(This is an article I am submitting to our local newspaper in addition to a few other publications, partially to talk more about my and Tenley’s July trip to Guatemala, and partially to support my continued outreach to potential sponsors for Carla from Guatemala.)
A blogger friend of mine does a blog exercise every Tuesday called “Ten on Tuesday.” The blogger has to respond to ten questions. One of her questions in a recent Ten on Tuesday post was “Would you rather live without running water or without electricity?” When my daughter and I visited Guatemala in July 2011, we met many families for whom neither running water nor electricity is available.
Our family has sponsored a Guatemalan child, Silvia, since she was seven years old (she is now seventeen). The “main” purpose of the trip was meeting Silvia. It was important to me that my teenager see the “real” Silvia, not just the face we have seen smiling at us from a picture frame on an end table. The meeting with Silvia was everything I hoped it would be and more, not to mention a true workout for my rusty Spanish skills!
In each of the communities we visited, the 39 of us in the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging delegation were greeted like royalty. Flower petals covered the walkway in front of us; at one location confetti rained down while a marching band heralded us. All of this hoopla felt terribly undeserved, but one key lesson of visiting Guatemala in this capacity was that the people wanted to graciously welcome us; they were as energized as we were by the opportunity to be together.
I came away from my first international trip with many “lessons learned,” but the top three are:
Every mother wants the same thing for her child. Our extended family has given money each month to support Silvia for years. On the pamphlets it sounds so cut and dried – education, food, shelter – you know it is helping and that is a good thing. But when Silvia’s mother (and every single mother we encountered) looked into my eyes and thanked me, it was clear that she felt a partnership with us and that she believed our sponsorship of Silvia had helped her provide a safer future, with more options, than she would have been able to provide alone.
No dictionary definition of “poverty” really explains the term. Merriam Webster’s “lacking a usual amount of money” may define it in an academic sense, but it can’t capture the flip side – the strong desire on the part of many people living in poverty to do dignified work for a decent wage. The people we met, who were undoubtedly in poverty, had a steely strength of character and determination that no dictionary definition seems to capture.
Getting out of your comfort zone really shouldn’t be optional in life! I literally could not sleep the night before we left for Guatemala. My head was swirling with thoughts of trying to get by with my limited Spanish, how to deal with exchanging money, customs, and the news stories and blogs I had read (good and bad) about personal safety in Guatemala, especially in the city. The lost sleep was well worth it; I am glad I wandered far away from my emotional and physical boundaries.
My daughter and I also came away from Guatemala with the gift of Estela. Estela is a child who Tenley decided to sponsor after she spent time with the children of Guatemala. Estela is the youngest of ten children, and it will be transformative for her to have access to education, health care, and better nutrition.
(I have agreed to help other children find sponsors. I am currently helping Carla, a Guatemalan six-year-old. If you are interested in finding out how you can be part of changing a Carla’s (and her family’s) life for just $30 a month, please contact me at (850) 556-3517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)