Friday, December 20, 2013

We are all the same

Working or volunteering in developing countries is not an easy task, not just because of the difficult conditions, lack of common tools, infrastructure, cultural and educational barriers. During every mission trip I have taken, there have been times when I have felt inadequate and worthless and others when I have felt powerful and different.  Both these approaches are natural, but also improper, I believe.
When you experience poverty first-end, you realize that there is not much you can do to change the situation. It may feel overwhelming because need is everywhere and relentless. Poverty was around 2,000 years ago when Jesus walked on this earth, it was around even before that; it has been around during every period in history and is still around now. 

As I reflect about poverty and realize that Jesus actually lived is whole life as a poor, as somebody who did not own anything, then it becomes clear that poverty is here for a reason and I think it is here to stay. 

In fact, Jesus said that: "the poor will always be with you". Yet, this cannot be an excuse not to work hard toward solving of some of the world's most pressing problems.  Whatever we do for one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we do it for Jesus. But not only that, whatever we do for one of the least of our brothers and sisters, makes a difference for that one person. If we can bring a smile on the face of somebody who has not smiled for years or provide better food, shelter or water for somebody that needs it, then we cannot feel inadequate. 

During this last trip, we have had enough cash in my wallet to provide a whole meal for a family living in marginal conditions or to pay for a brick oven for an old woman that has always cooked on the dirt with rocks and sticks. And we did. In such circumstances, there is a tendency to feel strong and different. There is a tendency to feel invigorated by what "I can do".     In doing so, I felt different because, even if I experience poverty first-end, I will never really know what it means to spend my life sleeping on the dirt or what it means to not knowing how I will provide some corn and beans for my family tonight. I have felt strong because I have the "power", or better the "ability", to help the situation change for these people. 
I don't like these emotions and feelings. 
I don't like them, because they do not represent the truth. I am not strong and I am not different. I just happen to have been born where there was money and opportunities for me to learn and grow physically healthy. Many others did not. As for the reason, it is a mystery and it will always remain as such. 

As Norine told our sponsored family upon our tearful departure: "please do not feel ashamed, do not feel we are different. We are all the same. God loves you as much as he loves me and He cares about your struggles as much as He cares about mine. That is why He came, that is why He was born in a stable and died on a cross." 
(Jason Gray)

 enjoying the same activities...

 we have the same feet

Jesus loves us all the same.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Post trip reflections

I have had a hard time wrapping my head around all the experiences and emotions that resulted from the trip. One of the challenges is that life continues to move on and it's hard to find the time to stop, reflect, write notes about how it made me feel and what I/we should do next. The author of a blog I follow suggests to take a break at the end of each calendar year. Leave for a few hours or a couple of days and spend some time in isolation (for me it would also mean in prayer) and summarize what went well and what did not go so well during the past 12 months. I still have a couple of weeks before the end of 2013 and I really want to do that.

Taking time to reflect and pray

The following question has been surfacing into my thoughts several times since I have been back: "What was the hardest thing(s) that I experienced in Guatemala?". While there are many that I could enumerate, I want to reflect on a specific one today: potable water availability. I have heard many times about the lack of clean water for billions of people around the globe, but even though I have tried to take short showers, turn the faucet off while brushing my teeth, limit the watering of the yard in the summer and drinking from reusable water bottles, this trip reminded me again how insignificant some of these efforts are compared to struggle for water in developing countries. "Agua Pura" was constantly on my mind in Guatemala. Do no drink from the faucet, use bottle water to brush teeth, keep the mouth shut under the shower, do we have enough clean water to make dinner tonight, does everybody have enough water in a screw-type water bottle for the daily outing, are the plates we are eating on and the utensils we are using completely dry? Water is a continuous concern. This is because, while most places we visited had water that reached the house, in one way or another, the quality of the water is not good enough for consumption. Bacteria and parasites abound. Yet, a lot of locals do not have enough money, education or resources in order to have regular access to clean water. The result is sickness and, at times, an uncontrolled consumption of bottled drinks like coca-cola. Neither of our two sponsored children and their families regularly drink potable water.

Even when water is available it is not hot water, but only cold water. One of the houses we stayed at, had installed a water heater and pump. So, when water pressure was available from the local municipality, usually somewhere between 7AM and 3PM, it was possible to take a warm shower, even though the insatiability of the pump and heater made the water change abruptly from very cold to scorching hot and back within about 30 seconds.

typical water pipe in rural villages

potable water in one of places we stayed

water distribution


- Build a stove for a family currently cooking with wood and stones: $200

- Cost of running the Hands of Hope clinic for one day $200

- Blankets for a family of 6 living in corn stalk house: $36

- Diapers for Amor del Nino Orphanage: $25 for 250 diapers (10,000 are used every month)

- Provides corn, beans and rice for a family of 6 for 1 month: $50

- Doctor's annual salary for clinic in Monterico:  $8,000

- Approx. monthly cost of diapers for orphanage: $1,000

- Monthly cost of special medication for diabetic child: $110

- wooden bed frame (allows children and adults to sleep off the dirt floor): $50

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Faces of the villages

We spent our last full day in Guatemala at Anita's clinic which serves the small aldeas (villages) of Santa Marta, San Rafael and Yalu, near Sunpango in the mountains around Guatemala City. The clinic saw 45 patients and then had a Christmas gathering for the elderly (anzianos) of the villages. We also did two home visits to very poor families. I'll let the pictures speak.
We are not sure when, but we know we will come back.

how many can you count?

