Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 5

I am reminded each and every day how blessed I am to have such kind and generous friends. As I began planning this adventure, my friends expressed their enthusiam and encouragement, and many of them even offered some resources of their own to share with the people of Guatemala. One specific offering made the picture you see here possible.

Cayetana is one of the sweetest souls you could ever meet. Her body may be small and frail, but this woman is strength defined. We believe that she is in her eighties, and we know for sure that she has lovingly cared for her two disabled daughters for more than 50 years.

I met Cayetana through pictures quite some time ago, and - today - I had the pleasure of embracing her and sharing some love from a friend. That friend popped by my house last Friday and quietly slipped some money into my hand and ensured me that I'd know how to spend it when I arrived in Guatemala. And, sure as she said, I did.

With no other family support, Cayetana walks the hill from San Jorge La Laguna each day with her blind daughter and she begs by the side of the main road to Pana. Her second daughter, who appears to have Downs Syndrome, stays in their home and waits from her mother and sister to return... perhaps with enough quetzales to buy a small supply of food. Well, today, Cayetana received a surprise visit from a gringo bearing gifts... and that gringo was me. Through our pals at Mayan Families, we delivered a large sack of food containing rice, beans, sugar, protein fortified cereal, eggs, and more. I felt unworthy as she kissed my hands in thanks, but I'll be sure to pass it along to the rightful owner when I return home. There is no doubt that my sweet new friend and her daughters are sleeping with full bellies tonight.

After visiting Cayetana, we continued on our journey to visit a pre-school and elementary school in San Jorge. Again, thanks to my friends, I continued my role as Santa Claus and distributed more than 100 beanie babies, toothbrushes, and toothpastes to several classrooms. The excitement in their eyes when they heard that we had brought "regalos pequenos" (small gifts) was sparkling, and their gratitude, as we shared the gifts, was genuine and sweet. There's nothing better than being a kid magnet, and I enjoyed every second.

I spent the afternoon visiting the homes of sponsored children and witnessing the pride that these families have in their homes and the very few items that they possess. One two room house that we visited slept thirteen people. It reminded me of my mother's stories of growing up in McLarenville with six sisters sharing the attic... but that was 60 years ago. It seems so hard to believe that people still live without electricity and plumbing, and that they fashion roof-top forts to house those who don't fit within, but that is indeed the norm here. And yet, their smiles are wide, their dignity intact, and their spirits still seem to soar. It's a kind of inner strength that I will surely try to summon when I return to my daily routine.

Late this afternoon, I had the pleasure of observing my brother, David, meet his sponsored student, also named David, for the very first time. Little David is 7 years old and has just started the first grade. His age is deceiving, as he is the size of an average 5 year old by US standards. Little David's mother is recovering from a respiratory disease which claimed a part of one lung and was likely caused by overexposure to smoke from cooking over an open fire. She is not able to work at this time, and yet she has six children to support. Thanks to (big) David's generosity, she is able to send her little guy to school, and she will be able to take care of some household expenses while she continues to recover. Think of a time when you were feeling down and out and someone lent a helping hand... that's what David's mama and Cayetana and quite a few other people we visited today are feeling tonight.

We finished our day with a visit to Casa Hogar Feliz in San Andres. This is an orphanage for children from ages 4-14 who have either been abandoned or come from such abusive situations that they are pulled out of their homes and find refuge here. The children were delightful and were so happy to receive jumpropes, sidewalk chalk, books, and other new toys. But we drove away feeling uneasy because it was clear that many of the children are fast approaching age 15, when they will literally be thrown out into the street because they have "aged out" of the system. What must it do to the psyche to suffer a horrific family life, then be nurtured in this safe and loving environment, and then to be forced out of the only place that they had truly called home? Our dreamers at Mayan Families hope to, one day, offer these young people housing and an opportunity to learn a trade, which will provide them with a bridge into adulthood. These are the kind of "hand-up" opportunities that MF coordinates with help from their friends.

It took a phonecall tonight with the Jayman to dig deep into this experience. I could feel his love and joy as he told me with such sincerity how happy he was that my trip was going so perfectly well. But what we realized during our conversation is that this trip, for me at least, is not life changing, but - instead - it is life affirming. For many years now, I've been doing this kind of work on a small scale... coordinating school or church or commuity projects that lift up someone in need. So, I guess what I've now confirmed is that I'm on the right road, in the middle of my journey, and that I should stay the course. This is my life's work... it's my calling... and it's what I'm meant to be.

With excitement on the horizon for tomorrow - our last full day in Pana - I wish you a day in which you too feel the love and support of those you hold dear.


Solamente Beth


  1. I am inspired by your blog! I am so enjoying reading about your experiences. I hope to do the same one day!


  2. Just beautiful, both the writing and the semantics. While these good deeds are truly your life's work, you might also consider writing :)

    Enjoy the last couple days of this trip, which I know will be the first of many!!