Letters from Evelin and Family Photos!

Since visiting Evelin, she has been writing very frequently! I love it, and I love how she still mentions our time together. It means so much to me that it meant so much to her. I can’t wait until I’m able to travel back to Guatemala to visit again in a future year, because this girl and her country absolutely have my heart!

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The first letter was about her medical checkup. It was held at the project and her mother took her. She received talks about how to wash her hands and how to brush her teeth. The letter also had a second page attached so more could be written 🙂 All together, it says “Hello Dear Alisa, Evelin is very excited about writing to you. She loved having met you in person. Evelin wants you to take good care of yourself. She loves you very much! She thanks you for the very nice card, she loved it! What is your grandmother’s name? To answer the questions that you asked, 1. The weather is hot and sometimes it is cold. 2. She has been to the ocean once. 3. Her grandmother is doing very well and in good health. 4. She wants the children from other countries to know that Guatemala is beautiful. 5. Evelin would advise children her age to behave very well. Evelin has learned math and she thinks that other children should also learn it.”

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The second letter uses the template My Community. A common job in Evelin’s community is teacher, they harvest fruits and vegetables, and they have a specific market day. Cars are used and most houses are made of adobe. It says “Dear Sponsor Alisa, Hello! Evelin thanks you for the letter and the pictures. She wants you to know that her house is surrounded by flowers and some trees. She says goodbye and wishes you a beautiful day! Evelin”

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The last letter was after an inquiry for a gift that I had sent 6 months prior and hadn’t received photos from. I was thrilled to get two photos of her and her family, and to get a glimpse of their house. I got to meet her mom on our visit day, so it was really cool to see what her dad and siblings look like. I knew her siblings names and ages and was able to send gifts for them too, and now I get to put faces with the names.

“Dear Sponsor Alisa, How are you? Evelin hopes you are very well. She wants to thank you for the nice gift you sent in May. She could buy food supplies for her family, clothes for her, nice leggings, a dress, and a blouse she liked a lot. She wants you to know that classes at school are over. She is on vacation now. She will return to school at the end of January next year. In the meantime, she likes to play a lot. She enjoys playing. She has time for getting ready for her next school cycle. She loves you so much and she wants you to know that she always thinks about you. She sends you hugs. Please pray for her studies. Do you like hot weather? Are you ok? She wants to thank you for her gifts and your love.

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The line “She loves you so much and she wants you to know that she always thinks about you” just melts my heart…

Letter from Evelin About our Day Together!

My first letter from Evelin since my visit to Guatemala to meet her had been in translation for almost a month, and it was a challenging wait. But I was so excited when it finally came through! I also have another letter from her in translation, which I will hopefully get to read soon too. It was well worth the wait, though, because she talked all about our day together at the zoo and it was wonderfully sweet! I think back to how much I prayed about which child from Guatemala to sponsor and which country to visit this summer. Each step of the way, God brought me to this special girl. I think about how it was an instant connection when we saw each other. I’m not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t possibly love her any more than I do.

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Evelin is 8 and lives in Guatemala.

“Hello Dear Friend, Evelin is writing to thank you for visiting her. She thinks that it is a great blessing to have you here, in her country, and being able to meet you, because she was not expecting such a great surprise. May God bless you for your great love. Evelin wants to thank you for your gift which was a doll and a coloring book. She really liked the stickers as well as the map of where you live, the notepad and the crayons. She also wants to thank you for the English book and the prayer book, because she is using them in her backpack. She wants to tell you that you look very pretty and she really likes your hair. She wants to thank you for taking her to the zoo with you. She really liked the elephant and the giraffe that she fed. It made her very happy. She is especially grateful for having spent time with you. She thanks you for all of the love that you have given her and she says that she loves you very much. She asks you to pray for her family so that God will bless them and will watch over them. She wants to know what is the name of your dad, your mom, and your brother? She wants to thank you for your beautiful gifts and for your love.”

 

My heart is so full and I am a very blessed sponsor!

Letter from the Country Director of Guatemala

This week I’m sharing the Country Director letter from Guatemala. This one is especially near and dear to my heart, since I just traveled there in July, falling in love with the country and all Compassion is doing there. I will forever support and be an advocate for Compassion Guatemala, and I feel I’ll be back to visit one day, too. I hope so! I sponsor Evelin and Ingrid in GU.

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“Dear Alisa, My name is JosĂ© Carlos Prem, and I have been the country director of Guatemala for eight years. I am a chemical engineer, and I also graduated from the Central American Theological Seminary.

