Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Mother of Four... in Guatemala

Mountain Path from Panajachel to Tierra Linda
Photo by, my brother, David Patterson, March, 2010

Not a week goes by when I don't get a comment like this one: "Wow! You have four kids? How do you do it?" Or, "You certainly have your hands full." Over time, I have come to wear it as a badge of honor. Indeed, I can sit smack dab in the middle of pure chaos for extended periods of time and still function without the assistance of alcohol and drugs. And I oftentimes surround myself with even larger crowds of kids as if I'm participating in a "how many marshmallows can you fit inside your mouth" contest. It's crazy, I know, but I'm privileged to live the life that I live.

When I consider what I worry about, it's the easy stuff. Is Juliana turning into a teenager too quickly? Is Kendra unnaturally afraid of the dark? Is Luke going to get caught kissing a girl in second grade? Will Will's speech issues be resolved in the next few years? There are moments when these questions weigh heavy on my heart, and then I read an email like the one below and realize that my life as the mother of four in the United States of America is a cake walk.

If you have a moment, please read the message that my Mayan Families Connection group received last night from the Director of the non-profit organization in Guatemala.

From Sharon Smart-Poage
Friday, January 14, 2011
Panajachel, Guatemala

Hi everyone,

Today was the end of a very long week for us. We have been distributing school supplies to over 1,600 children....the lawn at the new office will never be the same. It will probably never be able to revive...we have had 1,600 students plus their mothers and siblings there every day. We have been working from 8am till 8pm.

We have had 5 people trying to update the student blogs, interviewing as many students and their families as they can, translating from Kakchiquel, Tzutihil to Spanish and then to English.

We have had the Tierra Linda Jr. High school officially open and we are registering students. We had the parent meeting yesterday, 50 parents anxious and hopeful that their children will be able to have an education and a better future than they have ever dreamed of.

We have organized the opening of the new pre-school in San Andres in partnership with Tom Heaton....Mission Guatemala.

We have held teacher meetings about the re-opening of the five Mayan Families pre-school/feeding programs: Panajachel, San Jorge, Tierra Linda, San Antonio and San Andres.

We have negotiated to open the 6th Mayan Families Pre-school/feeding program/community center in El Barranco. This will also be the home to the Folkloric dance troupe and we hope the beginning of many exciting opportunities for this community.

We have organized the opening of the new Elderly Care and Orphan Care center in San Jorge this coming Monday.

This evening at 7pm I was still in the office, trying to get out to join my husband, Dwight and daughter, Zoe at a restaurant for a Friday night pizza. I was feeling pressured and irritable. All I wanted to do was go home and relax.

I came out to the main room and saw Joaquin who was still working and still cheery, even though it was his birthday and he was working late. He was working with a family who came from Tierra Linda. The mother was painfully thin and carrying a little baby on her side and had a son who is about 10yrs old, a little girl who is going into our pre-school probably around 4-5yrs old, and a little boy around 3yrs old.

It was the little 3yr old who stopped me in my tracks. He was wearing a t-shirt that was full of holes and a pair of pants that were torn. He had no shoes on. It is very cold at this time of the year and the wind is howling. He was pulling at his mother and trying to get her to go to the door. I asked if he was cold and his mother said yes, he is tired, he is asking to go home.

Now to go home, this little boy would have to walk, barefoot for at least 20 mins to get to the now dark mountain path to Tierra Linda. It would then be an hour walk up the mountain to their village and I don't know how much further to their home.

I could see that the little boy was very tired. This is before he starts this mammoth trip home. I asked the mother when she had last eaten....she said ...."oh we haven't eaten yet"...meaning all day. I could not help but think how my 6 yr old would be reacting...cold, hungry, barefoot and a good hour an a half walk up a dark, mountain trail.

I had brought a bag of jackets down to the office just in case there were children without jackets in this cold weather. I went and got these children jackets that thankfully you all had donated. The 3yr old was sitting on a chair when I came back with his jacket. I put the jacket on him and he looked up and gave me the sweetest smile. I felt his feet and they were ice cold and hard from walking barefoot all the time.

I sent for juice and snacks for each child and I arranged for the little boy to pass by my house. Berta would put shoes and socks on his feet and give the family a few bags of incaparina (a cereal) sugar so that they had something warm to drink when they got home. I heard the mother talking to another woman about how some days she doesn't even have corn to make tortillas for the children.

I felt humbled by the life this mother lives. She has four children that I know of. She sees these children hungry and suffering nearly every day. She walks long distances with them to try and get help. She was not complaining, she was smiling and grateful, thanking me for the help that they were receiving.

Me...who was feeling irritable because my computer connection was slow and I couldn't answer all the waiting emails, pressured because my husband and daughter were waiting to eat pizza with me....tired because I had been working long hours this week could I even compare my life to this woman....who in the face of all that she has to endure, was smiling and gracious, her children were not whining even though they were cold, hungry and had at least an hour and a half walk to go home. This woman and her family renewed my desire to do as much good as we can here in Guatemala. I felt very fortunate that we are able to help her as much as we can. It is not perfect, but at least her children can go to school, two of her children will go to the preschool so for at least 5 days a week they will not go hungry. Tonight they all have jackets and a 3yr old is not walking up the mountain barefoot. If we are lucky, someone will sponsor this family for food.

Thanks to all of you for providing the help for this family and for the families like this in the future.

My relationship with Mayan Families and all of the local organizations that I support grounds me. It reminds me, almost daily, that I am one of the lucky ones. I was born, by chance, into a family that could provide for me and in a country that would pick up the slack if they couldn't. I have never known what it was like to not have shoes or food or a sense of security. And, more important to me than anything else, I have never seen my children suffer and been powerless to help. Can you even imagine?

So, after a long absence from blog writing, Sharon's email inspired me to start tapping the keys. It called out to me and said, "Scream from the rooftops that all is not ok in the world. Share the stories. Touch people's hearts. Inspire others to give or to begin to think about giving. Be the change you want to see in the world."

And so, I hope I have done just that.

Your long lost (but now found) friend,

Just Beth


  1. I'm so glad 'Just Beth' is back! I had tears streaming from my eyes when I read Sharon's post this morning. I too wanted to broadcast it to everyone I know to try and motivate people to give!!! I feel so blessed with everything I have. Big hugs Beth.

  2. Welcome back, Just Beth! We missed you in all your wonderful, inspirational glory.

  3. "I once was lost but now I'm found...was blind but now I see." So glad that you are back, my friend and so happy that I checked your blog on a whim and found a new post.