The "tree of trash"

really steep hill

walking barefooted



93 year old joining the Christmas party for the elderly (anzianos)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

This is Guatemala! (A comedy show)

Long overdue is a post about some of the crazy, unbelievable things we have seen on this trip... things that you can only see in a third world country!
(This is Guatemala)

1. Speedbumps One of the world's most annoying inventions, the sole purpose of a speed bump is to irritate the driver as much as possible by forcing them to greatly reduce their speed. Unless you don't see the sign that's posted about 10 feet in front of it "SPEED BUMP 15 MPH" and fly over the thing instead, majorly damaging the suspension of your car in the process. Sound familiar?
  Well, you've never seen a Guatemalan speed bump! Imagine the ordinary American traffic safety regulator on steroids and gone to seed. They are completely outside the regulation and enforcement of traffic safety laws, and have evolved into a true menace. The streets here are already bumpy enough- be it uneven cobblestones, potholes big enough to swallow your vehicle, poorly-made patches, or some combination of the three, but add in the "tumolos" and you have a whole new animal: Hibumpus guatemaltecius. You're already going "Uh-hhHuhh-UUhh-uHuhUH", you teeth about to fall out of your head, and then all of a sudden the truck slows down and you feel two enormous THUNKs. Repeat 76 times in 25 miles.
2. Laws here (or lack thereof) The favorite form of transportation is a picop: pickup truck. Toyotas and Datsuns are favored because they will run forever reliably and can take insane overloading. Of persons, that is. And occasionally fresh produce as well. Riding in the bed of a pickup truck is technically illegal, but such a common practice that even the police do it and turn a blind eye to 15 people crammed in the bed of an Isuzu, some of them hanging off the bumper. However, they could potentially pull you over if you have two people sitting in the front seat. Go figure...
3. Flea-bitten varmints It is said that for every block, there is one male dog and three female dogs. Indeed, it's not rare to see two mutts of indiscernible parentage... going at it in the street. Some of the poor creatures have identifiable traits- that one a German shepherd, this one a boxer- but for the most part, they are combinations of filth, fleas, and fur. Anita calls them "flea-bitten varmints". Whenever we drive past a particularly pathetic-looking one, we'll say, "Now, there's a flea-bitten varmint!" 
  Neither are they particularly friendly.  Many act rather lethargic (likely undernourished), laying in the middle of the street and will not move. You often have to drive around them.
4. The highway... is not really a highway. At least not like we know them in the US- you know, exits every three miles or so, the occasional billboard, rest stop, and gas station. Here, occasional breaks in the median allow for this:
  Picture an 18-wheeler in the right lane, performing a U-turn across two other lanes of oncoming traffic, through a break in the median, and onto the other side of the highway. 
  Picture a poor, old man- ancianito, without legs, in his wheelchair. He is wheeling himself down the highway, in the opposite direction from the flow of traffic- not even on the shoulder (as the highway lacks one.)
  Picture a man with a wheelbarrow, meaning to cross the highway but not noticing the car about to run him over. At the last minute we slam on the brakes, lay on the horn, and he swerves his wheelbarrow out of harm's way.
 Picture a lot of noise from horns and speeding buses, music blasting from the tiny stores lining the highway, dust and uneven lanes. It's a sensory nightmare.

  My dad says that he thinks this post is much too long, and that people will not read a whole thing like this, even if the writing is lovely. But I had fun writing it, and I figure if you made it this far, you can keep going a little longer. 
  Today's reflection is a song, inspired by our visit to the Amor del Nino orphanage today. More on that later! Please take a few minutes to listen and share your feelings in the comments. 

cleaning crew

rural local transportation

One of the many friendly security guards outside stores

Norine enjoying the ride

"I used to be an American school bus"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The stove project

While in San Lucas Toliman we helped build a stove for a poor family. For about $200 (donated) a local family can replace their way of cooking burning wood inside their shed with a stove that ventilates to the outside (which is much healthier) and that uses less wood. A great project to contribute to.

the way to the village 

 sifting sand

placing the cinder blocks

building team

various stages to make cement

 carrying sand and rocks

weaving a guipil next door