While Lauren Chapman was down working with us, I took the opportunity to do some traveling to show her "my" Guatemala--the part that tourists seldom see.
We spent one weekend in the department of Santa Rosa, visiting friends there. Dick had gotten a tablet computer to give to Wilmer, one of the kids who is sponsored through Bethel.
Upon arriving at the house, we were warmly greeted by his mom and sister, and of course, Wilmer and Walter. Within a few minutes, his two sisters who were in school came running up the road to greet us. They were at recess when we drove by the school, and they had gotten permission to leave the school grounds for a few minutes to come to say hello.
A short time later, Dad returned from down at the village. We had unknowingly driven past him, and he, too, came all the way back home so he could visit us. It is humbling to see how important our visits are to these families. We often bring nothing but ourselves and our friendship, and this is more than enough for them.
I so love this family. They are not the poorest family we know, but they are far from rich. Dad works in the fields, when there is work. Other times, he is in town looking for whatever odd jobs he can find. He has even told me that he's willing to come to Antigua if we could find him work.
Education is so important to them. Mom and Dad have struggled to keep all their children in school, through career education--even the daughters. This is highly unusual in this part of the country, where girls often stop going to school after sixth grade. We talked about the possibility of their older daughter coming to work for me when we open a woman's home, and she is ready whenever we are. Though she has the equivalent of vocational education training in business, there just are not jobs here for her to find.
Wilmer has been doing well with his studies, and Mom told us that he would be "graduating" from sixth grade in primary school, having worked with a private teacher in his home to accomplish this.. He is so excited, and justifiably proud. She went on to tell me that Wilmer would like to come and live with us in Antigua so he can go to Basico. The schools where he lives will not allow him to attend because he is handicapped.
Of all the kids I have met, I would so love to have Wilmer live with us. He is a determined young man, with specific goals for his future. He wants to study Human Rights at the university level and become an advocate for those in Guatemala with disabilities. He doesn't want other children to suffer the discrimination with which he has had to deal his whole life.
He's so young, though, only fifteen. And he has a great family. I hate to see him leave home so soon if he doesn't have to. We are exploring the possibility of him completing at least some of his Basico schooling through a correspondence program we use in Santa Maria. This would enable him to continue his education, but spend more time with the family who loves and encourages him so well. Of course, when he is ready to start his career training, we would love to have him come to us. I am so glad that the family approached us so early about their desire for him to be with us. We will make sure we "guard" a place at our table for him when he is ready.
|When we first started to visit, Walter was so afraid of us that he|
would hide and scream if we came near him. Now he loves to be with us.
Often we find that once a child can no longer write, they cannot go to school, since so much of the work here is copy work. This, however, is not the case with Wilmer and Walter, both of whom, despite their inability to use their legs, have great coordination and strength in their arms and hands. This makes me so mad, but we know better than to fight it at this point in time. We could push the issue and contact the head of education for their state, but, we have found time and again, that forcing a school to take a child is not the answer. The child may be in school, under the protest of the principal and/or teachers, but he will not be treated well. I've heard of kids lying in the back of the classroom on the floor all day, while the teacher and other students ridicule them. This is not what we want for these boys.
After we had visited almost an hour, Dick brought out the tablet. The boys had used my iPad on a previous visit, and fell in love with it. No, they did not ask us for a computer, though they would love one. But, watching their excitement with the iPad, Dick decided they could sure use one. They live in a very isolated area, and don't even have TV. So, while they won't have internet access, they can make good use of the educational programs Dick downloaded for them. They could hardly believe that the tablet was theirs to keep.
|Wilmer taking his turn using the tablet.|
The next day we headed to Barberena, to visit Bayron and Edgar and their grandma. A few years ago, my church helped to build them a small house, and we like to check on them when we are in the area. Bayron is deaf, but has made great progress, first working with a special teacher in his home, and progressing to the point where he now attends a special class in a public school.
Dick bought him a coke, and he agreed to show us where Grandma and Edgar were working that day--in the local garbage dump. When he is not in school, Edgar helps Grandma sort through the garbage that comes in daily, looking for a few things to recycle to eek out their meager existence. We had never been to this dump, and were a bit concerned about just showing up, but Oliver assured us that it would be okay.
As soon as we pulled in, Edgar spotted Dick's car and came running over, followed by Grandma. We didn't have too much of a chance to visit, since in the few minutes they were with us, they missed out on two new loads of trash to sort through. They seemed to appreciate us stopping by, though, and we were able to leave them and a couple of other families working at the dump, with some food packages.
They had told us that Bayron was down working at the "Chatarero" or scrap metal recycling. We stopped by to see him, and he was elated. He was a little disappointed that we would not be taking him on an outing this trip, but was happy to see us nonetheless. While he cannot speak, he is very good at making himself understood, and seems to be able to read lips at least some of the time. When we could not get our point across, a couple of young men sitting by the road, who seemed to know Bayron pretty well, helped us out. It was good to see that they kind of look out for this little guy, and he seems to respect him. He needs some good males in his life.
|We didn't feel comfortable taking pictures at the Chatarero,|
but here is a picture of a bit younger Bayron with Edgar
and his cousins. You can see how he has assumed
the role of protector of his family.
This type of visit is hard--emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. To be confronted with so much need, and so great a desire for a better life, and find there is little we can immediately do to help them is overwhelming. But these friendships are important. If all we can do is continue to let them know we care, encourage the boys to keep studying, and help with sponsorship so they can, that needs to be enough. I so wish it were more, however. They need so much more.
Lake Atitlan and Patulul
Lauren really wanted to see our famous Lake Atitlan, and Dick and I decided we could use a "fun" trip, so we decided to take her up there one weekend. As usually happens with us, part of our fun is visiting folks we know around the lake, and this was not exception.
We stopped at Santiago Atitlan to visit the family of one of our friends, Sebastian, who recently died from Muscular Dystrophy. His brother Stephen, also has this disease, and we wanted to see how he was handling this loss. We took a tuktuk (three wheel taxi) up to where his father lived, and found no one home, though we had a great visit with some of the workers at a school next to their house. We then headed up the road to their mother's house in another tuktuk (yes, Lauren, Dick and I could all fit, much to my surprise), and, thanks to Dick's eagle eye, encountered them just outside the town. Stephen and his mother were headed to visit Sebastian's grave and were so glad to see us.
Fortunately, Stephens step-brother Pedro was there to help us with translation. This young man, shown here on the right, is eleven years old and speaks fluent English, Spanish and Katchiquel. Since Stephen knows little Spanish, and his family knows none, Pedro was a great help in allowing us to communicate with them. Our friendship with this family, though, shows how love transcends the limits of our language, and we are blessed to know them.
The next day it was time to head back to Antigua, but not before we stopped to visit another of our "grandchildren," Jessica who spent almost a year in malnutrition at Hermano Pedro. Though her mom is a widow with five children, a son-in-law and a grandson living with her, this family seems to be doing well, and Jessica is thriving in her home environment. Mom often calls me, not to ask for anything, but just to tell us they miss us and see how we are doing. Relationships like these keep me going on the hard days, and I am always encouraged by visiting them.