Saturday, September 20, 2014

How Do You Find the Women You Help?

"A proposal: Widow: Maria Juarez. Her daughter's name is Catarina and she also has a son. I am including some of my photos of her and her daughter. And she is struggling hard so that they can continue to study. I have seen a document that she showed me that show that her husband died 5 years ago. She is working hard, and she is selling fruits, she does not have a shop. According what a friend has told me she does not receive any help at all. She does not owe her own land. Neither the metal shelter you can see in my photos is hers; she is paying a rent to have the permission to live there with her daughter and son. Maria’s parents have both died. You can see in my photos how small their home is. As I have understood so far Maria is in great need of support. Maybe she can be included?"

Many people ask our Finding Freedom board members how we find the women we help in rural Guatemala. After all, there are millions just like them; women who have no food in their homes, no running water or electricity, and who live in rainwater and mud during the rainy season. Unfortunately, there is an abundance of women who are parenting alone in Guatemala and a lack of abundance of any type of social services to assist them. 
We start by reviewing requests like the one above from our facilitators in the field. 
We examine our budget to determine if there is room for another family to be helped.  Annual trips to visit  the mothers in our program are essential toward determining which family on our list has the most critical needs. So we go, high up into the mountains, where the need is most acute and the geographical beauty takes our breath away. 

Maria gets a physical exam
Documenting the details

We sit; we assess; we listen. We do physical exams, and we observe. We take time to be inside homes that leak in the rain and are inadequate shelter in every meaningful way and we feel. We use our women's intuition, our male board member's critical thinking skills and our non-profit board member experience to inform our instincts on whether or not this particular family in front of us is credible, and has a desire to help themselves. 
Maria's rental house.

 If this need is acute, and the family agrees to sign our contract stating their willingness to educate their children, work toward self-sufficiency and feed an elderly person twice a week, then they have won the Finding Freedom "lottery". 

Construction has started on Maria's home, donated by a FFF benefactor
A proud landowner

Signing FFF contract with a thumbprint. Maria does not read or write.

When the stars line up for one of the women we assist, and we have funds to include them in our program, miracles happen. Children are included in our scholarship program and become educated. Food is delivered once a month and bodies receive nutrition. Medical needs are address, and people heal. Homes are built and shelter becomes a reality instead of a dream. Water contracts and land deeds are legally filed, securing futures. Mind, body and spirit flourish, because women now know that someone cares enough to give them a lift up and out of the abyss of grinding poverty. After five years of doing our work, not one of the women we have helped has said they were sorry we found them, listened to them, heard their needs and helped. 
Connection, caring, compassion....the three "C's" at the core of the three "F's."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Partnering with Catapult to Educate Mayan Girls

The Catapult Foundation in New York City was started by a group of professionals who have backgrounds in journalism, technology and design, and who have a passion for gender equality and the needs of women and girls around the world. Catapult shares our strong belief that there is an urgent need for increased financial and social engagement on the part of donors to eradicate the obstacles women and girls face globally. 
You can learn more about Catapult here.

Finding Freedom is thrilled to announce our partnership with Catapult in our mutual desire to see positive change in the lives of indigenous girls in the mountains of Guatemala. One of the most significant ways to create this change is through lowering the barriers associated with getting an education. The obstacles our Mayan girls face in trying to gain even a rudimentary education in the mountains of Guatemala are stunning. Here is one small (literally and figuratively) example:

Alba, at home with her bedridden mother
 This is Alba (above). She is nine years old. Alba and her eleven year old brother are the caretakers for her widowed mother, who has been bedridden since Alba was a baby. As the only female in the household who is physically capable, Alba is the cook for the family. She is learning how to care for a household without a capable role model. Alba has the weight of the world on her small shoulders.

Even at her young age, gender roles are playing a formative place in her life. 

It is hard for an American mother to imagine a nine year old attending school while worrying about her bedridden mother, or after walking a long distance to a school that does not provide meals, school supplies, heat, or even a marginal education. What makes the effort worthwhile when you have to walk up steep mountain paths, in shoes that fit poorly if at all? In the rain, or fog without protective waterproof outerwear, after a night of restless sleep under a pile of used clothing because there are few blankets in the home? What motivates a young girl to bother going to school at all under these conditions? How does she do her schoolwork at night when there is no budget for candles?

Here is why girls like Alba care enough to try:

School, even as basic as the ones in remote rural Guatemala, offers a respite from the daily chores and helping with child care that many young girls do at home. Central American culture thrives on companionship and connection; being part of a classroom offers this. Without television or radio at home, where there is no electricity, sharing even rudimentary information within a classroom is the only way for a girl to learn outside of the constraints of her home. Alba's mother does not read or write. Her life choices were dictated for her by her limited options and her cycle of poverty. Alba, even at the young age of nine, knows that the classroom is her only chance to create any opportunity for a life that does not mirror her mother's. 
For this child and the twenty-nine other girls we are opening educational doors for, we are thrilled to announce that our partnership with Catapult has been a success. 

Our Catapult Project was successfully funded!
To read more about what this project will do for thirty fortunate girls in rural Guatemala, go to our Catapult Project page here: FFF's Education Project
Meanwhile, our deepest gratitude to Catapult, and to their donors, for making Alba's future brighter. A friend who met Alba recently remarked: "I love this child. She is going places!"
Thanks to Gucci Parfums, who donated the majority of the scholastic funds we needed, we have faith that she will indeed.