I got a little time this morning to appreciate the beauty inside and out of the hotel before the activity started. The views were gorgeous, and there was a beautiful, glass-walled pergola room on the second floor that made you just want to live there. We used the room later in the week for devotionals, and this morning to sort and divide all of the gifts we brought into enough family and center gifts for the week!
(Click on any images in the post to see them larger)
The town we were visiting was about an hour away and called Totonicipán. It took me a little while to get the pronunciation down, but since I did, it’s pretty much my new favorite word to say. We were going to visit a Child Survival Program (CSP), which works with mothers and babies from pregnancy through 3 years old, until the toddlers join with the older children of the project. Driving in Guatemala is scary if you look out the windows at what’s going on. All of the rules seem to be more like suggestions. And then you enter these narrow cobblestone streets that don’t look like they’re for driving, let alone a big bus, but somehow we would barely squeeze through. At one point, though, the streets kept getting narrower, so we had to get out and walk a few blocks on foot. When we reached the student center, GU819, which is also a school, we were greeted once again with firecrackers.
As we entered through the doorway, children were lined up on either side, cheering, shooting confetti, and giving us embroidered bracelets with the name of their town. We walked through streamers and confetti-filled balloons as we entered. They also gave us small, handmade painted pottery that is really special. To go in, being so so excited to see them, and then to be welcomed to this degree and see how excited they were to see us, was very overwhelming. It feels like being treated like celebrities. However, as David our Compassion Guatemala leader told us on the first day and we definitely found it to be true, they saw us as their sponsors. It’s an honor to represent their sponsors for all the children we met.
We talked to some of the students and sat down. They had decorated the chairs, tables, tents, the ground, display tables, and basically everything you could possibly decorate. It’s so clear the staff really takes pride in their center, and they did a beautiful job. We got to hear from the pastor, a testimony from a former sponsored child who is now a mom and had to have her leg amputated due to cellulitis, and some of the Compassion kids did some traditional dances for us!
We split up into our four family groups for our first home visits. This was the first time in Guatemala they were doing home visits that lasted hours instead of like 30 minutes, like they usually do. We were the guinea pigs, as we were lovingly told! My group, along with Byron, one of our translators, and some of the project staff, hopped in a van and traveled a good 15-20 minute ride to get to the home. Outside of some larger homes, we walked through a narrow passageway between some homes, on loose rocks, and entered a very different world than what could be seen from the road. Here, the houses were made up of a few very small, unconnected rooms, with no real doors. Beyond the immediate area, you could look out and see hundreds more homes like this one lining the small mountain. We were visiting the home of Teresa, her husband (who was at work), and their 2 year old son, Brandon. She apologized as we ducked our heads to enter into their tiny bedroom.
Teresa and Brandon sat on the bed and we sat on plastic chairs that barely all fit inside. We complimented her on her home and her plants, and she apologized for it being simple. This young mother was nervous at first, as was Brandon, but the longer we were there, asked questions, and made them feel at ease, the more comfortable they felt. She showed us her papers from all of the education the program and CSP has given her. The pages were made into a book, and each month had a header page with a cartoon image, colored in. Brandon loved flipping through the pages and naming each image. We found out that his father drew all of them and Brandon helped color them in. On the front was a really well done and detailed pencil drawing of Brandon, done by his father. We could clearly tell this little boy is their whole world. He showed off how smart he is with his books, naming more than most 2 year olds know. Teresa was very patient with him and asked him prompting questions as they went through the book. She is doing a great job with him, I told her.
And the end, one of the CSP tutors came to show us how she works with the families. Today was an art lesson, and Brandon got to finger paint, which he loved! The tutor also gave a lesson about doing art with toddlers to Teresa, giving advice like not telling the child how to color something, having paper on hand so he doesn’t color the walls, etc. Brandon also got to make and decorate a drum, which he was more interested in putting stickers on than actually playing.
It was time to go back to the center for lunch, so we got back in the van, along with Teresa and Brandon, and had lunch at the center with the moms and their toddlers/babies. Then we got to see some demonstrations of how the CSP works. Not all centers have CSPs, but this ministry is HUGE for starting to make an impact at the earliest and most important years in terms of development. A nurse demonstrated a gross motor type session with two moms and their babies, and then some toddler girls raced each other as they did a fine motor activity and we cheered them on, moms right there helping them.
We also got to go upstairs and see what some of the moms, how have been taking baking classes, had baked for us. This is a skill they can use for an income. Teresa had shown us baskets she learned to make there and told us that she sold 2 blankets she made in classes because they turned out really well. So awesome! Finally, we listened to the testimonies of two young moms. Compassion truly is the difference between life and death many times. One mom almost lost her baby, had a stroke, and had her husband have a heart attack. Each time, she went to the center. Each time, the center got them to the hospital, paid for the treatments, and this family is still all around today as a result. Without Compassion, they probably wouldn’t all be.
It was then time to say thank you, goodbye, give our gifts to them, and pray together. Along with the other gifts this loving center already gave us, they had one more generous gift for us, too. The staff passed out bags, each with different colorful woven Guatemalan patterns, and embroidered on them are the name of their center. The generosity of people who have so little themselves means all that much more. And it shows just how much they truly value sponsors. These people are doing the hard work day in and day out to take care of these children, yet all they want to do is thank us. It’s hard to fully process sometimes.
And in an extra happy ending, one of my family group members decided to sponsor Brandon!