organic produce from her garden for my own table, the day got even better. 

Becky's bounty
Soon after, Carol S., who leads a student group of enthusiastic future leaders, dropped off a jar of spare change the students had collected for our mother's in Guatemala. 

Donated coins


It was a few days of giving back to the givers. And at the end of those special moments, I suddenly noticed that the weather, which had been beautiful all day long, was just perfect. The nourishment for body and soul had given me just the right spectacles to see what was already in front of me. The kindness of those supporting the supporters helps Carol Kremer in Rhode Island sell Guatemalan crafts to support our funds. It lifts the spirits of Mike in Denver as he tries to find donated laptops for our facilitators doing our work in the mountains of Guatemala. It motivates Kathy in Lexington to learn Spanish so she can communicate with our Spanish speaking staff. Well done, all.

A perfect day

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons Learned in Guatemala

It takes a certain kind of person to travel with us to Guatemala. A gutsy, don't-care-if-I-can't-get-a-shower-for-a-few-days kinda person. On our visits to the Finding Freedom households, our volunteers work through hunger, thirst, bug bites, tummy trouble, fatigue and rib-banging drives in the back of pickup trucks through the northern Guatemala mountains. We curse at the potholes that bruise our ribs, hide under tarps in rain so hard that it feels like needles pricking our skin, and we know all along that we can't hide our true selves from each other. It is an in-the-trenches experience, and like all hard times, relationships are built on these trips that go beyond the fluffy edges of normal surface friendships. 

Desi, wind-blown in the back of the truck

Traveling with Desi was all of the above and more. Her grandmother, Jo Brewer, had promised me that if I agreed to let Desi, who was only fifteen, travel with us last fall, I wouldn't regret it. Jo reassured me that Desi wouldn't balk at the poverty we would be witnessing, that she wouldn't shirk from the work we needed her to do and more importantly, she would not cause me any concern. Jo knew how much these trips occupy my time and energy. A wayward teen was the last thing I needed to worry about in the lawless regions of remote Guatemala. 
Grandma Jo knows Guatemala, and I trusted Jo, so Desi was welcomed. 
I wasn't disappointed. 

A winner in every respect
When the rain pounded and the bugs swarmed
Desi handled it. When our pickup truck hit potholes that sent us across the truck bed she dealt with the bruises. Mayan children swarmed her in the mountains and she entertained them, allowing us to interview their mothers. She hauled things up mountains, walked through garbage and sometimes worse, and never complained. 

This summer Desi decided to test herself even further by entering local beauty pageants in the counties of western Kentucky where she lives. In her words, she needed to "refine herself" by gaining poise and the confidence required to go onstage in front of an audience. 
So she has, time and again, all while wearing a tiny rope bracelet on her right arm, given to her by a grateful Guatemalan mama. And and after almost every contest she comes away with the prize most suited for her: Miss Congeniality. When the judge asked her what she would do if she had a million dollars, Desi responded "I would go to Guatemala with Finding Freedom through Friendship and build houses for women and their children who don't have them."
I would like to end this story by telling our readers how much Desi learned in Guatemala, but in truth, we learned much more than she did. We discovered, in a refreshing way that lifted our spirits, how much capacity our youth have for personal growth, for altruism and for challenging all of us to improve ourselves into our best possible beings. We learned that the world will be just fine when we are ready to hand it over to the Desi's of the world, the youth who will bring their confidence and their competence into an interesting future. 
We look forward to learning more from Desi when she travels with us in October.