Compassion started working in Guatemala after a terrible earthquake in 1976, and it was officially registered in 1989. We currently have almost 200 church partners that are helping us release more than 53,000 children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

I want to express how very grateful I am for your thoughtful sensitivity in ministering to Evelin and Ingrid in Guatemala. I feel certain that your contributions represent a decision you did not make quickly or lightly, and I want you to know how much it means to Evelin and Ingrid. I am able to see firsthand the work of Compassion in the most impoverished communities around the country. I see how our children speak and show the love of Jesus to their families and those around them. I have also seen how a timely intervention can save a child’s life.

I like to ask our children what they like best about attending a child development center. Many say that they get to play; some say that they like to hear Bible stories. But one child told me his favorite thing was getting a plate of food and being able to ask for a second one if he was still hungry.

This child was able to see God’s love through a plate of food, or in this case, two plates of food. Hunger is just one of the many problems our children and their families have to overcome daily. It is an overwhelming reality, but we decided to focus on five of our most urgent needs: violence, child abuse, malnutrition, parents’ unemployment, and poor access to health care.

Official statistics show that in our country, one out of two children under five has chronic malnutrition. Guatemala is the fifth most violent country in the world, and there are more than 3,500 reports of child abuse every year. More than half our population lives in poverty, and there is only one doctor for every 5,000 people. These facts are devastating and may discourage people, but for us they are a reminder that there are still many things we can do to continue the work that Jesus started here on earth.

In developmental work, resources are not always enough to meet the needs. That is why we are working with strategic alliances. Some of these alliances are providing purified water to distant communities and offering vocational training, counseling, pastor training, and youth discipleship.

Thanks to sponsors, all our efforts become more meaningful to these children. They know that somewhere in the world there is someone who cares about them. Letters are especially important in fostering this bond. As children grow, they understand how important a sponsor is to their lives. I met a little girl who lost both of her parents. When her sponsor found out, she decided to become a motherly figure and a role model for her little sponsored girl. In two years, the girl received dozens of letters, and she told me she felt the love of a mother through her sponsor’s words. It makes our children feel special and loved when they know someone took time to think of them and write them. Please write your child as often as possible.

Please pray for our future plans as we move toward growth in the ministry. In the last four years, we have grown from 30,000 to more than 53,000 children, and in the coming years, we are expecting even bigger growth.

Thank you for following God’s direction and for expressing, through your sponsorship, your devotion to Evelin and Ingrid.

Thankfully, JosĂ© Carlos Prem”

 

Those 5 most urgent needs that he discusses are very much hallmarks of what they focus on. They represent each one with a different color in order to help remember them better. During our tour, we focused on and learned more about a different social problem, as our leader called them, each day. Each day, the leaders and translators would all wear the color of that problem, to further drive home the point and help link it with memory. We also received a multi-colored hacky sack ball among our gifts from the country office, which has each of these 5 colors on it. It’s a great reminder now, being home, of the social problems whenever I look at it. In addition to being the fifth most violent country in the world, Guatemala also has the fifth highest rate of malnutrition in the world (and the four above it are all from Africa). I was surprised to hear that, as well as many other statistics, but it shows just how important Compassion’s work in this country is- and they are doing an amazing job!

First Letter from Ingrid!

I was so excited to receive my first letter from Ingrid, less than 3 weeks after I sponsored her!! It used to take 4-6 months for a first letter, which would have been written before they knew who we were, and now I got one in under 3 weeks with her knowing my name! I’m still amazed at how fast the electronic scanning/writing on both ends has made communication.

I sponsored Ingrid after visiting her center and falling in love with it, knowing in my heart that I had to support it and sponsor a child there. The story of visiting Ingrid’s center and how I sponsored her can be found here.

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Ingrid MadaĂ­ is 6 and lives in Guatemala

The letter used the “Getting to Know Me Better” template. She is an only child, and it lists the names of her parents. She has brown eyes, and she asks for prayers for “her dad and his job and her house”. The letter says “MadaĂ­ greets you. She is so happy that you are her sponsor. She prays a lot for you. MadaĂ­ says May God protect, bless, and give you health. MadaĂ­ wants to ask you a question: what fruit do you like to eat? What is your favorite food? MadaĂ­ says goodbye. Written by Caty, tutor”

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Her question and drawing are adorable!

Guatemala Day 8- Saying Goodbye

I woke up at 4am on our last morning in Guatemala, even though our flight wasn’t until after 10am. Apparently, there had been some news about new airport security measures for international flights, and reports were saying that passengers should get to the airport 4 (!) hours before their flight. I asked my family if they had heard any news about this in the US, but they hadn’t and couldn’t find anything. Our tour leaders decided that, to be safe and since this was all new, we’d arrive the four hours early because it was better to sit there than be rushed. It was still dark as we left our hotel for the airport, which was very close by.

