Friday, October 31, 2014

Not Just a Stove

Stove Donated to FFF client in 2010 (photo credit: Shawn Packard)

This unassuming coffee pot sitting on an iron stove top seems almost artfully posed. With the fabricated wire handle and the brown tones of the wood to the right, the articles in the photograph could have been from the 1800's. This photograph was instead shot three weeks ago in rural Guatemala while we were visiting some of the mothers in our program and evaluating their needs.
The fact that Maria had this stove means that she is better off than millions of  women in the mountains of Guatemala.
When visiting the women in our program, we do home assessments with a check list in hand, marking off the items that tells us a particular mother has her basic needs met, most likely from donations from FFF. The list looks like this:
  • Beds
  • Blankets
  • Concrete floor
  • Pilia (Guatemalan outdoor sink)
  • Table,  Wooden Chairs
  • Intact roof
  • Stove
That is the list; nothing fancy by any means. No wardrobe to keep clothes organized, no couch, rugs, mirrors, wall art, bedsheets, refrigerator or microwave. In fact, if any of our clients had these items, they would be considered some of the wealthiest of citizens in their country and they would have no need for our services.

Of everything on the list, the stove is the most important; without one, our clients cook like Juana (below) used to: on an open fuel inefficient fire, while breathing noxious smoke while toddlers linger nearby, at risk for falling into the fire. 

Juana, cooking on open fire before her stove donation.
Petrona, with firewood at home

The wood required for open source cooking creates hours of hard labor weekly for Guatemalan women. Chopping; hauling; stacking; splitting. When we ask the women in our program what their biggest need is, firewood and a stove are one of the first things they mention. Stove donations reduce the need for firewood by almost 80%. 

In other words, a stove is not just a stove in Central America. It is a labor saving device, it is eco-friendly, a health prevention tool and it is often the only kitchen appliance a rural indigenous woman has in her possession. 
And possibly the most important. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sister? Friend? Neither and Both.

We have twenty-one women and their children in our program. Finding Freedom's annual Guatemalan trip to oversee our program is often the only direct time we spend with the women we assist with food, shelter and education for their children. Our facilitators are there daily, but this brief time our board members spends with with the women we help does not create a relationship that qualifies as a sister or a friend. 
Why then, do we feel like both? 

Here is the Webster dictionary definition of a sister:
:  a female who has one or both parents in common with another 
:  a girl or woman regarded as a comrade
Of course we don't qualify for the first definition, since none of the women we assist in Guatemala have the same genealogy that our volunteers do. We do feel like comrades, working together with our Finding Freedom mothers to alleviate the effects of the deep poverty that impinge on their lives. 

We celebrate new found health

We haul supplies up mountains
We listen and assess how best to help
We feed their hungry children
We share meals

We connect

No matter what the official definition is, it feels like friendship among sisters; a kinship among women from two different countries who want the same things.
 Peace, self-sufficiency, connection, security.

(Photo credits: Devin Mendenhall and Shawn Packard)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Child in Guatemala

I'm a firm believer in spiritual leaders. Personally, I need them; I seek them out, read their books, breathe their messages into my pores. I have to have mentors to keep me sane while working in Guatemala, a country of insane poverty, gender inequality and scholastic inadequacy. All of our board members are people of wisdom and seekers, some through church work, some through service work, others via role models. We understand the need for collaboration and guidance. 

Iyanla Vanzant (L) (Iyanla's blog) is one of my favorite life coaches. Her wisdom comes from a combination of seeking, immersion, and the hardest education of all....tragedy.  She knows at her core of the pain a mother feels when she suffers the loss of a child. Iyanla "gets" the relationship humans must have in order for this planet we inhabit to be a home we can grow up on instead of grow out of in this  current atmosphere of international conflict.

Iyanla believes that there is one name for each child in our world. Not the name Jane, or Jack, but rather the name Everychild. 
Each child in the world is everychild. He or she doesn't belong to just their particular country, or village or even parents. They belong to all of us, just like each woman and each man belongs to everyone else in the world. We are connected. Our joys, sorrows, success or lack of is intertwined. 
In other words, everychild's concerns are our own concerns. 

Sandra's life has been reduced to sleeping in the dirt

This is Sandra. She used to live in a house, on land owned by her parents, with a roof that didn't leak, food that was on the table at night and a bed to sleep in. Now she sleeps on the floor you see her standing on, which belongs to a relative who allows the family to rest there at night. 
Sandra's father wanted more for his family than the small income he made scratching out a living harvesting crops in Guatemala. He became one of the several million Central American men who risk life and limb to cross our border seeking work. And that is what it cost him-two limbs and a foot, when he fell off of the train as it crossed into Mexico. He is still in the hospital months later, his land and house now gone to pay the coyote fee for the unsuccessful journey. 
We met with Sandra and her mother last week. We listened to her story, heard her despair, gave her a months worth of food, some pain medication (the hospital had none) and offered her the more nebulous item called "hope."
We will  help her find a room to rent and purchase a bed to put her newly disabled husband on when he comes home. FFF found a school sponsor for Sandra. We will, within our ability to do so, make her concerns our own until the burden of her troubles feels lighter.
Sandra is everychild. Her mother is everywoman. Her father, with only one functional limb, is everyman. No child should be homeless and hungry, no matter what country they live in. There are enough resources and enough humanitarians in this world for the everychilds to be helped by everyone who desires to make the power of connection create positive change.