While in Guatemala a few days ago, I was reading through two required summer reading books for the faculty at my school. Both were on innovation in education, and both gave me some really good ideas on curriculum changes I want to make this year and even a new course I want to submit for approval for 2016.
As our rental bus in Flores, Guatemala (not a car, BUS) made its way from our hotel to the neighborhood where our Compassion International child lives, I was reading about the resources afforded to one school in the US to create innovative experiences—in their various forms—to the educational experience for middle schoolers.
We pulled into the Compassion project in Flores, Guatemala, and I was surprised at the lack of “things.” Now, this was our sixth visit to Compassion kids we sponsor. We’ve been to projects in Peru, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, two in India, and this one in Guatemala. This was the sparsest one yet. The classrooms only had three walls and were pretty much bare. Another classroom that looked more like a cage had a huge padlock on it. The prized possessions under lock and key were student desks. These desks were so rundown they would have been tossed in a dumpster immediately if they had tried to make their way into the private Christian, uber-upper class school I teach at.
The contrast between haves and have-nots was profound.
“Innovate! Request more resources! Do more! Educate outside the classroom! Provide authentic experiences!” scream the books I was reading and indeed my own experience as a teacher in a first-world country to families with a ridiculous amount of discretionary income.
The walls of this Compassion center in Flores humbly tell another story about education: “We’re thankful to have a place where we can keep our desks from being stolen. We’re thankful to have running water where we can teach our students about basic hygiene, even though it’s not safe to drink. We’re thankful for the few posters that remain on the walls. We’re thankful . . .”
Maybe I wouldn’t have been struck as intensely by this contrast had I not for the past few days been reading these two particular books, but that was the serendipitous timing of these two events.
School in Guatemala was out for a week-long break to celebrate Teacher’s Day (YES! Other places around the world actually celebrate and esteem their educators!) The Compassion center was also closed the day we visited so we traveled to Erlin’s house to meet her and her family.
Again, the disparity was evident between my world and hers. Her home was on a quiet corner in Santa Elena, just a few kilometers south of Flores. She greeted us at the door, followed by the rest of the family comprised of her mother, maternal grandmother, older brother, and baby brother. The paternal grandfather had died one year almost to the day before our visit, and no father was in the picture.
They did have electricity and running water, but other than in Guatemala City, there is no potable water for drinking anywhere else in the country. All water for human consumption must be purchased. Erlin’s family had lived in this house for close to 30 years, and it was paid off—a HUGE blessing—since her mother and grandmother made less than $10 a day to feed, house, clothe, and provide for everything else a family needs to survive.
Erlin’s mother was a hairdresser, and her grandmother sold cakes and homemade tortillas. Both woman had the opportunity to attend vocational schools for their trades—another blessing that would not have been possible without Erlin’s sponsorship through Compassion. Erlin, or Faby as she is known at school (Fabiola is her middle name), helps her mom by painting nails in their little one room salon attached to the front of the house.
Erlin’s older brother was 15 and was sponsored by a family from Korea, but his sponsors had never written to him. He wasn’t even sure of their names. Erlin’s 9-month-old baby brother will have the opportunity to be sponsored in a few years. An older male cousin also lives with the family, and their immediate neighbors are relatives.
Their home consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen/dining area, and an outdoor area for laundry, processing the corn for tortillas, and a crude toilet and shower. It was the largest home of the Compassion kids we’ve sponsored, but it was also encouraging to see how our financial contributions to this family was helping to lift them out of poverty into a more sustainable life—one in which every member could thrive instead of just survive.
We spent the morning at her home talking about everything, and then Erlin got to pick the restaurant for lunch. Of all the choices available to her: Pizza Hut. To us, it’s too common a place to visit in the States. If we wanted pizza, we’d try any number of gourmet eateries in which to partake. For Erlin, Pizza Hut was a luxury, so off to Pizza Hut we went. The entire family joined us at our request, and we talked some more about everything.
The Pizza Hut was part of a small strip mall, so we walked around after eating, and then we had a couple hours to kill before the bus would pick us up. Thankfully there was a nice little playground at the mall, so we adults sat there and continued to talk about everything while Erlin and her brothers played. Back at her house, we said our goodbyes and prayed with one another before heading back to our hotel.
Visits like this are always surreal to me. We plan months in advance: submitting the paperwork, going through the background checks, arranging the travel logistics. When the day finally comes, I’m almost always at a loss for words, and my emotions have to work overtime to process everything.
The work of Compassion is incredible, and we have been privileged to experience it first-hand six times now around the world. If you are looking for a worthy charity to contribute to, one that really does make a positive impact on children, their families, and their entire community, this is the place. If you don’t sponsor a child, please consider doing so today. For those who already sponsor a child, please write to him/her. You have no idea how much a letter means to these kids, and you can even do so online at the Compassion website. These are treasures to be sure. For those who sponsor and have the financial resources to do so, please consider visiting your child. The impact will last for generations.