Fidel's Going Away Party

A few days after we signed the legal documents, we were invited back to Hermano Pedro for a going away party for Fidel.  We all thought that this closure was important for him as well as for the other residents who had become his friends.  I didn't realize just how important, though, until I saw what took place.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make your own free picture slideshow

Fidel Moves in

I have been waiting almost a year to be able to write this sentence:

As of August 28, 2013, Casa de Esperanza has received it's first permanent resident with the arrival of Panfilo Fidel Hernández Alvarez.

This completes a process that began last November when Fidel made the decision he would like to live with us.  It has taken a lot of talking, waiting, planning and perseverance, but the legal documents have been signed and Casa de Esperanza is now Fidel's forever home.

Miguel and Fernando getting Fidel ready to go as Dick looks on
As we were preparing to leave to go to Hermano Pedro to sign the paperwork, the sky suddenly clouded over, and it began to pour.  For most Guatemalans this is not a problem, but it sure is if you drive a power wheelchair that can short out if it gets wet.  I called over to the office to see if we could sign the papers the next day, but was told it had to be this day because that's what the papers were dated.  So on to Plan B.

Dick happened to be in Antigua, though, and came to the rescue by driving us over there.

The boys loading Fidel into the car--not an easy task

It's not easy on Fidel, either, to travel by car

You can see a little bit here of how flooded the streets were--
a power chair would never have made it through
Dick waited in the car with Fidel as I went in to sign my part of the agreement.  In what I understand is typical Guatemalan legal process, they had to read the entire document to me aloud to make sure I understood what I was signing.  Of course, I probably would have understood better reading it, and finally began reading over the shoulder of the social worker who was helping me.

Since we didn't have Fidel's chair with us, we went out to the car and stood in the rain as he "signed" the papers with the print of his big toe.  (He can sign his name, but, with the close quarters of the car, I didn't say anything.)  And I wondered why we had to drag him out in a storm to only to press his big toe on the paper.   Would anyone know the difference if we had used my big toe?

And it's a done deal!  Fidel is legally part of our household.

Back at home Fidel doesn't look any too bothered by the process

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.~~Jer. 29:11

Now let the future begin. . .

Summer Time Teams--Xavier University

One of the groups from whom I learned the most this summer was a group of Occupational Therapists and students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Since I have been teaching in a room which used to be used for occupational therapy at New Life School, I had much equipment available for my use.  My knowledge of how to use these things for more than play, though, has been quite limited.  I'm a bit more knowledgable now that these folks have shared with me some of the "secrets" of OT Land.

Diane accompanying Josef and his mom down in the elevator.
One of the unique aspects of this team is that all of the students who wish to come on this trip as part of their required service learning hours must take a course in fundamental Spanish and Latin American culture, taught by Diane, a Spanish professor at Xavier.  You could see the difference this makes in the comfort level of the group, and in their desire to communicate directly with the kids.  Diane accompanies them on the trip down, to help with translation, and she generously shared lots of her ideas for teaching young children using literature from her experience in the Montessori school on the Xavier campus!  

Johana obviously likes the swing.  Now I know how to use it to help her pay attention and focus better.

The team showed me how to use the different types of swings in conjunction with pre-academic and academic instruction. 

Ann, one of the instructors, also showed me how lying on one's stomach can help focus attention and provide "grounding" for a student while trying to learn new material.   (Now if I can just get up off the floor!)

Juan Carlos, one of our greatest challenges academically, really benefited from using the spinning table.  It's so much more than just a "Sit-n-Spin."

And no room is complete without the therapy ball!

What a great group.  Thanks for teaching this old teacher some new tricks.  Can't wait till you come back next year!

Summer Time Teams--The Guys from Louisiana

One of the advantages of having a school year here that runs counter to that in the US, is that, during summer when most of the teams come down here, our kids in Santa Maria are in school and can benefit from the expertise of these teams.  While I don't usually sponsor large teams myself (two or three people are enough for me to wrangle), I am lucky enough to often work with teams other ministries have brought down to serve here in Guatemala.

One of these was a team from Lousiana working at Hope Haven.  Brad Ferguson, the team leader, has become a friend after he and his wife chose to spend their 25th wedding anniversary down here, handing out wheelchairs and telling folks how much Jesus loves them.  This time, Brad brought a group of self-proclaimed rednecks down to build some houses and distribute some chairs.  What they did best, however, was love on our people.  This was just a group of regular guys who just wanted to make a difference for Jesus, and they did!

Brad using his best Spanish (which, sorry brother, is pocito) to communicate with the father of one of the patients who came in for a chair.

Dick and Brad's brother-in-law (whose name escapes me at the moment), a physical therapist, assessing the children to determine the proper seating system for each of them.\

Working on the chair to make it "just so."

