I’ve been home a month now, and I’m finally coming to the place where I can talk about Guatemala. It was an amazing trip, in the roughest sense of the word. Amazing people–I met gentle, generous, kind-hearted people everywhere I went. I met children who had the most beautiful smiles. I was captivated by the people of Guatemala. The countryside is rugged but beautiful–I saw smoking volcanoes and dust devils swirling in the fields. I saw gorgeous flowers and beautiful weather–it was 72 degrees in the city and in the upper 80’s in Coatepeque. But the poverty–that was what broke my heart. To see them living like that–these gorgeous souls, living without clean water, schooling or any resources to bring themselves out of their situation. And they were gorgeous souls. These were not people living in poverty out of choice. It was life as they knew it, and there was no other choice.
This was not my first trip to Guatemala, but it was the most powerful. I met so many people. I met Linda, who is working her way out of poverty, working her way up the ladder at Pollo Campero (think KFC) as a waitress. She has her sights set on management, and is training for it. The only problem is that she’s a single mother, who must leave her kids at home while she works. They do not go to school. She has a 5 year old, and an 18 month old. The 5 year old watches the 18 month old every day while she works. We saw that multiple times in Coatepeque and Guatemala. I met Pilar, so beautiful, such faith, such a gorgeous soul. Her smile lit up the room. Yet when we visted her home, we found a simple wooden shack in the middle of the city, with two roosters, but no hens. Why no hens? Her grandsons or neighbors would steal them from her. Why roosters but no hens for eggs? The grandson would use them for cockfighting, his only source of income. He was 20 and would not work. Not ‘did not work’ but ‘would not work.’ Any time Pilar would get some money for food, her sons and grandsons would come around and steal it from her for drugs or other activities on the streets. (Again, a common sight.)
We heard the stories of how homes are built–each year a family would take a little money, whatever small amount it could save, and buy concrete blocks and concrete, and add them to the home. Most of the time this was 1-2 layers of blocks per year. Most families spent 15 years building a small 12′ x 12′ home for 4-10 people to live in. Their ‘kitchens’ were usually a rough fireplace of bricks with a kettle or pot over it–burning 24 hours a day, and under the same roof as the rest of the home. There was no venting of the smoke. Toilets and running water were virtually non existent in the poorer neighborhoods–and where there were pit toilets, they were often built within a few feet of the water well. And we all know what happens to the well water when its within 10 feet of the toilet. The city water was so bad no one could drink it. Everyone had to have bottled water. Those who did drink it had to boil it for 30 minutes first–and even then, there was a very high incidence of bladder and kidney infection from the poor water supply.
Most of the kids had never had their picture taken, and many of them did not have a mirror in their home. How can you have good self-esteem (a key factor to developing the drive to rise out of poverty) if you don’t know what you look like? Their clothes were clean and in good condition, but a large portion of the population can’t afford school. Our host family works to make a difference, but even they are limited in what they can do.
We investigated the idea of starting a microfinance program in Coatepeque, and found that a mere $24 would impact the life of a Guatemalan. $24. We spend more than that on our cell phones each month!
We saw pigs and chickens running around at many homes–a constant reminder of where their food comes from. Even the middle class often keeps pigs and chickens–remembering the hard times of the civil war. They never want to be caught without again.
We’re going back–how could we not go back? We’ll be going back in the fall to begin work on clean water systems for many of the people we met. Take a look through the photos and say a few prayers for them.