In order to make reading about this day a little easier, I decided to split it into two posts, since there is so much to share. This first post will talk about our home visit, which deserves a post alone, because of the sheer emotional experience.
This morning, after a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, we journeyed to the town of Cantel. We were told lots of good things about the project we were going to be visiting, GU943, and that it was highly rated by Compassion. We felt the love immediately as we stepped off the bus, were greeted with a warm welcome and lots of decorations, and stepped inside a barn-like building. The project was rurally located, away from the town streets, and it felt very calming, surrounded by nature. It really was a sanctuary there.
Well, we got into this building, where chairs were lined up along the perimeter, and saw the cutest preschool aged children waiting to perform for us. After shaking their hands and giving high fives, we took our seats. The project director said the performance was “so we would feel like we were with our families.” Dressed up, they did a dance with some of their tutors to a song about when the children wanted to get close to Jesus and were told no, before Jesus said ‘let the children come to me’. I loved it! If you want a surefire way to my heart: preschoolers are always an answer. Even after spending each school year with 40 of them every weekday, I still adore them.
After taking some pictures with the kids, we had to split up for home visits. Our groups were different this time, because there were 3 homes instead of 4. My group was split between two pickup trucks to ride to the home we were visiting. Some of us squished inside a back seat of one truck. Others stood in the bed of the other pickup truck, in a sort of cage-like structure with bars to hold onto. Only in rural Guatemala! They let us off on a very steep incline of a cobblestone road. We entered in a path that you’d miss if you weren’t looking for it, up a little hill, into the area of the home of Elvira. She wanted to change her clothes for us, so we waited, taking in the amazing mountain view in front of us. Her two sons, Gabriel and Ezekiel, 6 and 5 years old, appeared. Gabriel started swinging on his “swing”, which was really a rope tied onto 2 tree branches. When Elvira and her youngest daughter, Estrellita, appeared, we entered in.
Elvira had set up the room with two uneven tables, covered in tablecloths, surrounded by a variety of plastic chairs and stools. It had been set up for our arrival. She told us that Gabriel and Ezekiel had been so excited they could barely sleep the night before. We learned that she had 6 children and a 7th one on the way. Her two oldest girls weren’t home. Then there was Heidy, who joined us a little later. The boys and Estrellita (“little star”) were the youngest. Her husband, the father, wasn’t in the picture anymore. Elvira was a seamstress and proudly showed us some of the beautiful work she’s done. However as she’s progressed further into her pregnancy, the manual sewing machine has become too demanding physically to operate, so for now, she is doing work that pays much less, cutting loose threads from others’ work, to make some kind of little income for now.
Elvira’s parents had been supporting her rand had taken her and her children in. Her father, especially, had been providing finial support essential to feed the many growing children. But then, through tears, Elvira told us that her father had passed away just a week before. The project staff with us were shocked and cried with her, as she hadn’t told them. The family had to sell a lot of their furniture to pay for the funeral, including beds. Many of them were now sleeping on the floor. The staff told her to please tell them these things so they could help. They have paid for the funeral. But Guatemalan people are very proud. Her mother came to join us, and we prayed over the family while they sobbed. We though this would be the saddest thing about the visit, but little did we know…
Elvira’s mother had to leave for work and at this point we decided to give the gifts we brought in order to bring some needed smiles and happiness. We had 2 bags of groceries purchased in Guatemala, along with a bad of gifts for the family that was made up of things sponsors had brought in their suitcases. Estrellita fell in love immediately with a little soft doll that was all hers. Gabriel and Ezekiel were beyond excited by the package of two toy cars. I had some star-shaped plastic sunglasses in my backpack, so I pulled a few pairs out for the kids, and we smiled as they happily put them on. Elvira was overwhelmed and grateful, and her demeanor seemed to be a little less burdened during that time. It wasn’t everything, but we had brought a little bit of light and hope in a home that desperately needed some.
As the boys played with their cars, Estrellita played with another sponsor’s camera, and Heidy returned with some paper and and a pencil case of art supplies, Elvira opened up more. It’s not my story to tell, to share personal details, but she has been through things so tragic and horrific, concerning her former husband’s behavior towards her, and in her own personal struggles and battles, that it’s impossible to imagine someone suffering any more than this woman has. We may think we have a bad day at work or drama with our family, but it is nothing. Not compared to the battle Elvira and her family have gone through and are still fighting, along with countless other families like them living in poverty in Guatemala. By this point, everyone in that tiny room was an emotional mess, except for the children, the faces of hope, who kept playing. I watched Heidy closely during all of this. At 8 years old, she was definitely listening to all her mom was saying, and I know she was bearing a huge burden. She concentrated so hard on her picture that I could tell it was her way of releasing her emotions. She’d look at me and we’d smile at each other. Finally, she finished, and she walked over to me to give me her completed picture; her treasured masterpiece. I was so touched. I asked her, in Spanish, if she was an artist, and she just gave me a shy smile. I told her she was and how much I loved it, giving her a big hug.
Everyone came out of that home visit having slightly different experiences and perspectives depending on what and who they focused on, along with their own past experiences. I wished so badly there was some way that I could have sponsored Heidy. I wanted to encourage this girl so badly, to take her under my wing and walk with her down the path of God’s love, so much more so than what I could do in one visit.
We prayed with Elvira and her family a lot more, and lunch, that was cooked by the project staff, was brought to the home. They actually had to bring more chicken because the first batch had fallen over on the ground and the dogs outside at it. There was something really special about breaking bread with this family in their home, especially getting to see them get t have a much heartier meal than they’re used to. We made sure there were plenty of leftovers for them to keep, and we had even eaten on new reusable plastic plates so these could stay with the family, too. It was time to say goodbye. I pray that Elvira knows more how worthy she is and how much God loves her. We know He sent us to tell her that, and we were more than honored to be used in that way, but I do really hope it was heard by her.
Gabriel and Ezekiel got a ride back to the project with us for the afternoon’s activities. I think, at least for those boys, what a blessing it is to be able to get away from the hard realities at home, escape to their beautiful sanctuary of a project, and just be regular kids when they’re there! I think that as they grow they’ll have so many vocational training opportunities and be able to be educated and work in good jobs that will provide for their own families one day. And these thoughts alone make my heart full.