At the airport, we filled out our customs forms, checked in, and made it through security all easily. We had tons of time to spare and were wondering why a big deal was made. We did a little shopping and stopped in the very tiny food court for some breakfast, where we stayed for awhile at the tables, talking. Finally we headed down to our gate. This is where the new procedures were taking place. Leading up to our gate, we entered a very long, slow moving line. Everyone’s bags were checked manually by security officers. Even though we had already been through airport security, we had to throw away our drinks and water bottles. We weren’t even allowed to have empty ones! Anyone who had a laptop or an iPad had to turn it on so they could examine it. Then, we had to be patted down. Our passports were also checked again. And any time we wanted to leave the gate, like to go to the bathroom, we had to bring our airline ticket and passport with us and be patted down again upon return. I’d never seen anything like that before!

We said most of our goodbyes at the gate here, waiting for our flight, in case there wasn’t time in Miami. Some of us had short layovers, myself included, and we were nervous about having enough time to get through everything and make it to where we needed to go with the airport being so huge. Our plane this Avianca flight was really nice- nicer than the last one. We didn’t choose our seats, and I had been assigned to an exit row. The downside was that all of our bags had to go up above, but we had a lot of leg room. Each of the seats had its own screen so with nothing to do from my bag, I settled in and watched most of Jurassic World (it took us about 30 minutes to figure out where to plug in the headphones… 😉 ).

It turns out we had nothing to worry about once we got in Miami, because Customs and baggage claim went very smoothly. An older sponsor in our group had signed up for wheelchair assistance, and she was going to be flying the same airline, American, that another sponsor and I that had short layovers were flying. Worried about getting lost, we decided to follow the man who was escorting her in her wheelchair, since we were going to the same place. Never have I seen someone go so fast while pushing a wheelchair in one hand and pulling a suitcase in the other- and he wasn’t young either! We had to power walk to keep up with him, pulling our suitcases along as fast as we could. It was actually pretty funny, but we made great time getting to our terminal!

We even had time for a short meal, where I got a salad (oh how I had missed fresh vegetables). By evening, I was back in Chicago.

While it was nice to be home again and see my family and my cat, it was hard leaving Guatemala. I left a piece of my heart in that beautiful country. I am so blessed that God led me to go on this trip. I am so fortunate that I got to see a country so few get to visit. I am so lucky to have met so many amazing Guatemalan people, who were so happy that we were there.

Throughout the week, we learned a lot of sad statistics about the country. And if that is all you heard, it’s enough to be very depressing. But for each sad statistic, there is something Compassion is doing about it. There is a light. And the light is coming from the amazing people we met working in the country office and the projects. It’s also coming from the children, who will graduate and go on to give back. Just as Compassion Guatemala’s slogan goes, “Hope in a Multi-Colored Land”, there is so much hope for this country. And that hope lies within its own people. It’s not us, as Americans, who are going to fix their problems. They know better than anyone what the needs are and how to help them, and they are already doing it! We just got to be witnesses to the incredible work they’re doing and offer them some encouragement along the way.

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Guatemala Day 7- A Day Full of Heat and Hugs

Did I mention before that it was supposed to rain the entire week we were in Guatemala? Leading up to the trip, I’d check the weather and every day would have an 80-100% chance of rain. It was something we all went in prepared for. It is, after all, their rainy season. BUT, through the grace of God, we did not get rained on once. Yep, you read that correctly. Not once. The few times it did rain were either overnight or times that we were indoors, and by the time we needed to back out, it had already dissipated. How is that possible? Scientifically, it doesn’t seem so, but we know God was there with us this trip, and through Him, all things are possible!

So, all that being said, we had some fantastic weather the week we were there. Most days were cool, where were very comfortable and not hot, sometimes needing a light jacket but never more than that. We were told early in the week by our tour leader, who had visited the center we were going to visit this day on a past trip, that she remembered it being hot. We were told again, the night before, that since this town was going to be close to the coast and at a lower elevation, the temperature was going to be hotter. Okay, I figured, I’ll be comfortable in a t-shirt and skirt. I just won’t have to worry about bringing my jacket today. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that way after having gotten used to the cooler weather all week. Well, let me tell you, we were very VERY wrong.

