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Guatemala Mission Trip 2013

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BC: be the | be the change you want to see in the world | With love to the children of Guatemala, until we meet again. Renata & Morgan

FC: A JOURNEY OF LOVE | A JOURNEY OF LIFE | Guatemala City January 19 - 26, 2013

1: "Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold."

3: Guatemala Facts * Population - 14,389,000 *The country is about the size of Tennessee * There are 22 Departments in Guatemala (like our states) * 9 million people live in Guatemala City, the country's capital * More than half of Guatemala's population is indigenous (stemming from the original Mayan cultures) *Despite being the largest economy in Central America, Guatemala has the lowest human development index of any country in the sub-region (this is a measure of life expectancy health and education) * Across the nation, 56 – 64% of all people live below the national poverty level of $2 per day; this rises to 75% living below the poverty level in rural areas * 21.5% of the population lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $1 per day * People who live in rural areas account for 91% of those who live in extreme poverty * 80% of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty compared to 40% of non-indigenous people.

4: Soccer is a favorite past time in Guatemala. People play in the streets all around the city. There are fields in most areas as well that always seemed to have a game going on. A field in the Maria Teresa Ghetto is shown above left; a game is played in the street in front of the ghetto above.

5: The 3 top products produced in Guatemala are coffee, bananas, and chocolate. The 3 top ways that money comes into the economy are: 1) money sent from family members who work in other countries, 2) tourism; and 3) coffee. | Spanish and 24 indigenous languages are spoken in Guatemala. The people of different indigenous regions don't understand each other. | 52% of people live in a one room house. Sometimes there are multiple families or generations living together. | 80% of Guatemalans cook on the ground or use a wood burning stove.

6: G H E T T 0 M A R I A T E R E S A

7: We visited the Ghetto Maria Teresa on our first full day in Guatemala. We waited in the car with Joel for Juanita, the President of the Ghetto Association, to meet us and take us in. We always felt safe with Joel; he understood where we could best serve, who to connect with at each place we went to, and how to best minister to the needs of those in a particular area. There are roughly 260 "rooms" in this ghetto, each one which sometimes houses up to 3 - 4 families. Above you will see the entranceway to the community.

8: Juanita, who is a resident here, is the elected “president” of this ghetto community. Residents elect one individual to hold this position; the president strives to make the community stronger and better, and works to maintain order. Juanita, who has held the position for many years, can be "ousted" and replaced at the residents' whim if they do not feel she is doing a good job. This is not a paid position, it is a position occupied based on love and the desire for good. Juanita selected 3 families for us to visit and pray with. We presented each one with a food basket. Along the way we visited with children and others who live in the community. Kathy and Immy, also from Brentwood, TN (they were surprise visitors here for the weekend!) and Jordin - whose mother sits on the Board of Directors of Dories Promise - came along. We each carried bags filled with small stuffed animals and toys, granola bars, crackers and candies that we passed out to children we met along the way.

9: Entering a world unlike any we'd ever seen...

13: Rooftop after rooftop of corrugated sheet metal.... Line after line of hanging laundry....

14: Being able to pass out stuffed animals, toys and treats to the kids was a highlight of our days. The children were so happy to see us, and so happy with the little we had to offer them. It was amazing - and sad - to take notice of both the differences and the similarities between the children in Guatemala and our children here in the States. On the one hand, the children seemed to have the same desires and playfulness; on the other hand, the children here had so little but were so happy with what they did have. The almost "demanding" nature of children in the U.S. could not be found in any of the children in the communities that we visited. We all fell in love with the beautiful children in Guatemala.

