Saturday, August 11, 2012

Amazing sights!

Well, we are back online!  Sorry about not checking in yesterday, but we had internet issues with the huge rains here.  A little update:
Yesterday was a long travel day as we left the Guatemalan highlands and journeyed back to Guatemala city, with a stop at Lake Atitlan.  We left at 6 am and traveled through the hills - up and down, around and over we went, finally stopping at Panohachel and Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes I´ve seen.  It has 3 volcanoes and numerous other peaks and valleys surrounding - it truly is stunning!  We had a nice few hours there and headed back up to Guatemala city, which took forever with traffic.  Traffic in a country like Guatemala is really interesting, to say the least.  With no laws, no speed limits, very strange road engineering, tiny streets, driving rain, and older cars - it is a miracle we made it anywhere!  In fact, every time we passed someone successfully, Salamon would say, "Gracias a Dios!"  And you had to say Amen!  After finally arriving home, the girls were able to meet some other youth in the neighborhood and be a part of a group meeting.  They had a lot of fun!  In fact, the girls have been able to meet many other people, and it is a wonder that in this day and age, people can connect up with others so easily through the internet.  (I really think the cellular and internet revolution might be a huge impetus to getting underdeveloped countries out of poverty.  None of these things were here 20 years ago, and now you see peasant farmers with cell phones making connections, and taking calls as they meander down the road with cows!  Technology may be a giant salvo in the "war on poverty" that is so needed).

Today we flew from Guatemala city to Tikal, in the northern province of Peten, here in Guatemala, to see the Mayan ruins there.  This is an amazing place.  It is in the jungle and has hundreds of ruins from the Mayan culture which peaked in the area in the 8th century.  Did you know the Mayan culture flourished for over 1700 years?  Wow.  I hope the US can make it to half of that!  We wandered through these amazing ruins with a guide, sweating, sweating, sweating - it was so hot and humid in the jungle!  But it was a lot of fun!  Meeting other tourists, other Guatemalans - our Spanish is getting so much better!  After a final goodbye to Salomon & Mery, we decided to give our remaining cash towards their work with the poor in Uspantan.  People like Maria need it a lot more than New Vision Partners does!  We feel like this trip has been a great success. 

Thank you for all you did to help make this happen!  We return home tomorrow, tired, our hearts full, our minds expanded, thankful for this opportunity.  "Gracias a Dios" and "Dios le Bendiga!"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Life in Guatemala

Today was a day where we saw and experienced what life is and isn´t for Guatemalans.  We met Maria, and her daughter Katherine, who had not had any food today, and whose house was muddy from the rain yesterday.  Maria´s husband left her and took her son with him, leaving Maria to fend for herself, her daughter, and her blind father.  She is not making it.  Often she does not have food.  She certainly has no medical care or retirement, only a mud hut with a small plot of corn.  Her house has a tin roof, with many openings so smoke can escape from the ever-present fire.  She is Mayan, and her one bit of hope for the future is that, as of now, her 12 year old daughter attends school.  She needs prayer and help.  We gave her a few gifts, and the daughter and mom were visibly moved.  But she needs long term help.  Her plot of land is enough to give her food for about one month a year.  Imagine if she had a larger plot to feed her family for a whole year?  This would cost about $1000.  A new house made of wood would cost $2000, so the family wouldn´t have to sleep in the mud.  Not much money to change a life.

We are having a lot of discussions about poverty, the role of the government, self-initiative, opportunity, education.  One person I asked, ¨what is the greatest need in Guatemala today?"  The answer is "lack of opportunity."  But the situation is getting better here.  Salomon and Mery say that more and more Mayan children are going to school, which was not the situation 30 years ago, as evidenced by Katherine.  She is on her way to a better life than her mother if she can keep up with her education.  The poor her are so much poorer than in the US, a point that rankles workers here, and flummoxes non-profits in the US.  What do you do with that information?

On the other side of life today, we swam in a pool, milked cows, took a crazy journey in a 4 wheel drive road up a ghastly mountain road, made tortillas, and had wonderful conversation!  I´m not sure I´ll post any pictures of everyone in the back of the pickup as we veered up sheer drop-offs!  But it was a blast and everyone had a great time!  The gals are making friends with young children everywhere as they are outgoing, bringing little gifts, and have a winsome playful spirit.  We took 3 of them on our mountain drive and got rained on, though we did have a significant cultural breakthrough by our sharing of One Direction songs underneath the tarp!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ninos y lluvia

Today was a wonderful day of seeing what is possible here in the mountains of Guatemala.  During the morning, we visited 2 schools that Salomon & Mery have built.  Both are primary schools, both needed roads constructed to even reach them, and both were began and paid for by the Hernandez family until the government recently began paying the teachers.  These schools reach the poorest of the poor here in the Guatemalan highlands.  We were treated like kings, and that is because of our association with the Hernandez family!  The students put on a show for us, as each grade either performed a song, recited poetry, or danced.  They were so excited to see us, with the dozens of children gathering around us, wanting to touch us, and play with us.  Our young women were so popular with the little girls!  I took the boys and played a huge soccer game (I didn´t score any goals...).  We brought soccer balls originally intended for Rwanda with Lorna Miller, but they came too late, and we were able to take brand new soccer balls and give them to the schools, which they will love!  We also sang a song and danced the macarena (that wonderful international bridge-builder!), and this was well received.  These places truly feel on the edge of the world, but they are hungry to study, which is their only opportunity out of poverty.

