Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hunger

— Central America is having one of its worst droughts in decades, and experts warned Thursday that major farm losses and the deaths of hundreds of cattle in the region could leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.
The agricultural losses are largely in corn and beans, basic staples of the region's diet, the United Nations' World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a joint statement.
"The impact of the prolonged heat wave is having on nutrition and food security in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua is very worrisome," the agencies said.
The food agencies said the situation needs to be addressed immediately or what is already a food crisis could worsen in the coming months.
In Guatemala, about 170,000 families lost almost all of their crops.
( press)

These are some of the children we serve in our organization. These children already knew of this natural disaster, before it gained international attention:

Jose's family lost their father five years ago after a long struggle with tuberculosis. Jose is the only son in the family, and without brothers to plant and tend crops, the family soon fell into a food crisis. They were referred to Finding Freedom in 2011, and since then have been receiving a daily meal that is sometimes all they eat in 24 hours. Our cost for their food staples went up 30% in the last two years. We anticipate a rise in prices again soon, due to country wide crop failures of corn and beans. Our commitment to Jose's family remains strong but our financial resources will feel the strain. As the only wage earners in the family, his teenage sisters spend their days weaving traditional crafts. This family is trying to help themselves but without the ability to enter a formal job market, which does not exist in their village, they are relegated to a life of extreme poverty, and with it, chronic hunger. 

Lucy, (Right) only receives $10 worth of food per month from our program. Her mother is given this food as an extra incentive to attend our weekly literacy program, so that in the future she can read and write. Ten dollars provides Lucy and her siblings with some bags of rice and pasta, which doesn't answer the need for protein, but helps fill little stomachs. Lucy is too young to understand the lack of economic opportunity that affects her family. FFF has provided funding for a community garden that her mother can benefit from. This garden will not provide protein that is essential to developing pediatric brains and bodies, but it is a start. 

Sylvia is a mother of seven children (right) in the slums of Guatemala. Financial limitations keep us from feeding this family on a monthly basis, but we were able to deliver food to them this past January. Last week, Sylvia called to ask for another delivery. She is a proud and resourceful mother, and we know that when she asks, the need is acute. We sent her food, and will visit her in October to assess how she can help herself with food security for her family with a micro business grant from Finding Freedom. 

There are so few, if any, solid answers for how to effectively feed all of the hungry children in our program. Ideally we would teach their mother's a skill so that they could work and raise money to take care of their children themselves. 
Five years after the inception of our program, we have not found a way to teach women who are illiterate how to run a business or perform product development. The few dollars some of them earn from doing traditional weavings don't begin to cover their cost of living. All nonprofits face the same dilemma: how to offer a hand up instead of a hand out, because the "hand" may not always be attached to a financial arm. 
Meanwhile, we will keep fundraising and feeding, because hunger is not something any child should experience, no matter what country they live in. 

Adopt-A-Village Guatemala and Finding Freedom collaborate to feed 7 families in remote northern Guatemala. Antonio is one of the recipients of this partnership.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Trying to Sleep at Night

She was our poster child of what a little Mayan Guatemalan girl could look like with proper nutrition, housing and a mother who was receiving all that she needed to care for her children properly. Ana was radiant. When I looked at her photos, I knew our hard working little organization was doing great and wonderful things because photos are proof.

Ana, a year after staring our program
Until they aren't. 
Until the story behind the photo becomes something you don't want to write about.
Which is what happens when dysfunction, and addiction and poor decisions made by the adults in her life fall in the lap of one precious little girl who didn't ask for any of it.

 We purchased land for her mother after the alcoholic father sold their first house out from under his children's feet.
We built a new home, deeded it to the mother, purchased water rights, piped in liquid gold (water) right to the door and luxuries of luxuries...even put in a real toilet. The children were back in school thanks to FFF scholarships, and the easiest thing on our list of donations was the most important and nourishing...we fed the family one meal a day. Ana flourished. Her siblings gained weight. Her mother gained her pride back after we helped her in a micro business. Life for this family in the mountains of Guatemala was good.