16: This is the first family that we met with. A mother (far right) and her 4 children live . As Mom told us their story (translated for us by Joel), with tears in her eyes and in her voice, she thanked us and other missionaries for helping to so vastly improve their living conditions. This family's one room house (shown here) has walls and a ceiling of corrugated metal, and the floor is similar to that of a cave - it is the uneven rock of a mountain, full of dips and holes. Before their "improved conditions", some of the walls were made of plastic bags and cardboard. Mom works 14 hour days (from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) and earns 600 quetzals per month - $80 - 85 USD per month. Notice the Christmas tree as mom does her best to provide a good life for her kids. The mismatched mini-statutes under the tree were obvious treasures to this family. | This is the first family that we met with. Juanita

17: As we listened to mom's story, we gained a better understanding of some of the problems that Guatemalans face. Through her tears, this mother told us that while she was able to secure a spot to in the school system for her son, she could not afford the supplies and thus lost the spot. There are not enough spaces in the school system in Guatemala for all children to attend. If you are lucky enough to get in, you are responsible for uniforms (required in all schools), supplies and transportation. If a family is unable to pay for these things, their children do not go to school. Because of the limited spaces available, if a child is unable to do well within two years, he/she loses their spot and is unable to come back. Too many others are waiting. Education is a precious resource that far too few Guatemalans can take advantage of. One of the daughters here did not make it past 1st grade. While only a 6th grade education is "required" in Guatemala, the average schooling completed is 3 1/2 years, except in rural areas where most children do not even complete first grade.

18: It was heartbreaking to hear how much the children in the ghetto suffer from the bug bites that are so pervasive. With the dirt and rock floors that are prevalent, and the gaping holes between sheet metal walls and ceilings - together with the warm climate all year round, bugs are always present. As the children scratch, they break open their skin and sores, and because of the dirty conditions they are surrounded by, in addition to lack of sinks and running water (and other sanitary measures), infection is common. As we listened to this family's story, the younger daughter (in brown here) subconsciously chewed on her hand, while the older daughter (who cried the whole time their story was told) had bites and sores up and down both arms. Morgan has asked for donations of anti-itch cremes and vitamins from our church and school community so as to help these children - and others like them - deal with their heartbreaking reality. We will send all that we are able to.

19: Ten years ago, there was just a beautiful mountainside here, much like you see here (this is just "next door" to where we were). Today, we have the ghetto. Joel estimates there are approximately 150 recorded ghettos in Guatemala City - as well as another 150 unrecorded ones. People "squat" in areas and after a few years petition the government for the land (which they had been using without objection). The government "gives" the land to the poor so that those in the community have someplace to live.

20: The second family we went to visit lived in a 3 room "house" made of corrugated sheet metal. Three families - 9 people - live here. This gracious family insisted that as their guests, we sit in the 3 chairs they had. A small table, 3 chairs, a refrigerator and a stove furnished this room. As with all the families we visited, we said a prayer for this family (complete with our hopes and wishes for them). After offering our own prayer, each family was given the opportunity to make requests for what they wished to pray for. Despite how little they had and all they lacked, all this family wanted to pray for was us. That we and our families would be safe and blessed, that we would have good travels and that we would stay healthy. I must say that I have never seen a more faithful people than those we met all over Guatemala. They were so hopeful and for the most part so happy. Our world could learn great lessons from the examples of this culture.

21: It was difficult to navigate our way through this community. While there were stairs and walkways through parts of the ghetto, there were no "ready made" paths through much of it. We climbed steep inclines made of packed dirt in many places, sometimes losing our footing and slipping. The mountainside was very steep; the "better" homes were up top, and the lower you went the worse off you were. Even in the ghetto communities there is a "pecking order".

22: The third family we visited included 27 year old mom, Maria, Dad, and 3 children. The oldest son is in 5th grade, the daughter (pictured with Morgan on next page) is in 1st grade, and the small boy is 2 years old. The dad, who wasn't present, travels 2 1/2 to 3 hours to work each way; he works most days, including many weekends. Maria "feels" witchcraft all around the ghetto, and evil spirits in her house. As we prayed together with hands joined,she indicated she felt prickles up her arms. Sadly, Maria is ill and is scheduled to have surgery on February 15th. She is unsure if she wants to go through with the surgery as it would be in the public hospital where conditions are very bad.

23: Like every family and person we met, this family was gracious beyond words. When Maria went to a back room, Joel told us that she has something for us and that we should make sure to accept it. Despite how little they had, Maria brought each one of us a glass of cola. It is hard to describe how it felt to accept something from a family who has so little. The giving was truly through the heart. The house this family lives in has cinder block walls and a poured cement floor. The government provided 40 such homes before they stopped building them some 8 years later.