Shelly Hernandez has been operating a backpack and school supply drive for 500 children for the last few years.  Initially, she got some help from the Rotary in the U.S., but now she is on her own.  Might this be a project for NVP to get involved with?  Think of the backpack drives we are involved with in the US, and now consider that here students won´t go to school at all if they can`t come up with a few dollars for school supplies.  I might try to make some connections for this.

Later in the day it really started to rain hard, as we are on the edge of tropical storm Ernesto, so we played cards, and walked around the town.  You simply can´t believe the roads we drive on - they are so rugged!  I know my wife would be closing her eyes and praying much of the time we are getting around here!  Today it was in the back of a pickup in the rain bouncing around little rutted mountain byways.  Ah, but this is the stuff of adventure!

Oh, by the way, the girls got up at 5:30 am to milk cows...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Journey to Uspantan

Today was basically a travel day.  We left Guatemala city around 9 am, and drove a few hours into Chichicastenango, which is a vast market that reminds you of something from an Indiana Jones movie.  Thousands of people plying their wares - most of them indigenous Guatemalans.  The smell and sounds overwhelm you!  But this trip was amazing as we careened up and down mountains to get to this place.  Highways here are pretty much nonexistent - most everything is a two lane road or one lane trail.  Our driver is Shelly, Salomon and Mery´s daughter, and she did a great job of getting us here.  The scenery here is absolutely stunning:  picture grand mountains like the Sierras, but instead everything is completely green, dotted with trees, patchwork farms, and little casitas everywhere.  So while the scenery is spectacular, the journey is exhausting!  We are now here at Salomon and Mery´s house.  We will be visiting various projects in the mountains tomorrow, so we are excited about that.  Our group is doing great - having a great time, really interacting with everyone.  Our Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds!  Though I have to say, the three girls laugh at my butchered Spanglish.  But hey, as long as things get communicated, that´s the goal, right?  It will be difficult for me to upload pictures here as the internet is very sketchy.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wonderful work in Guatemala

Today was a very full day, and very inspiring!  First we visited Westmont Bethel Hospital here in Guatemala City.  Our hosts, the Hernandez family, have basically created this hospital out of nothing, and it is very impressive.  A four story building, which they built, this hospital has an emergency room, x-rays, ultrasounds, examination rooms, surgical rooms, post-op rooms, a nursery for newborns - in short it is a full-blown hospital that serves the poor here in Guatemala City.  About 40% of its expenses are paid for by people paying for their services here, and about 60% are paid for by donations, mainly from people and groups from the states.  A high percentage of their clients are indigenous people, who are on the lowest rung of society here, and face a lot of discrimination.  There is no health insurance here, and if you cannot pay, you simply go without medical care.  So this hospital is doing a wonderful work, and seeing 1000 patients a month!  The eldest of the Hernandez family are Salomon and Mery, who Jenni and I know, and who do a lot of fundraising with people in the States.  Their son, Danny, is one of the 5 doctors on staff at the hospital.  Their daughter, Shelly, who we are staying with, is the head administrator on the personnel side.  It is amazing how this vision has sprouted and grown over 20 years!  It is inspiring for our group to see people dedicate their lives to helping the poor, and provide an opportunity for those who have a lot in terms of resources to be able to give back.

After touring the hospital, talking with patients, and seeing a newborn baby, it was off to Antigua.  Antigua is a beautiful old colonial city surrounded by hills and volcanoes, and it has lots of language schools and tourists!  But, it is so beautiful and charming - it is easy to see why people love to come and visit!  The three girls in our group absolutely loved shopping there!  It was hard to pull them away!  They felt they could stay there for a lot longer!

For dinner, we returned to Guatemala City for dinner with Rob Cahill, who works with the indigenous Mayan people as well near a city called Coban.  Rob and his wife Tara are doing some amazing work in educating girls.  Many indigenous girls are married by 14 or 15, and then become pregnant soon after.  Rob and Tara are working with @150 young girls, teaching them life skills, and providing scholarships for their schooling.  Many girls stop going to school because of the prohibitive cost, which is around $100 a year.  Rob and Tara are also building a fruit and coffee plant, which will bring food from indigenous farmers directly to consumers here in the US and elsewhere.  They are doing awe-inspiring holistic work with the poorest of the poor by giving them opportunities educationally, economically, and socially.  Our group was so impressed by them.  They are the ones with the bird-watching program and the Cloud Forest, which we unfortunately cannot visit because the road is washed out and we simply don´t have the time to go all the way around to see their wonderful work.  Next time, the group says, we need to go there for a week!

Now we are back home in Guatemala City.  We are worn out, but full of inspiration and potentiality as we see what good-hearted people are accomplishing around the world!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Welcome to Guate!

After an all night flight we arrived in Guatemala City at 6 am this morning.  What a luscious, green landscape, with green hills and volcanoes dominating the horizon!  We met our hosts, the Hernandez family and came to their home for breakfast.  We met them over 20 years ago when Jenni and I visited them on a whim in Uspantan.  They inspired us to have a heart for the poor, but more about that later!  Then it was off to their church, a large, large Pentecostal church which felt more like America than Guatemala!  After lunch at Pizza Hut, we visited the Metropolitan Cathedral and Presidential Palace in central Guatemala City.  Like many urban cores, this area boasts impressive old buildings and a decaying neighborhood.  The central market, though, was filled with thousands shopping on their day off - Domingo.  Our hosts were nervous being there, as the area is fairly dangerous, so I kept a close eye on my charges!  After a few souveniers, it was back home for dinner and now an early bedtime.  We are all tired, and looking very much forward to visiting the hospital tomorrow.  Sorry, no pictures today.  But I´ll have some tomorrow!