For our last full day in Guatemala, we made a 2 hour trip to the town of Escuintla; not exactly on the coast, but much closer to it.  As soon as we stepped off the bus when we arrived, the weight of the very hot, humid air immediately hit us. We were also greeted with more firecrackers. We had gotten off a few blocks away from the project, but a whole small marching band of children was there to greet us! While they played and danced for us, we walked behind them, literally parading down the street in Escuintla. People came out of their homes to watch. It was such a fun way to start our visit!

We entered into the small church of this center, GU917, and sat down on the benches. Of course there was no air-conditioning like our churches back home, but they had some fans plugged and blowing. It was simple, but beautifully decorated for us, and clearly well-loved.

We each got to stand up and introduce ourselves and where we were from to the people in the church as they clapped and cheered for each of us. The pastor’s wife, a woman with a heart of gold who is battling a serious illness, thanked us so much for being there. She said that just recently, they had had a lot of valuable equipment stolen from them. It broke our hearts to hear it, but she wasn’t full of anger when sharing this. Instead, she was hopeful, saying that she knows God will provide. We sang some songs and then it was time to go outside.

The main focus of our visit was to see the Complementary Interventions Funds (CIV Funds) in action. I had mentioned the CIV funds in Day 4’s post, as that center had used them for their greenhouses and other vocational programs. This center also had many vocational programs where teenagers could also be certified in the area they were studying upon completion and immediately get a jot (again, SO awesome!!), and we split up into our family groups to see a sort of fair that they had set up to tell us all about them!

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Now, while these pictures show a lot of great things, what they don’t show is the heat. At this point, it was beyond hot and beyond humid. We were drenched and dripping. We were trying to fan ourselves with whatever we could find, which was very little. There was no breeze. Our wonderful leaders continually made runs to the bus to get cold bottles of water and gatorade. We were drinking like crazy. And the project staff and kids were just as hot as we were. But we all pushed on. As the day went on, we began losing several people to the air-conditioned bus as they were feeling ill. I have been known to black out in the heat before (just ask my family and they’ll have plenty of stories), so I was nervous it was going to happen. But, thank God, as hot as I was, I never blacked out or got too sick, because I never would have gotten to meet the amazing young people that I did. I think all of the water and especially the electrolytes in the gatorade helped a lot. I found out later it was 105 degrees F without the humidity. It felt every bit of that!

We first got to hear from some teens who were part of the baking program. These girls were so sweet and giggly and they described their process for us on making donuts. The one boy in the group closely manned the stove, where the donuts were being fried. The oven/stove was right there outside. To make the holes in the donuts, they used the caps of plastic water bottles. These kids and their teacher knew how to make the most of what they had. Each of them have dreams of opening up their own bakery one day. Those in the group who could eat the donuts said they were some of the best ones they had ever eaten!

Next we went to see Keily, who learned to make her own jams. She told us of the process and how simple her list of ingredients were. I was really impressed by how well-spoken and driven she was. She’s going to go far in life, because she has a vision and she’s already following it and accomplishing goals! She was unable to attend school for awhile, due to her family not having money, but then she got this scholarship. What I loved the most was that her jars of jam have her own labels with her name on them. As a Guatemalan teen- she already has her own business starting- which is so rare and so awesome!

After Keily was Carlos, who was studying electrical mechanics. He showed us all of his tools, which his father had bought for him, and some of the things that he had made. His mother and older and younger sisters watched on proudly. When showing us the posters he had made, each time there was a picture of himself, he would be sure to add “this is me in my uniform”. It was adorable how proud he was to have his own uniform with his name embroidered on it, the same one he was wearing that day. In the US we may not think much of something like that, but in Guatemala, where many people, when they can find work, are farmers and day laborers, a shirt embroidered with your name is a big deal. He had found a plain toy car without a motor at a toy store and he built a motor for it. He showed us on the ground how it worked, and it was fast! While we were at the next table, I peeked back at Carlos, who didn’t have any sponsors by him at the moment but did have a crowd of kids eager to learn from him- another great role model!

Finally, we meet teenage girls who were learning to do hair and nails. The girl who was learning to become a hairstylist was working giving her friend highlights there outside in the heat as she talked to us. We later heard her testimony, and it makes me even so much more glad that she has this program. She was abandoned by her mom when she was a girl. She went to live with her dad and grandmother along with some of her siblings. However, just recently, her dad passed away after being hit by a car. Through tears, she told us she had been trying to call him that morning but he had already died. Her grandmother is sick with diabetes and her personality hasn’t been the same, for the worse, since losing her son. In this sweet girl’s words, “there’s not a lot of love left in my house”. How could we not be crying with her? But the people at the project had become a family to her. They had taken her in, especially the pastor’s wife. And through this project, through enormous personal challenges, she is surviving and thriving. She will be a certified hairstylist when she completes the program. One of the sponsors in our group was older, and this girl gravitated right toward her, telling the sponsor she reminded her of her grandmother. She even picked her up at one point, in all the hugs, as she hung on her all day, desperate for grandmotherly love, wishing, she said, that she could go home with the sponsor. I’m praying that she continues to know her worth and how loved she is.