24: In Guatemala, you are “required” to go to school through 6th grade. Most people do not. The average child will stay in school for 3 years, Rural kids have even less school. The average grade finished for rural girl children is 1.8 years. 90% of people don't finish 6th grade. 61% of people have no schooling. 9 of 10 rural schools have no books. 76% of indigenous children who enter 1st grade will not finish primary school. 31.3% of the entire countries population age 15 and older is illiterate; 51.5% of indigenous women are illiterate; 32.7% indigenous men are illiterate..

25: Outdoor kitchen and laundry

28: January 19 - 26, 2013 | C H I C K E N B U S E S

29: Everywhere you look you could see chicken buses. Chicken buses transport people from rural areas into the city so that they can sell their goods or go shopping. Most people in rural areas are too poor to own and operate their own vehicles so they rely on these buses to make a living and take care of family needs. Each indigenous region is represented by particular colors that are found both on the region's traditional dress and on its buses.. Because so many individuals in rural areas are illiterate, they rely on colors to determine which bus to get on. Chicken buses get their name because both people and goods - including chickens or other livestock - are transported via these buses. The top of the bus can store goods and is often where chickens and other livestock. can be found.

30: Whatsoever you do to the least of my people; That you do unto me. When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. Now enter into the home of My Father. Whatsoever you do to the least of my people; That you do unto me. When I was homeless, you opened your door; When I was naked, you gave me your coat. Now enter into the home of My Father. Whatsoever you do to the least of my people; That you do unto me. When I was weary, you helped me find rest. When I was anxious, you calmed all my fears. Now enter into the home of My Father. Whatsoever you do to the least of my people That you do unto me.

31: The currency in Guatemala is color coded due to the high rate of illiteracy in the country,. People can tell by the color of the bills they use what the denomination is. While it is sad to realize how many people cannot read, it is good to see that they have learned to adjust to allow those with lesser abilities to function in society.

32: How can you afford the "luxuries" of snacks if you can't afford the basics? Bread, toothpaste, gas......56 – 64% of all people earn wages below the national poverty level of $2 per day; 21.5% of the population lives in extreme poverty earning less than $1 USD per day. Welfare does not exist; Guatemalans must figure out how to feed themselves and their families on their own.

33: The High Cost of living in Guatemala | At the time we were in Guatemala the exchange rate was $1 USD to 7 - 7.50 quetzals. As such, gas, which was about $3.25 per gallon in Nashville was $4.61 USD here.

34: You do what you must do | In order to survive....

36: National Cemetery | Approximately 50,000 - 60,000 individuals are buried in the National Cemetery dating from the 1820s forward. While some Guatemalans choose cremation, the thrust of this culture chooses traditional burials. In addition to religious preferences for burial, burials tend to be less costly than do cremations. This large Egyptian-like structure memorializes a wealthy owner of a local beer company.

37: There are various "colonies" within the cemetery. Particular nationalities tend to bury their deceased among others like them. Represented here are the Jewish Colony, the Chinese Colony (above) and the British Colony (buried in the ground as is the custom in the U.S.) Others are buried in less traditional ways (bottom right).


39: It was easy to see the beauty that those who buried their loved ones here wanted them to be surrounded by. Unfortunately, the reality of the poverty stricken area led to other results as we saw graves sites broken into so that precious metals and other things of value could be obtained.

43: The individuals who are buried in mausoleum walls are "renters"; conversely, individual mausoleums are privately owned. Many of the families who bury their loved ones in mausoleum walls do not have the ability to pay the approximately $25 USD per year in rent. If no payment is made after 3 years, the crypt is bust open, the casket is removed, and it is thrown over the edge of the cliff - straight toward the city dump resting below. Even in death the poor and their families find no peace and continue to suffer.

44: There were vultures all around. Thousands of them. They flew from the cemetery down to the dump and back. While they flew away from us in fright, we were told that the birds recognize that those in the dump have low self-esteem and they do not fear them. Indeed, the birds and the people compete to see who will fork through the mounds first. A shockingly sad reality.

