Monday, November 24, 2014

Cream Always Rises to the Top

In a former post, I wrote about Caroline, a beautiful Jersey bovine that our board vice president, Mike McNevin and I owned while growing up in rural Kentucky. Typical of her breed, Caroline delivered high volumes of milk daily, and when left to sit in the milk pail, the cream would rise to the top; luminescent and rich.
Four years ago, at one o'clock in the morning, I had a "moment." The world of nonprofit finance was crumbling around my shoulders, and with the deadline for filing our 990 papers with the IRS just a week away, I was overwhelmed and out of my element. Finding Freedom suddenly and urgently needed a Certified Public Accountant that knew how to negotiate their way through the complex tax laws governing contributions and nonprofit tax law. After weeks of trying to accomplish the tax files on my own I had learned one of the basic principles of nonprofit governance. 
You can't be good at everything and you had darn well better get someone to help you who is. 

A quick internet search and phone call later I had an angel in the form of a CPA who was not only capable but who traveled...right to my door and my files. She listened, she questioned, she got it and she persevered. A week later we had filed our IRS forms and the board was breathing easier. In essence, she saved our fledgling little organization, and we learned how to keep financial files that were compliant with tax law.
We've learned so much more since that difficult night. Working in Guatemala has taught us about persistence and relationships and what defines them in Central American culture. We have gained resources, strengthened our legal contracts and added good people to our board.
The bigger lessons haven't been about Guatemala at all. They have been more about what defines personal growth and using that knowledge to do our best work in Guatemala.


This particular CPA had a party recently, in celebration of friendship and all that it means to hold each other up as women. I was invited as a fellow Sistah-hood member. Our relationship had been born out of distress, and acute need. The circumstances have changed but the friendship continues. Friendships, relationships, professional liaisons; it takes all of these and more to make a difference in this difficult time we live in.
Years later, our status with the IRS is strong. 
Cream always rises to the top. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When things go wrong in Guatemala.

This is what sometimes happens when Mayan babies see white people for the first time. They express their fear at a fundamental level; vocal and raw and real. 
Manuela didn't mind. You can see it in her face. In fact, she is delighted that her baby brother was upset, because one of the things she feels good at is comforting and loving on babies. It is what she knows. Her mother has had many children, and Manuela is the helper. This sweet girl is doing what she does best. 

We think we are at our personal best as an organization when we are helping abandoned women get a better foundation for living a life of capability. For us, that means helping them with food staples, land ownership and educating their children. After a few years of demonstrating their determination to help themselves, we step in with a donated house and micro business assistance. We just finished building our 20th donated house, and for such a tiny organization that is a big number. It is all done with sweat equity..long hours of networking, computing, earning money to donate to our own organization or making crafts to raise funds.
When things don't go as we expected, as they didn't this week, we start to feel like this toddler; raw with emotion because darn it, this is what we are good at, even if what we want to give isn't what the receiver wants to get. 

 And when the receiver, in this case a mother who has been in our program since the beginning, uses our gift for financial gain, we feel exceptionally used. Our donated houses are meant for our clients to live in, not to barter off against a loan.
 And therein lies the problem. As a nonprofit humanitarian organization, we can sometimes think we know best. Measuring life by our American standards can be and often is a crucial mistake when "helping" someone. Parents eventually learn this as their children reach young adulthood. Humans learn it by our third decade of life, if we follow emotional growth guidelines. Nonprofit organizations need to learn it on the day of inception, or the consequences are costly, both in staff resources and financially.
  We will do what this toddler did, and get over ourselves eventually. We will pick up and dust off and give into the idea that being taken advantage of isn't new to this world; some of the earliest stories of mankind are about deceit and disadvantage. Our organization will come out stronger for this issue, just as a good toddler tantrum pulls oxygen into the lungs. 
It comes with the territory. Working with the extremely disadvantaged sometimes means that they are experts in turning a situation into something selfishly beneficial. We can consider this trait to be a positive life skill, change our perception, legally strengthen our program and move on from here. 
What we can't do is turn away from children like Daniel (above), whose only real fear is of hunger and another night sleeping on a wet muddy floor. He didn't cry when he saw us, he was too hungry to think much about our visit. His mother is the next one on our list for a donated house, and we are counting the days until we can give Daniel a bed with blankets to sleep on, and food to eat. His future looks brighter because a couple in Colorado decided to believe in good, and hope, and making the world a better place. 
We choose to stand with them in their perspective.One wrong in Guatemala will not erase all of our rights.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Are Your Donated Dollars Used In Guatemala?


 Two months ago this was how Alba, her brother and her mother survived; in a dark adobe home, sitting on their one piece of furniture, and somehow, still smiling after a decade of poverty and pain from chronic disease. 
When we were given this family as a possible referral, we accepted them. The word "Yes" stuck in our throats, which were dry with concern that we couldn't find the funds to back our promise to make life better for this family. Our board moved forward with the belief that what you most focus on will be drawn to you: the law of attraction.

Rogelia and daughter (seated on bed) on day of discovery
We started with essentials: blankets, pots, medicine and food
LynnAnn Murphy, an American missionary, hired this amazing builder to restore the house
He and his assistants carried supplies up impossibly steep hills
What was once a dark and unhealthy home became this.
Donated bedding as seen with light from the new window; neighbors came to visit.
New Crutches

Out of bed after pain medication and better nutrition



A few days after agreeing to take this family, a donation for the $3,000 to fund their needs was delivered to our post box. 
 LynnAnn, a full-time missionary in Guatemala who referred us this family was their lifeboat. She recognized the acute need; she knew that Rogelia was malnourished and ill and could in no way be an adequate mother to her children. LynnAnn was willing to do the footwork to oversee construction and deliver donated furniture and food. Finding Freedom was the ladder. We provided the funds through some donors that trusted us with their donated dollars. Our donors were the light that this family needed to find their way in the dark. 
The sharing continues. Alba and her brother will be sponsored for school in January. Rogelia has access to to a doctor who understands her condition. A sink has been delivered and we are purchasing chickens for the family so they can have a source of protein.There is a radiance about this family as they witness the significant life-changes that they have been gifted. Rogelia and the children now receive monthly food staples so they can eat on a regular basis. The children will have school supplies and clothing.
Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, had a gift for expressing deep thought with few words. These photos are similar; eight images that show the essence of what a philosopher considered important centuries ago. 
We think it is just as vital now.

(photo credits: LynnAnn Murphy)