We had a little time while the other groups were finishing up to stand in the heat, chat with the project director, and take a picture of our family group with the translator who was often with our group during the week. Thankfully, we managed to not look disgustingly hot for the picture 😉

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The project cooked and served us a delicious lunch. It felt a little wrong to eat such hot food when our bodies were already so hot, but we had plenty of cool water to go with it.

We got a little tour inside and noticed that this is definitely the project that is the simplest and the oldest out of all the ones we visited. The buildings are small, old, and not in the best shape. The classroom is tiny and crammed full of desks, which are used from the youngest to oldest children at different class times. We could barely fit inside the little bathroom stalls- they were so small. But the people of this project were so proud of what they had- so proud to show us. The old walls were covered with beautiful paintings that had been done by another group of sponsors several years ago. This was, without a doubt, a place of hope and a place of God.

And the kids of this center. Oh my goodness, I adored them. This boy, who had been running around with his friend, had the BEST smile.

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And just look at these faces.

After all this, it was time for playtime. Out of those of us who were still standing and hadn’t gone to the bus to lay down, our energy was pretty zapped at this point from the heat and humidity. But we wouldn’t dream of not giving these kids the fun experience we were looking forward to. This group was older, overall, than the last one. We all piled into the tiny church, because at least the fans were in there. Tables were brought in to have coloring set up on. Some of the guys tossed discs and balloons with the younger boys, as they narrowly missed some crashes. Bubbles were blown. One of the translators and I found a corner to sit and make more bracelets and then, once the beads were gone, pipe cleaner art. I had plenty of stickers but they each only took one cut line until they made sure everyone got some and I let them know they could have more. We had a steady crowd of kids the entire time in our corner, and for awhile I forgot about how hot I was as I just enjoyed the moment of spending time with them.

I met so many wonderful children, but I met 3 girls who made a very significant, lasting impression on my heart. First was this little sweetheart. While the older girls were all crowded around us as we played with pipe cleaners, she flitted timidly on the outskirts. I handed her stickers. Then she came back and asked for a pipe cleaner figure. After we had gotten up, she was still by her spot in the doorway to the church, wanting to join in further and soak in attention, but still unsure about jumping all the way in. I called her over as I reached into my backpack and pulled out a plastic, sparkly princess wand with a star on the end. Her eyes lit up and she hugged me. Her mom thanked me. Later as we were leaving, I was happy to find her on the steps of the church with her mom. I squatted down to give one last hug and got a big one and a kiss on the cheek in return. I asked her mom if I could take this picture. I don’t know how many others noticed this little girl in the outskirts, but I’m so thankful she caught my attention. She absolutely melted my heart.

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Near the end of our playtime, a beautiful girl in pink, sat down in a plastic chair that had been placed nearby and joined us. She was on the quiet side. When we were done with playing, we all sat together, among the kids, in the benches while we said our goodbyes, gave our gift, received a gift, and prayed together. I sat by her. She couldn’t stop smiling at me. I found out that her name is Marilyn. She asked me how old I am. She’s 11. We took a picture together as she rested her head on my shoulder. I sensed Marilyn drinking in every ounce of attention I was giving her. I gave her an extra bangle bracelet I had in my backpack. She loved it. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted to make sure she knew how special and amazing she was. After giving hugs to the project staff, she found me for one last hug as I was exiting the church. I pray that Marilyn has a sponsor that writes to her often and shows her the love that she craves. Out of all the children I met the entire week, she was one of the hardest to walk away from.

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During the entire playtime, I had another little girl, probably also around 11, right next to me in the corner (you can see her next to me in the pictures above). I wondered at some point if she had wanted to get up but wouldn’t have been able to get through, although she seemed perfectly content. She told me her name, but I didn’t catch it. We talked a little during that time, as far as my limited Spanish conversational skills took me, but I made sure to give her plenty of smiles: a universal language. During goodbye and hugs time, I spotted her, so I made sure to go over and give her hugs and say goodbye. We also took a picture together. She just oozed sweetness and a big heart. When we had just gotten on the bus, and some were still getting settled, I heard a knock on my bus window. This girl had run out to the bus to give me a crocheted coin purse, one that definitely looks handmade. I couldn’t figure out how to open that window fast enough. I graciously accepted her gift and thanked her so much. I was unbelievably touched that this young girl, who had so little, wanted to give me something of hers. I don’t know if I would have done the same at that age. The more we have, it seems, the more possessive we can be, but when we have less, we give more freely. I will treasure this little purse from her, just as I will treasure Heidy’s drawing from three days earlier, because they were acts of love in the purest form.