Until slowly, it wasn't so good anymore. Ana became sick, pale and swollen. She cried very often and hard and refused to walk for six months. We got her to the doctor once a month for too many trips to count, and despite antibiotics, a consult with an American doctor and a hospitalization in Guatemala City, she declined physically and 

Swollen hands, knees and feet
I don't know what was behind her mother's decision, but suddenly and inexplicably, Ana's  alcoholic father was back in the picture, demanding that his daughter be released from the hospital and returned home to the house we built after he sold the first one out from under his family. The house that he wasn't supposed to be in, according to our written contract with Ana's mother and the wishes of the community who had banished him after his mistreatment of his wife and children.
I have never walked a day in this mother's shoes (or lack thereof), and it is not our place to judge her decision. Maybe her husband was the one true love of her life. Maybe she is an eternal optimist and thinks he will change. Most likely she is just terrified of life without a man to harvest crops and firewood for her. For all she knows, FFF could vaporize some day and our support would evaporate. For reasons none of us could rationalize, the father who had created havoc in the lives of his wife and children was now in charge again.

Hospitalization before release to father
Meanwhile, without social services or government officials to intervene, all we can do is respect the mother's wishes that Finding Freedom no longer deliver our services. I'll try to get the sounds of Ana's crying out of my mind, and we will move forward in our efforts to help one of the many families on our waiting list. I will block out our concerns that she has no pain medication, no steroids for her swollen joints, ad may in fact be terminally ill without proper medical care. 
Nothing about this seems right, or comforting; it feels like a wrong decision made by parents who have the right to make it, at least in Guatemala.  
A famous philosopher once said, 
"You can't change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails".
I understand the sentiment. But it doesn't change my feelings. And it won't help me sleep at night.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Remember the Guatemalan brothers?

 Our loyal readers will remember this story below, which we first wrote in March. 
In hospital, 1/14

This family was found residing in a rural Guatemalan hospital after the loss of their rental shack, their sibling and their income. Because of the lack of knowledge about the genetic skin disease the boys have, the court system was going to go through legal means to also remove the brothers from their mother's care. In the eyes of local medical staff, the ulcers caused by EB looked like child abuse. 
For those of you who haven't read the story before, here is the correspondence that first came out of Guatemala when we were asked to assist this family:

In hospital, 1/14
"The 2 brothers are; Larry, 8 years old. And Arles; 4 years old. Their mother’s name is Navia. Both brothers are suffering from burning, much itching all over their bodies and also in their mouths, tongues and throat, and it also affect their eyes. The nurse said aging skin disease, but they don’t know exactly what skin disease the boys have. The nurse and social worker said they have no treatments for the siblings in the hospital, and asked me to search for help for the brothers. The mother and her 2 sons now live now in the hospital temporarily; they do not have their own home. The mother is a single mother. She also has a daughter, but she does not have the disease, and now her daughter is in a special shelter for children in another city. I saw that the mother does not have many teeth. Her two sons have not received exams or treatments by dermatologists."

"And their mom asked me if it can be possible to give her a document; Constancy (as a proof) that her sons will receive help from FFF for medicines and food that she can give to the judge. She said this can help her so that they don’t take away her sons, including her daughter. She asked if that document can include the names of Finding Freedom helpers, with their signatures, and my signature. What do you think?"  
"Navia said yesterday if possible a letter with stamp from FFF it can be a great help for her. With the doctor certificates from Dr. Cabrera (who made the genetic diagnostic) and executive director of the national hospital, perhaps it can be enough to help her so they don’t take her sons and daughter away from her." Roland.

Their sister, waiting to come home

To make a (very) long story short, several generous donors, one determined FFF facilitator in Guatemala and many hours of documentation came together to change the fortunes of this rag-tag little family. 
Nurse Geri who works with The DEBRA Society in NYC (DEBRA web site) went to the trouble to send a large box of special creams, bandages and antibiotics to our facilitator in Guatemala, who hired a private car to get such a big box of miracles to the family. He spent hours with mama Navia, teaching her how to care for her son's skin with the donated products, so that Arles would not have to suffer the loss of his hands like his brother has. Geri in NYC is working with surgeons in Guatemala to arrange donated surgery for Larry so his fingers can be surgically separated.

Everyone looks healthier!

Shopping for groceries with mama

Meanwhile, FFF has paid for rent for the rest of the year in the room you see (R), the family gets monthly food donations, and the boys have a tutor to keep their school skills up to par. The judge has agreed, after careful documentation and a promise of assistance from us, to release sister S. from the orphanage in a few weeks. 

When our board members first founded Finding Freedom, we had no knowledge of the journey we would take, only the understanding that we were meant to take the first step, and trust that doing so would lead to what FFF was meant to grow into. We are glad that we found our way to this particular family, and we are so pleased with how good they look. 
A special thanks to all of our "FFF villagers" who came together to help this family. They have a long road ahead of them, but at least they will do it with full stomachs, a roof over their head and they will be together.