But not too busy to just play with the little ones when the work is done.

Lunch with the Girls

Now that I am living in a house full of young men, I especially value time I can spend with women.  Sometimes I think I'm about to OD on testosterone.  While my friend Donna was down, we had time to take Sonia and Veronica, who were on their "mid-year" school break, out to lunch.  Usually lunch means Pollo Campero's, but today we settled on a "chick place" and went to eat at Cafe Condessa.

This is quite a treat for the two girls who had been inseparable in years past.  This year, however, because she needs someone to walk her to school each day, Sonia has moved to another unit at Hermano Pedro and they seldom get to spend time together.  Today, though, we made up for that!

Though they couldn't order their preferred hamburger for lunch (can you believe a restaurant without hamburgers?), they seemed to enjoy their roast beef sandwiches, and couldn't pass up dessert.

Little things like going out to lunch with the girls may not seem like much to us.  But when you spend your life in an institution, the freedom to choose what to eat and where to go to eat are big deals.  I'm so glad I get to be a part of this.

And who doesn't like to chat with friends while having lunch?  While at my house, it is a rule that there are no cell phones at the table, the girls really wanted to call Dick to tell him about the outing.  How could I refuse?  And, while they had wanted to talk to Dick, I think they were even more tickled when he let them each visit with the boys who were traveling with him!

Making a Difference in Santa Maria

One of the main reasons (other than for us to have much needed time to hang out together) that Donna and Vickie came to Guatemala was to meet some of our blind students in Santa Maria, and for her to give us ideas about how to best meet their needs with our limited resources and skills.

Vickie was initially concerned about how she would be able to help at the school, since her background was not education.  About five minutes into her first visit, Roman took care of that, claiming her has his own personal tutor for the time she was there.

Donna spent time with three of our students and one young man who lives in Santa Maria.  Her suggestions were practical and appropriate for our skills and resources.  This will change the way we approach the instruction of these students, and increased our confidence levels in our being able to meet their very special needs.

Jennifer Giesmann, our Speech Therapist (pictured above with Donna) arranged for the families to bring their children to the school for Donna to evaluate.  The parents were more than happy to do this, and for some it became a family affair.  You can meet these young people and their families below.

Yamelin is eight years old, who is blind as a result of being born prematurely.  We had been concerned that she was showing signs of autism as well as blindness.  This was one of the most important outcomes of Donna's visit, as she reassured us that Yamelin was exhibiting characteristics typical of a blind child who has not had much stimulation.

This year, Yamelin has not been in school, but in prior years had been in the kindergarten class.  While the teacher had done her best, it was impossible for her to give Yamelin the type of specialized instruction required by her blindness, while attending to the other kindergarten children.  The family had attempted to send Yamelin to a special school in Antigua, but, since this did not work out well, Yamelin has been out of school this year.  We are hoping that her mom can bring her to the school in the afternoon the rest of this year to work with Jennifer and me individually.  We will then evaluate whether she should return to the regular school program, or continue working 1 to 1 with us.

When Yamelin came for the evaluation, we discovered that she had been going to sell vegetables with her mother at the Antigua market, and were pleasantly surprised at her language development.  While she had pretty much just been echolaliac (meaninglessly repeating what had been said to her), she now responded more appropriately, and even verbally extended some of the things we were saying to her.  The funniest part was she learned an English work working with Donna.  When they were playing ball, Donna would say "push," and Yamelin began repeating this each time she pushed the ball!  We got a good laugh out of this!

 Rony is a six year old with cerebral palsy as well as blindness.  Donna was able to recommend activities to help prepare him for further schooling as well as make suggestions to Jennifer about how to structure the environment to help elicit oral language from him.

Rony's entire family came with for the evaluation, and they were only too happy to show us how he could use a specialized walker which had been designed and donated by a friend from Ireland.

Rony with his dad and sister
Showing off his walker under
Dad's watchful eye

Rony's sister became fast friends with Vickie
. . .and with Donna.

The last of Jennifer's preschoolers who came was Josef, a four year old, with low vision.

Josef really liked playing with Donna's flashlight, though looking at him hold it so close to his eye makes my eyes water.  It indicates, though, how his eyes, while seeing light and dark, are not very sensitive to light.

Donna's recommendations were especially helpful in teaching us how to effectively use what little vision Josef has to support instruction.  He was probably the most lively of the children we worked with this week, and gave us plenty of smiles along the way.

