Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This is What Our Name Really Means

Four years ago we built her family a tiny but waterproof home with a concrete floor. When it was finished, her mother-in-law claimed legal possession and evicted the her from the new house.

Cynthia's home
Since then, Cynthia and her family have been living in a slum outside of Guatemala City, residing in less than 800 square feet for 9 family members. Finding Freedom volunteers visit her twice a year. We purchase school supplies and shoes for the children and groceries for the family. When she needed hernia surgery, we provided it. When her children were sick we brought medicine. When she despaired of a better future for her children, we encouraged her. And with every visit, we assured this mother of seven that we will not forget her, and that as soon as affordable land becomes available in her area, we will put her on the list for a donated home where she has a door to keep out the chickens, a roof without holes and a yard with proper drainage to keep her children healthier. 
She didn't believe us in the beginning; she had a lifetime of empty promises from her government, from her family, and from life itself. Each baby brought new stresses on an already inadequate income; difficult decisions about what child to educate added to her guilt. By the time we brought Cynthia into our program in 2009, she had had 30 years of false promises and lost hope. She has never had a babysitter, a vacation, a formal job or a support group. Eating in a restaurant, seeing a movie or shopping in a mall are things she can't even fathom. Every day is the same--washing clothes, stretching meager food resources, negotiating life in the edgy slum conditions, and keeping her children from slipping into the same circumstances she has lived. 
With each visit over the years her worry lines have faded. When we brought her donated clothing (new children's socks and underwear) she sold them to neighbors and quickly gained a reputation for providing quality items at affordable prices. Her children have adequate school supplies and are now equipped to be competitive in school. She has successfully kept her oldest daughters out of trouble and off the streets. Her sense of self worth, in a country which affords her little, is growing. 
When we visited her last week, she greeted us as friends, calling out our names, receiving us with joy. We have taken the time to invest in this family emotionally and financially, and in keeping with the name of our program, she is Finding Freedom from her worries through our Friendship
There are no more words needed. The photos tell the story of hope and anticipation of a better future.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Stories Behind the Faces of Our Guatemalan Students

There is so much we can't write about in our Finding Freedom blog; layers of personal details that shouldn't and won't be shared, to protect the privacy of the children and mothers in our program. Some things are too hard to write about, other issues too difficult to wrap our minds around and in the end, the only victory against the hardships of life in rural Guatemala is to celebrate the positive.
In that space of persistence and hope, we would like to share some of the details of our student's lives.
This is Rosa. 
Age: 8
Grade: Second
Rosa suffered a near-fatal snake bite last year, which resulted in a three month hospitalization and a permanent leg injury. Despite this scholastic setback, Rosa is excited to start school again next week. Her teacher reports that she is a good student who works hard, despite the poverty she lives in. She is a sweet and caring sister to her younger siblings. We can't share the details of her parent's lives, but it is sufficient to say that Rosa has many challenges in her family life, and education will be the determining factor in disrupting the cycle she was born into.

Carmen (Right)
Age: 8
Grade: Third 
Carmen's mother joined our adult literacy group in early 2014, which meant that this little girl and her siblings receive food supplements monthly. Carmen has been inspired by her mother's desire to learn to read and write, a skill that was not made available to her as a child. Carmen helps her mother with housework and loves her sisters and extended family. She lives in a very remote and beautiful part of Guatemala. 

Age: 8
Grade: First
Brenda's school reached capacity last year before her mother could enroll her. This bright little girl lost a year of educational opportunity that she will now be able to participate in. She is charming, inquisitive and has a quick wit. In the middle of 7 children living in the slums of Guatemala, her chances of making it through high school are very slim without support from our organization. She doesn't think too hard about the details; Brenda just wants to go to school. 

Age: 14
Grade: Six
As our very first student in 2009, we are very proud of Claire. She is the oldest child in her family of 6, which means that childcare and housework falls on her fragile shoulders. She wants to continue her education; her mother would rather Claire stay at home to help with the little ones. She is as sweet and shy as she looks but with the nurturing and guidance of our FFF facilitators Faby and Vinnie, we know good things will come her way. The family is more secure now that they are in a cinder block house built by our organization, with a door that locks and a waterproof roof. Fewer than 25% of poor rural girls in Guatemala attend school beyond primary grades. FFF will make sure Claire changes this statistic.
The girls in the photo (Left) are the fortunate few. They are students in private schools in Antigua, Guatemala, where education is available and parents have income to pay for it. These girls have promise for a future with jobs in the tourist industry, or as administrative assistants in an office. 
Each of "our" girls has the same capability and bright light of these girls do. The statistics are proven; no matter what country girls are born into,educated girls marry later, have fewer children, invest in their own children's education and contribute to the well-being of their communities in more meaningful ways. 

 Educating girls only makes sense, not only for Guatemala, but for our world.