The staff gave us buttons with their project name on it as a gift before we left, pinning them on each of us. Saying our goodbyes, there were hugs everywhere. Normally, I’d be self-conscious hugging people when I was so hot and dripping, but I gave and received more hugs this day than I did any other day of the trip. There was something really special about GU917 in Escuintla, and I feel like I experienced a change for the better just by meeting and spending the day with them.

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Here they are waving goodbye to our bus:

On the way back to the hotel, we saw another very cool volcano and got the full Guatemalan traffic experience. It took us much longer to get back than it did to get there in the morning, thanks to the gridlocked traffic of Guatemala City which was at its worst on a Friday. When we got back, we just enough time to change and freshen up or for one of the translators to take a much needed nap in my room (she couldn’t believe the size of it either!).

That evening was our farewell dinner. It was very bittersweet. I had nothing but love and respect for these wonderful people I got to know throughout the week. I truly don’t think we could have created a better group if we tried. I am blessed to know some amazing sponsors, many of them also Compassion employees. Our Guatemalan leaders and translators were as fun as they were kind, and their country is very lucky to have such great people representing them through Compassion. It was very sad going to bed knowing that it was my last night in Guatemala, but if I have anything to do with it, I’ll be back one day to this country I now adore.

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Click here to read Guatemala Day 8- Saying Goodbye

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Guatemala Day 6- Meeting Evelin!

The day that all of us who had sponsored children in Guatemala had been waiting the longest for, Child Fun Day, started a little rough. When I went to shower that morning, the water was scalding hot, and I couldn’t get it to cool down. After fully shutting off the hot water and only leaving on the cold water, I discovered that nothing was coming out. Not one drop. There was no cold water. Now, I can take a cold shower and survive. Sure, it’s unpleasant, but it’s doable. But there’s no way to take a shower in water as scalding as that hot water was. The sink, by the way, was the same. I started getting nervous. I left the cold water tab on so I could hear if it came on, and I started making sure everything in Evelin’s backpack of gifts was together and my bag was ready for the day. Meanwhile, the clock ticked on, but I was still okay on time. Thankfully, since the zoo we were going to was very close to the hotel, we were going to be leaving 45 minutes later than usual.

Finally, after I was about ready to give up, a sputtering started coming from the cold water. I hopped in the shower immediately, and got about a 3 minute shower of sputtering water until the cold disappeared completely again. I quickly shut the water back off, but not before turning the handle in the wrong direction and getting a face blast of really hot water. Oh well, 3 minutes was enough to feel cleaner, thankfully. Down at breakfast, everyone else looked as out of sorts as I felt, too. We learned that a pipe had burst. One family in our group even had “rain” coming from their ceiling that morning as the leak must have been right above them! Like we said, any other day, we’d all take not showering in stride, but on the day that you’re meeting your sponsored child and a family member? You do want to look decent for them.

With that all behind us and prayers said for the hotel staff, David and Emily, our Guatemalan leaders, gave each us a different color balloon before we boarded the bus. Our sponsored child (or children) would be holding that same color balloon, so that we could find each other easily. I thought it was a nice idea that really helped avoid any chaos at the busy zoo entrance. I was given a red balloon, and by now the nervous excitement was really kicking in.

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We drove to the La Aurora Zoo, a very nice zoo in Guatemala City. There were a lot of field trips going on that day, and we walked through groups and groups of kids before we finally found our Compassion people. Suddenly, there was Evelin with her red balloon. She ran up to me as soon as I got close and gave me a big hug. “Nice to meet you!” she said, in English, with a huge smile. “Mucho gusto!” I replied. Our translator for the day, Andrea, told me she had been practicing that while waiting for me to arrive. Any bit of nervousness I may have had was completely erased immediately. Clearly, she definitely knew who I was and was happy to see me, as she couldn’t stop smiling. Her mother, Rafaela, was with her, who was very happy too, as was her project director, Sergio, from GU930, where she attends. I told her I liked her shirt, a pink Frozen one. She asked me who my favorite princess is. I smiled at such a typical 8 year old girl question. Her favorite, by the way, is Elsa. Her mom later shared that the shirt was purchased with gift money I had sent, which made me very happy. I pulled out a small scrapbook I had made to show her some pictures as we waited to get in. Since Evelin only lived 45 minutes away, I asked if she had ever been there before. Yes, this was her 3rd time, they replied. Great, she could show me around, I said! We talked for a little while and looked at the photos and then it was time to enter the zoo.