48: We were able to see the city garbage dump from atop. As we stood in the National Cemetery we got a first-hand view of the many Guatemalans who work in the dump - and some who call it home as well. We were unable to go into the dump due to the dangers that lurk therein. For one week during the year - Christmas week - the government allows "outsiders" in so that they can pass out food and other items to help the families attached to the dump have a better Christmas. | Guatemalans who access the dump pay 10 USD per year for a permit giving them the "privilege" of doing so. Only those 18 years of age and older are allowed in. The mortality rate for those working and/or living in the dump is low; the average life spans into only the 30s or 40s. Of the many gravestones we saw, many were far younger. So many of the gravestones remembered those who died between the ages of 20 to the mid-40s. Sadly, there were many who were far younger as well.

49: Here is the view of the dump from where we stood in the cemetery. This is just a small part of the area which was overwhelming to look at. The smell emanating from the garbage was so incredibly strong that you could "taste" it from where we stood. So heartbreaking to think of those who breathe this day in and day out... | You can see a garbage truck leaving the dump grounds. We were out in front here. The lady who is walking likely was selling refreshments inside the dump. Many people make their living attached in some way to the dump.

50: There is a sense of order and respect that dump workers have for one another. The first 16 - 18 individuals who touch the side of a truck get "first dibs" to sort through the load and take what they want. You can see individuals walking with the truck in the photo to the right. Once these workers are through, others are free to sift through things and get what they want. The dangers for workers extend beyond sharp or infected items contained in the garbage; sometimes these trucks slip given the terrain they ride on and persons walking alongside the truck are run over. Likewise, there is a bulldozer that pushes garbage to one side at certain points in time. If people are in its path and do not move, they are run over. The trucks do not stop assuming that people will move; if they choose not to move, it is at their own risk. Liability lawsuits such that we have in the U.S. do not exist in Guatemala where people are held accountable for their own acts. Common sense prevails.

52: Just outside the dump

54: Home within the city dump

55: Ghetto by City Dump

56: One hundred and sixty homes can be found in this ghetto community. Two or three families sometimes live in each. Flies were everywhere, and everything seemed to be coated in dirt. We visited "Safe Passage" one day. This organization, located near the dump, caters to women and children that are in some way connected to the dump (they live there, work there, etc.). Two hot meals and after school care is provided to 600 children. Strict rules must be adhered to in order to participate in these programs - you must attend school each day and complete homework. Drug and alcohol use is forbidden and will render you disqualified. An adult literacy program is in place to educate women thru 6th grade. This really improves chances of these women to get jobs as employers understand they can read. High school classes via radio are offered as is job training. We purchased jewelry and other items that women in the program made from goods recycled from the dump. Safe Passage provides the poorest of the poor a second chance at life. The organization was started by an American who gave up her life in America to help the poor in Guatemala. Sadly the founder of the organization was killed a few years after moving here; she was killed when the car she was driving was hit by a chicken bus. The organization carries on her dream and continues to grow.

58: The children were so excited to see us. A few ran out to greet us and to help us carry things in. We brought clothes, shoes, crayons, matchbox cars (Drake donated them!), foam airplane fliers, balls, crackers, candies and other small toys. One family was generous enough as to allow us to use their home as a distribution point. As families came we tried to match children with clothing and shoes that would fit. The children here graciously helped to pass out the toys and other treats. Never had we imagined that clothes my children wore would end up in another part of the world - to be worn by poverty stricken children. What a blessing it was to see the good that things we had once used and loved could do for others.

60: I remember clearly my daughters wearing some of these dresses. The one above was an all-time favorite. It makes me smile to think of how much joy these clothes will bring someone once again.

61: This little guy was overwhelmed with happiness when he spotted Drake's Sperrys. He immediately asked to try them on and was thrilled when they fit. I have a feeling they will serve him well. We were glad to be able to show Drake the difference he made in this child's life.

