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 José 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, José 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 Madaí 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 “Madaí greets you. She is so happy that you are her sponsor. She prays a lot for you. Madaí says May God protect, bless, and give you health. Madaí wants to ask you a question: what fruit do you like to eat? What is your favorite food? Madaí says goodbye. Written by Caty, tutor”

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Her question and drawing are adorable!

Guatemala Day 4 part 2- Even More Love… and introducing a new child

This is the second part of Day 4, since it would have been an incredibly long post all in one (part one is here).

When we arrived back at the project, GU943, we were given a tour. We first got to see the amazing greenhouses, which our Guatemalan leaders had raved about on our bus ride that morning. The greenhouses were purchased with Complementary Interventions Funds (CIV Funds), which are provided by large donors and allow for, well, complementary interventions at projects aside from all of the amazing things Compassion provides that are standard at each project. The greenhouses are run by two men, gardeners, who teach the teenagers how to grow plants in the most effective ways. The kids are learning skills that will help them in future careers while also learning a lot about science- which is so cool! They had amazing looking tomatoes, peppers, and flowers inside. My tomatoes at home don’t look as big and round and wonderful as these did. The men clearly take pride in keeping everything clean, as we had to sanitize our hands and the bottom of our shoes before entering.

 

Then we got to see some more of the vocational programs. Here’s what makes these programs so awesome. They’re not just classes for the teenagers in the program to learn more about areas that interest them. They are actually certified instructional programs so that when these teens complete them, they get a certificate necessary to get a job in that area. They can graduate from Compassion already certified for a great, educated job! How great is that?? First we saw the baking program. I think we all watched in awe as one of the boys started mixing the sugar into the butter by hand. They don’t have any kinds of electric mixers, like we are so used to cooking with and don’t even think twice about using, but it works for them. They use what they have. And they made some beautiful cupcakes for us!

 

Next, we also got to see the manicure program and the sewing program. The girls who did nails had some beautiful samples on display that they were very proud to show off. They painted the nails of some of the ladies in our group, while the guys sat as far away as possible. They did a great job! The girls from the sewing program weren’t there that day, but their teacher was, who talked to us and had their work out on display. Each girl gets her own manual sewing machine in the room to work on. They started out by learning to make aprons, but now are starting to make more complicated garments, like pleated skirts. The girls use their own measurements and make clothing for themselves, which is very cool, but the teacher said that a lot of them have been getting orders from neighbors who want some of their work, too! They’re already beginning to build up little businesses as teens! After seeing the poverty in this rural town, I can’t rave enough about how amazing these programs are.

 

Finally it was time for the all exciting PLAYTIME! And it was so much fun! I felt so in my element, sitting on the floor surrounded by kids who swarmed around, all wanting a part of making pipe cleaner beaded bracelets with me. I’d compliment kids on their bracelets as I helped fasten them on little wrists, and their big smiles were everything. I loved it here and loved these children. I had amazing experiences all week, and fell in love with everywhere we visited. But my connection to this center was different, deeper. It’s hard to put into words, but I felt it in my heart.

 

Click on the images to see these ADORABLE faces larger 🙂

Near the end, after I had run out of beads, little Ezekiel found me. He told me he wanted an apple, as apple bobbing was one of the project set up activities. He was apprehensive and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to leave him. He tried so hard, again and again, to bob for one of those apples. We left for a little bit, him taking my hand, but it wasn’t long before he was asking to go back to the apples again. Finally he was able t outtake out with his hands to eat and he was so happy! “Delicioso?” I asked? “Si!” he replied.

 

Then I had to say goodbye to Ezekiel, because we all visited the project office where the director proudly showed off their files. They were immaculately organized, and she clearly takes a lot of pride in that, as she should. I hung back after, while everyone else was drifting off back to the barn-like building we started in, to ask if they had children in need of sponsors. “Yes, 50,” she replied. That was all the confirmation I needed. I told her I was asking because I wanted to sponsor a child from her project, since I loved it so much. She thanked me multiple times. The translator I was with asked if I had a specific kid in mind. I told her that honestly, I had met so many kids that day and I had no clue who had a sponsor and who didn’t. I knew I’d be happy to sponsor any child there as it would be an investment in the work they were doing in the project as well as the individual child.

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It was time for our final goodbye. We entered in a small room and the staff passed out very special gifts to us. They were hand-sewn and hand-embroidered pillowcases, made by the girls in the sewing program! Each one was unique, and I can’t wait to get mine on a pillow and display it.

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Soon after our arrival there, as we sat waiting for the preschoolers to perform, our tour leader had asked if I would present the gift to the project when the time came and thank them. I said I would, at that point having no clue as to the extent to which I would connect with this place. But God did, of course. After a powerpoint with even more awesome information as to great things they do, I let God speak through me as I thanked the amazing people of this project and gave them a bag of things we had brought in our suitcases as gifts. We all joined around the staff to pray over them, and then we gave hugs. When I got to the project director, she hugged me so tightly and didn’t let go for awhile. Her tearing up had me tearing up. I was so glad I could be a part of acknowledging all the wonderful hard work she and everyone there were doing for these kids.

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The pastor, who can be seen in the above picture, was an integral part of our day, too. He gave a speech in the beginning and said a special prayer at the end. He went with on one of the home visits, the one where they were helping to work on the roof of a home, and he rolled up his sleeves and got to work alongside the members of our group happily. Most impressively, though, we learned that this pastor, when given the choice, decided to expand the project buildings rather than expand his church. That is complete dedication and investment, and it showed through from him all day. He has such a wonderful heart for the project, and I’m certain they wouldn’t be where they are today without him, too.

We returned to the museum/restaurant that we ate lunch at on Sunday for dinner this day. We got to eat in a different room this time, also gorgeous, and the food was very delicious. I had tangerine chicken which was my favorite meal of the trip. The stark contrast from the projects and home visits to our hotels and restaurants was definitely not lost on us. I understand the need to stay at and eat at nicer places, because of safety, but thinking that those families will never be able to afford meals like this can be heartbreaking.

 

 

So… that night back in the hotel room, I searched by center number on the Compassion site for children waiting at the project we had just visited. There were several children on the website. I didn’t know how I was going to possibly choose one. I certainly couldn’t that night. I decided to leave it to God and pray on it, which I continued to do for the rest of the trip.

I went into this trip open to sponsoring another child, knowing I may make a connection. Several of the toddlers we met the day before were sponsored by members of our group who made connections. Others made connections with different children or places. Still others weren’t called to add any new children this trip, which is also perfectly ok. I think it’s great that God drew us all to different children/places/needs and we all listened. As far as I know, I’m the only one who had this deep of a connection at this particular center, but I thank God for it.

Fast forward to when I arrived home, and God put a child on my heart. If only I could have sponsored them all, I would have. But Ingrid was the child on my heart, and I felt sure about my sponsorship of her. I clicked to sponsor this beautiful 6 year old girl with a smile filled with hope and promise, and I couldn’t wait to start writing to her. Ingrid lives with her parents and grandmother and both parents are sometimes employed; her father in construction and her mother in day labor.

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After I sponsored her, I looked back through my pictures from that day, just in case, and I discovered a striking resemblance between her and the tallest of the children who performed for us that morning. It’s hard to tell for sure, but I’m pretty sure that it’s her. I asked in my first letter to her, so hopefully I’ll get answer and know for sure! What do you think? Feel free to tell me if you think I’m totally off.

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Click here to read Guatemala Day 5- A Bright Future