some sample pages

Just inside the first entrance, there was a huge gorilla statue. Evelin giggled and whispered to her mom, who just smiled back at her. Andrea told me she was telling Rafaela that the gorilla looked like her mom when she is angry. I loved the sense of humor of this beautiful little girl! And her relationship with her mom, where they could joke with each other, reminded me of my own relationship with my mother.

Evelin had asked me what my favorite animal was. The elephants, I replied. Hers were the giraffes, which were right inside the entrance. At this zoo, you could also pay 10Q (about $1.50) to go up a ramp to feed them. Naturally we had to do this. Evelin had never gotten to feed the giraffes before, and she was very excited. She had no fear as the giraffe, Pula, used her big tongue to lick up the food.

These were actually the first pictures I got, because I was so focused on being present with her. We saw the elephants next. Sergio is a huge animal lover, and sometimes we would even be ready to move on and have to wait for him! He was having a great time. He also took a lot of photos, and I was told they would be given to the family.

Evelin took my hand pretty much from when we entered, and continued to hold it the entire day as we walked around. She’d look up at me and smile with a huge grin about every minute or so. I just loved this girl so much, and there was no place on earth that I’d rather be than holding her hand that day. When we saw the panthers, she commented on how they weren’t pink 😉 She also liked seeing the baboons, because they reminded her of the Lion King. Each time we saw a new animal, Evelin would proudly tell me how many of the animal there were in English. This is a smart girl. I already knew, as her Compassion reports say she is above average in school, but seeing it in person, I can definitely tell. She told me she wants to be a teacher like me. I know she can accomplish that or anything else she decides to do. Her mom said that maybe she can learn English, still being young. I commented that it is said that it’s easier for kids to learn another language. I was extra glad, at this point, that I had found a bilingual book to include with her gifts.

When we came upon the fish pond, which Evelin was eager to see, she told me I would be “delighted by the fish!”. We let her feed them, too, which she loved.

Before lunch, we also came across an enclosed area you could enter, which had lots of large birds, like parrots, along with free roaming lemurs! I had never been that close to a lemur before. Some people, including Sergio, touched them. Evelin and I were a little more cautious.

It was then time for lunch. They had ordered ahead from Pollo Campero, a big fast food restaurant in Guatemala, and we all found tables in the food court area. Since the meal was fried chicken, our ever awesome Guatemalan leaders had ordered me a special order of grilled chicken to eat. I never had to worry about not having something to eat the entire trip, due to my celiac disease and inability to eat gluten, thanks to them being so on top of it. Granted, almost all of my meals did consist of grilled chicken and vegetables, but that was fine with me.

During lunch, I was asked all kinds of questions. They all wanted to know everything about me. Sergio also asked us all questions around the table like “Who is your favorite woman from the Bible?” and “What man from the Bible would you marry?” Like I said, he definitely had fun! I also got to hear a lot more about Evelin’s project and the things they do there. One of the things that they’re big on is having pets, since Sergio is such an animal lover. They have several pets, including a guinea pig, fish, and birds, and it teaches the kids responsibility and respect for animals. They’re also teaching the kids badminton there. They celebrate all birthdays out at either McDonalds or Pizza Hut. There was lots more, too. It was great to hear more about her experience, especially after having seen other projects that week. They told me next time I visit I should come visit their project, and I said I would love to. I watched as Evelin and her mom carefully boxed up their leftovers and placed them back in the bag to bring with them. In the US, we don’t think about throwing away what we can’t eat. But that was another meal for them or for her siblings back home. Other sponsors later shared that their kids did the same.

After lunch, Evelin wanted to go back and see more animals. We did for awhile, but the sun was becoming more prolific, and you could tell she was slowing down. She had been sick the day before and was worried she wouldn’t be able to come. They said she woke up feeling better this day. I had to wonder, though, if she had just said she was feeling better, when really she wasn’t. I’m sure that’s what I would have done if I were her, too. She started getting a headache in the afternoon, and then her forehead started to feel warm, like a low-grade fever. We sat in the shade for awhile and took a break. Honestly, I was glad for the rest, too. Andrea went to find Emily, one of our leaders, to see if they had some medicine. They did, of course, because they were prepared for anything, and brought back Children’s Tylenol for her to take, with plenty extra to bring home and last probably the next two days. An important gesture, because after going on home visits, I’m pretty sure that’s something most families can’t keep on hand at home.

