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.