I really looking forward to seeing you all very soon.
This week has given me a lot to think about partly I've been visiting several communities and partly because it's Christmas season! I want to share the stories of three people I've met here Guatemala.
One of my friends, Ezequiel, who builds the LOLA stoves that MTI installs in the homes of families of the communities in which we work, is heading to the United States without documents. He makes Q1000 a month here. That's ~$150. It's hardly enough to pay his rent and food, much less offering schooling for his 5 y/o daughter Jaclyn. Ezequiel is leaving Jaclyn behind, whose mother has abandoned her. You might think he's abandoning her too, but he loves her so much and when we last hung out I could see the tears welling up in his eyes. It's deep courage. He's definitely not leaving anything on the table. He's going to find work in the States because he wants to send his little daughter to school. The schools in Cobán are terrible, not just bad, but like it's safer to keep your kid at home than to send them to school. Unless, of course, you can pay Q1500/month to enroll in a private school, which is more than Ezequiel makes. So Ezequiel is leaving, perhaps for good. . . and he doesn't know when he'll see his daughter again. The risks of the journey are high. He may not make it, or he may get killed or die along the way, or he may make it and send money home, but still be estranged. Little Jacyln also, obviously, doesn't want her dad to leave, and she has no idea when he'll return. Aye! Heartbreak. In a season of waiting, this just speaks to my heart of the gravity of waiting for hope, waiting for the return...
Yesterday, I met two single mothers who are indigenous Mayan women who live miles up in the mountains. One has a 9 year old son. This single mother, Sofia Josefina, is a Madre Monitora for MTI, which means she volunteers her time to attend MTI trainings to learn about everything from nutrition to pregnancy danger signs. They walk to these trainings in sandals and it takes all day - to go, attend, return home, and then to fix the fire/food/water. After these women have been trained they are responsible for visiting 10 mothers/families who have children under 5. Each Madre Monitora is assigned to and responsible for training 10 families. So this single mother, Sofia Josefina, spends several days a month walking through the mountains, on dirt trails (the trails often times lead to beaaaaautiful views, but are often steep, muddy and wet) to teach 10 mothers what she has been trained. She, and these women (Madre Monitoras), are the heart of our maternal health program. We can do nothing without them.
So yesterday a few of us were sitting in her home, which was her parents who have now passed, and with a smile-a-mile-wide, she told us what she does to make money. She buys produce at the local market and then transports it, by herself, into Cobán on the roof of a mini-bus to re-sell in the market there. She leaves her home at 6am and returns by 6 or 7pm. She does this as often as she can. We then asked her how much she profits, because she has to pay for the produce and transport, and she told us she can profit Q5-10 a DAY! That's 50 cents to $1.50 a DAAAAAY between her and her son. A DAY! WOW, talk about a dagger through my chest. This woman is DOING the work that MTI needs her to do in order that the community is healthier, and everyday she volunteers with MTI is a day she isn't at the market trying to eeek out a life. She is a single mother trying to raise her son and support her community.
Before we left, she brought each of us a cup of hot atol, rice and oatmeal milk. I couldn't help but think I was robbing calories from her little son with this gift. And yet, there is something greater than calories at stake here...she is so proud to be a Madre Monitora, to be teaching and learning. She is an empowered, strong woman. And she honored us, and was honored herself, in giving us a gift of atol in her home. There is something so dignifying and uplifting in giving a gift. As I set my cup down before I left, I could not help myself, but to fold up Q10 tightly and hide it under the mug of atol. As we were giving saludos on the way out the door, I saw out of the corner of my eye her little 9y/o son cleaning up...he had found the Q10. He saw me and I winked at him...and then, we left...
This last story is about a woman, Antonia, in the community of Campat. I could get derailed right here in describing to you the beauty of Campat. It LIT-ER-ALLY is at the base of a backbone of mountains that jet straight up into the sky out of the great green highlands of Guatemala. Campat sits in a dramatic, deep, narrow valley. As I stood at the community center I looked up and could see the tippy-top of the hills/mountains across the valley and it taunted me...'bet you can't climb up here'. So, Campat and I have unfinished business. Beautiful Campat.
I was working in Campat with a team that was building latrines a few weeks ago. One day as I was working, Antonia and her cute, cute little daughter were standing near-by watching. The daughter was hiding behind her mom's skirt, peeking her head around her mom's leg. I was surprised when Antonia spoke Spanish because most of the women in Campat only speak Q'etchi because they only attend 3-6 years of school. So we began talking.
I learned that she is from a different region of Guatemala and that's why she spoke Spanish. Her family and sisters live far away. Eventually, she asked me if I could give her a latrine b/c her family didn't get selected by the Community Development
Commission of Campat to receive one. According to the criteria she qualified, so I was surprised she didn't get selected. It turns out, that because she is from a different region and doesn't speak Q'etchi, the indigenous language of Campat, she is an outsider and the other women don't (aren't able to) talk to her. Because of that she doesn't actively participate in MTI's health programs. As I asked around, I learned that because she doesn't actively attend she is disqualified from receiving a latrine. The MTI program is holistic, community members can't pick and chose what they want and don't want.
The long and the short of it is, Margarita, an MTI tecnica - beautiful and amazing indigenous woman herself - and I made a visit to Antonia's home to see the sad state of her failing latrine. We learned her story and discovered that she didn't know about the MTI requirements. Margarita spoke with her and her spouse and they set up a plan to help their family become more integrated into the community and into MTI's programs. Margarita, in her sweet, soft-spoken way, built a vital bridge, a life-line that would connect this family to the vibrancy and life within the Campat community. Moments like this are miracles...like the woman that spoke to Jesus at the well...I'm no Jesus, but Antonia had the chispa/courage to take a chance. She knew she had to do something for herself and her family...and she did. So much of the health and survival of these communities is dependent upon the maternal instinct and steadfast love of these women. Antonia's life in that community is changed, and her courage will improve her daughter's life forever.
I share these stories with you because while sometimes I feel sad that I'm not home or that my family is spread out, I have so much to be thankful for. I have been so blessed and I really, really enjoy the work that I'm doing here in Guatemala. I look forward to seeing you all very soon and my singular purpose for coming home is merely to give you each a big hug.
In hopeful anticipation,