While not a current student, Judy Kerschner, the school administrator, took us to visit Byron in his home.  Byron had studied at the school through sixth grade and, with his cousins, is now attending Basico (Junior High) in a public school in Santa Maria.  Byron has Marfan Syndrome, which affects many parts of his body, including his vision.  Byron can still see to do many tasks, but requires amplification to read and write. Donna was able to talk with him about the assistive devices he is currently using, and it is hoped that with her help we will be able to obtain other tools to help him continue with his education.  

Donna with Byron's sister, as Byron and Judy look on from behind.

The week went fast, and Donna gave us many ideas to implement with the kids in the future.  Now our real work begins!  Thanks, ladies, for making a difference in Santa Maria.

Friends from Homaha

This post is long over-due, but one I have been thinking about and writing in my head for a couple of months.

For the past few years I have been trying to convince my friend, Donna Hultman, to come down to visit and teach me a few things about working with visually impaired children.  You see, for a number of years, Donna was the supervisor of the program for the visually impaired for Omaha Public Schools.  I loved working with her then, and knew she would be a great help to us in our work here with the blind children we encounter.

Well, a year ago, Donna took early retirement from the school system, and, for the first time this in many years, actually had a summer free.  You can only imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote to ask if I would like a visitor (or 2) in June.  I think she could probably hear my screams of delight all the way in Omaha.

Donna and Vicki unpacking at Casa de Esperanza
So, in late June, Donna, and her friend Vickie Schurmur, a pharmacist at the Med Center, arrived here to work with us.  While I love all the groups that have come down, I have to admit that there was something special about having two American women close to my age here for almost two weeks.  While we worked hard, we also had some time to play and had the best conversations about almost every aspect of life.

Our main focus during the time they were here were three blind or low vision children in Santa Maria.  Donna met individually with each of them, assessed their needs, and gave recommendations for ways in which we can work more effectively with them in the future.  (Click here to read more about her work in Santa Maria.)  

We took one day to visit some families in the town of Tecpan.  Donna has a friend who is a doctor who brings surgical teams to here each year, and she was anxious to see the place her friends had visited.  It just happened to be where Maria and her family live--and one of my favorite places to visit.  Dick graciously agreed to be our drive for the day, and so we set off.

Dick involved in one of his favorite activities
taking pictures and sharing them with the kids.

While the living conditions here were about the most primitive we visited on this trip, Vickie and Donna didn't miss a beat.  They looked as comfortable here as if they had lived here all their lives, and the kids loved having them here.  

You be the judge?

Don't they fit in?

After their week of hard work we did take a day off an have breakfast at a restaurant on a mountainside overlooking Antigua.  It was a great way to wrap up their trip, and a fun break for all of us.

Vickie, an avid animal lover was the only one brave enough to hold the birds we found there. 

 I think he liked her hat!

I hope this is Donna thinking about when she will be back!

Call for Volunteers--Voices of Guatemala, Sept. 28

If you've wanted to help support missions, but haven't had a chance, please consider helping us with our first fund-raiser for Causa de Esperanza (Reason to Hope) Guatemala.

On September 28, from 6pm to 8:30 pm, we will be serving an authentic Guatemalan "cena" or supper at Westside Church.  To make this happen, we need some committed volunteers to help us in the following areas:

Food Preparation    

Friday, September 27, 2 pm to 5 pm 
Saturday, September 28, 4 pm to 6:30 pm

Set Up
Friday, September 27, 2 pm to 5 pm 

           Saturday, September 28, 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Busing Tables
Saturday, September 28, 7 pm to 8 pm

Clean up  
Saturday, September 28, 8 pm until ????

Saturday, September 28, 5 pm to 6:30 pm

Dessert Donations Accepted
Friday, September 27,  2pm to 5 pm
Saturday, September 28, 4pm to 6 pm

Sign up now
to help
with our first fund-raising dinner

Click here to sign up as a small group

To sign up as an individual, please email Pat.  Include in your email your name, phone number, area in which you would like to serve, and times you are available.  Pat will email you back with more information.

First Fund Raising Dinner and Silent Auction to Support Causa de Esperanza Guatemala


Westside Church will be hosting Voices of Guatemala on Saturday, September 28th in the Big Room. Doors will open at 5:30pm with an authentic, Guatemalan dinner provided. Join us as Patricia Duff speaks about her ministry and the challenges of being physically or mentally disabled in Guatemala. A silent auction will be held during the dinner, and all proceeds will benefit the Josiah Foundation. 

Tickets are free to the public and will be available at the Kiosk Area of the church following each of the Sunday services, beginning Sunday, September 8th through Sunday, September 22.  Or email Pat Duff to request the number of tickets needed for your group. Donations to the ministry will be accepted at the dinner. 

Watch for more information on the items to be included in the silent auction.

For more information, please contact Pat Duff via email in Guatemala, or you can call Mary Hammack in the church office, 402-496-7833.