Faby

4 07 2015
Matthew, me, Erlin - Flores, Guatemala

Matthew, me, Erlin – Flores, Guatemala

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.

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala

empty classroom (the project was closed for the day)

empty classroom (the project was closed for the day)

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala - padlocked desks

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala – padlocked desks

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala - the pastor lives on the second floor, and the classrooms are the three open areas underneath (only three walls, no doors)

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala – the pastor lives on the second floor, and the classrooms are the three open areas underneath (only three walls, no doors)

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala - where the desks are padlocked when not in session

Compassion project center in Flores, Guatemala – where the desks are padlocked when not in session

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 mother's salon (Erlin's middle name is Fabiola and her nickname is Faby)

Erlin’s mother’s salon (Erlin’s middle name is Fabiola and her nickname is Faby)

Erlin's mother's salon

Erlin’s mother’s salon

Erlin's family house

Erlin’s family 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.

Erlin's older brother, mother, Erlin, me, Matthew

Erlin’s older brother, mother, Erlin, me, Matthew

one bedroom in Erlin's house (yes, that's a half-wall with the living room on the other side)

one bedroom in Erlin’s house (yes, that’s a half-wall with the living room on the other side)

bedroom two where Erlin, her mother, her grandmother and baby brother sleep (there is another bed behind me)

bedroom two where Erlin, her mother, her grandmother and baby brother sleep (there is another bed behind me)

Erlin and her grandmother

Erlin and her grandmother

Erlin's family kitchen

Erlin’s family kitchen

laundry area

laundry area

laundry/storage area

laundry/storage area

toilet and shower rooms

toilet and shower rooms

Erlin and her 1-year-old cat (who almost died from eating a nest of baby pigeons)

Erlin and her 1-year-old cat (who almost died from eating a nest of baby pigeons)

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.

lunch at Pizza Hut

lunch at Pizza Hut

outside Pizza Hut - there are five people, 2 adults and 3 children, on the motorcycle

outside Pizza Hut – there are five people, 2 adults and 3 children, on the motorcycle

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.

at the playground - Erlin's baby brother and mother

at the playground – Erlin’s baby brother and mother

Erlin and her baby brother

Erlin and her baby brother

Erlin and her two brothers

Erlin and her two brothers

Erlin's two brothers

Erlin’s two brothers

Erlin's grandmother and baby brother - she held a towel under his arms so he could learn to walk without holding on to anything. (I commented to Matthew that someone in the US could invent a similar contraption and sell it for a ridiculous amount of money if it had the right branding.)

Erlin’s grandmother and baby brother – she held a towel under his arms so he could learn to walk without holding on to anything. (I commented to Matthew that someone in the US could invent a similar contraption and sell it for a ridiculous amount of money if it had the right branding.)

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.

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Guatemala 2015 – Musings and Observations

3 07 2015

My husband I and just returned from a whirlwind tour of Guatemala, our 2015 international trip.  We only had eight days in the country due to my grad school schedule, but it was a fabulous trip.  Here are my observations and musings about Guatemala and travel in general. (Photos below.)

  1. I no longer find long layovers annoying. Give me a kindle loaded with good books, and I’m a happy camper for hours.  14 hours of travel to get back home?  No problema.
  2. I go to bed earlier when I’m traveling. Probably because I’m not up till 1 or 2 a.m. working on homework.
  3. I eat a lot less when traveling. When I have to shell out cash at every single meal, I tend to eat on the cheap.
  4. Speaking of eating cheaply, I love to eat street food. Tamales, chorizo grilling on a dirty grill in the middle of the street, chocolate cake sitting out in the sun, it’s all bueno.
  5. I also eat a lot of ice cream. And it must be chocolate in a waffle cone.  Nothing else will do.
  6. Guatemala has the most amazing guacamole ever. We ate it at almost every meal.  I need to add way more lime to mine when we make it from scratch.
  7. I drink tea when traveling abroad.  I never drink tea anywhere else, and my version of tea is pretty much sugar water.  Why?  I know the water is safe to drink.
  8. I don’t think I’d ever get tired of looking at volcanos. Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City . . . you can look in pretty much any direction and see a volcano or two . . . or three.
  9. Overnight busses are cooooold. I would take them again if I needed to, but I’d bring a big blanket.
  10. The only straight roads in the country are in Antigua and the north.
  11. Tikal is much more impressive than any other Mayan ruin in the Americas. Chichen Itza does not at all deserve to be on the new list of Wonders of the World.  We even got a private, behind-the-scenes tour with an amazing guide who took us on all of the back trails through the jungles so we could avoid the crowds and see more monkeys.  We could even climb many of the temple structures to the top which visitors are not allowed at the other sites like Chichen Itza or Tulum.  If you only see one Mayan ruin in your life, Tikal is the one.
  12. Guatemala was surprisingly clean, compared to many other Central American and developing countries. The people are humble and poor, but they take pride in the beauty of their country.
  13. At some point in my life or retirement, I need to live on a coast with a view of the ocean, or a very large lake AND mountains (or volcanos).
  14. hotel in Antigua

    hotel in Antigua

    Antigua

    Antigua

    Angigua

    Angigua

    Antigua, view from Cerro San Cristobal, an organic farm-to-table restaurant

    Antigua, view from Cerro San Cristobal, an organic farm-to-table restaurant

    Antigua sunset

    Antigua sunset

    Antigua sunset

    Antigua sunset

    Chichicastanego market

    Chichicastanego market

    Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, view from our hotel

    Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, view from our hotel

    San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, touring an organic coffee plantation co-op

    San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, touring an organic coffee plantation co-op

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal tour

    Tikal turkey

    Tikal turkey

    La Isla de Flores

    La Isla de Flores

    La Isla de Flores

    La Isla de Flores

    Guatemala City, view from hotel

    Guatemala City, view from hotel

  15. I look at clocks and care about the time much less than when I’m in the States. My soul needs this.