By the time she had a little rest and took the tylenol, it was about time to give gifts. When Evelin heard this, she perked right up, and was ready to go to the picnic area we were meeting to do it. Watching her open her backpack full of gifts was pure happiness for me to see how happy and excited she was. Our tour leader, who was watching for a little while, said she forgot all about that headache and that just when she thought Evelin’s smile couldn’t get any bigger, it somehow would with each new thing she pulled out! I think her favorite was an Elena of Avalor doll, and seeing her eyes light up at it was just priceless. With each item, she would thank me and hug me. This girl is so so sweet.

I was also able to get a few gifts for the family in there (a flat sheet, bowls, and cooking utensils) along with a gift for each of her siblings. I was thrilled to get a letter about a  month before the trip that listed her siblings’ names and ages, so that I could buy gifts for them. They’re not registered with Compassion, and they’re both older. Her sister, Darlin, who is 15, usually helps Evelin write her letters, so I know that she must often take her or pick her up from the project. I got her a necklace and her brother Erick, who is 12, a fidget spinner. Rafaela said that he had been asking for one, which made me happy! They are becoming very popular in Guatemala too. She said that the older siblings would be very excited because they weren’t expecting anything.

Among some of the other things I got her were a tiara, a book of Bible stories in Spanish, a bilingual book, a sparkly cross bracelet, a jump rope, a pink Chicago shirt, a blanket, coloring pages, a notebook, crayola twistables, princess chapsticks, headbands and hair accessories, and I’m sure more that I’m forgetting.

This girl is so very special to me. I chose her for sponsorship about a year ago knowing that I would be traveling to Guatemala and meeting her. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, and it actually took several days and lots of prayers. But then I saw Evelin, and God told me she was the one. And clearly He knew what He was doing, because I couldn’t be any more in love with this girl if I tried, and she gave so much love to me in return. We were paired together for a reason, and now share a bond that is even so much deeper than sponsorship. As I mentioned in an earlier post, less than 1% of sponsored children get to meet their sponsors. With how many tours and individual visits there are, it’s kind of hard to fathom when you think about it. But for Evelin, I am forever grateful that I got to be there in person to tell her how loved and special she is, and to hug her and hold her hand. She’ll grow up knowing and remembering this, and that is such a blessing.

Andrea captured a video of her giving a message to me, which I adore. If only I had thought to record one of the times she sang for me…

She was so excited to be able to bring her new backpack to school the next day. Her mom said she was going to be in a contest for queen of the school, after this day, and I already knew she would win because I brought her the tiara. We prayed some more together, and I asked Rafaela if she had any prayer requests. She said that many members of her family don’t go to church and don’t know God and asked if I would pray for them. Of course I will. Clearly, this is a Godly family, and I am so thankful that Evelin is being raised knowing Him and valuing her relationship with Him.

We all gathered together for a large group picture. As heavy as that backpack full of gifts was, Evelin eagerly put it on her back as we walked over.

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Then it was time for the hardest part: saying goodbye. We took one last picture together as we hugged and I told her again how much I loved her. She told me the same and her mother thanked me and told me they were praying for me, along with my prayers for them.

I couldn’t have asked for an absolutely more perfect day. And the thing is, if you asked any other sponsor there, I’ll bet they would have said they same thing. Each sponsor and child matched together so perfectly- it was just amazing to witness their joy during the day, too! Child Fun Day clearly is a very very special day.

After all of the excitement, we made a stop at a nearby market to do some shopping. I was able to buy a few gifts, along with a scarf and a necklace for myself. The market was very pretty, and we were pretty much the only people there. The translators bopped around to help us out, but my limited Spanish includes enough to help me get by in this situation. I was also pretty proud of myself for the prices I got through bartering, which we were told we had to do. We then made one more quick stop at a mall to go into a grocery store to purchase some coffee- something all of us wanted. I’m not a coffee drinker myself, I was buying it as a gift for my parents, so I listened to the coffee experts when selecting which bags to get. Apparently they did a good job choosing, because now that I’m home and my parents have been drinking the coffee, they’ve told me multiple times how great it is!

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inside the very nice mall

We had dinner at the hotel that evening and I went to bed tired but still on quite a high from the day. I thought about Evelin, back at home, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way!

Click here to read Guatemala Day 7- A Day Full of Heat and Hugs

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