62: Morgan was a hit everywhere we went. The children seemed to look up to her and always wanted to be around her. I was so proud of how she extended herself and how she laughed and played with the children regardless of our language barrier. We truly found that the language of love is universal and so long as you had some to give you could always connect. The kind people in Guatemala were easy to love.

65: The children in Guatemala are beautiful and happy and kind. Always smiling and reaching out to us with open arms, they welcomed us unconditionally and made us a special part of their world. It was hard to see how quickly they seemed to have to "grow up" so that they could take on some of the responsibilities of their families. Because most houses in the ghettos we visited did not have running water, many children were responsible for filling buckets and vessels at an area water spigot so as to bring home to their families.

66: Loyal companions to families in what we would consider broken circumstances. We were warned before we left to be careful around dogs and other animals as rabies is a widespread problem in this country. The animals never bothered us or even came close no matter where we went. It was almost as if they had no energy to move around too much.

68: Some of our mission trip donations went toward having a cement floor poured for this family. A father and his three children live here with grandma. Mom died while giving birth to her youngest child who appeared to be about 8 years old. Dad was tearing out a cement floor that had been recently poured; the company who he paid to do the work poured a very thin floor which cracked and had other problems from the start. Unfortunately there are many unscrupulous people who prey on the poor. Our mission coordinator learned that a cement contractor lived in this community and now uses him to oversee all cement work that is done. It's a "win-win" situation all around now. | You can how water has soaked the cardboard wall here. Homes are made from different materials as they can be obtained. Electricity is often "jimmy-rigged" by people who have no funds to get hooked up.

69: Several days after meeting the family for the first time, we went back to see the results. The difference in the family's demeanor was powerful. There was laughter and smiles all around. The children ran and played with their cousin - around and around the cement floor they went. Hearing how thankful they were (through an interpreter) and seeing the pride and joy in their faces made it hard to stay composed. It was amazing to see the how something that we would consider so small.....is really so big to others. Knowing you make a difference is one thing. Seeing the difference you make is something else altogether.

70: Our mission donations also served to purchase a sink for the family who lives here. This family "recycles" items they find in the city dump; they can now wash them in their own home on their own time rather than making special trips to a pump that is shared by the entire community. It will be a tremendous help and will serve to make their lives just a bit easier. The family also grows items that it eats and sells so having water available in their house where the plants are harvested will allow a little extra time for some much needed rest. When did we last consider our sink a luxury? But for so many it is.....

71: Many homes are at least partially made of corrugated metal. The sheets of metal that are sold both new and used. The weather in Guatemala is pretty constant throughout the year with average highs in the 70s and average lows in the 50s. | The sink we purchased is unlike anything that we had ever seen. It was super-heavy weighing in at 500 pounds. I helped carry the sink for a few minutes, but even with 4 grown men carrying it with me, it was much too heavy. My heart felt ready to pound out of my chest and it was difficult to catch my breath. I have no doubt that this sink should last forever.

73: Despite what they lacked or the harsh conditions they lived in, people found reason to rejoice. Below you will see a plant just outside one family's home that "doubled up" as the family's Christmas tree.

74: Guatemala City is considered the third most dangerous place in the world. There is lots of corruption in the government and the police department, and there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. | Armed guards stood in front of most businesses. When you park in a store's lot, your car and license number are recorded as is time of arrival and departure. We never felt unsafe or scared with our awesome guide.

75: Most neighborhoods are run by gangs or by drug dealers. People prefer the drug dealers as they look to keep the neighborhoods "neat". 75% of neighborhoods in Guatemala are considered "red zones".

76: Despite the poverty and other issues in the city, we never came upon a more faithful, more gracious and more hopeful people. We were so comfortable here, so "at home". It was a humbling experience, and one in which we learned so much about ourselves as well as the world around us. Now the question becomes, "how can we tell the world about what we saw? About what we did....and about what they could do?" What if each one of us could help one person here, or in a part of the world like this? What a wonderful world this could be... One day we will get back. Until then, we will share our story.....in the hope that someone else can "fill in" until we can get there. Adiós, my friends, until next time..

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  • By: Renata D.
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  • Title: Guatemala Mission Trip 2013
  • Poverty in Guatemala
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