Well, I’m going back to Guatemala. On Labor Day. For three glorious weeks. Sometimes I wonder if I do this stuff just so I’ll have something interesting to write about here.
Almost the minute I got back, before I’d even unpacked some of my stuff, Beaven resumed his planning for his own trip to learn Spanish by immersion. He would go to Quetzeltenango, also known as Xela, for three weeks. He would live with a Guatemalan family. He would have one-on-one instruction at the school for five hours every day. He picked out a great school and the perfect time for him to go. I was basking in the idea of having the house to myself for three whole weeks. Uninterrupted Oprah watching and snacking on my favorite forbidden foods with no one the wiser.
But then he started telling me some of the cool side trips he could go on like Fair Trade Coffee farms and volcano hikes. I was still fresh from the confidence I built after a week of bi-lingual living when I begin to understand a lot of what is being said in Spanish.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, whether it was the twinkle in his eye or in my eye but the next thing I knew he was making airline reservations for two people on one computer and I was contacting the school on the other.
This is why people retire. This is why it’s best to retire early. Thank you, God. We know how lucky we are.
So now I’ve got about three weeks to finish telling you about the trip a couple of weeks ago. Then I should be able to report first-hand direct from an internet café in downtown Xela.
Today I want to tell you about the water treatment projects we visited and the Nutrition Program. We went to three different water treatment facilities but they were all basically the same. Each one was built through an organization called Living Waters for the World.
I’ve got pictures of pipes, valves, filters, tanks and spigots. Each system is housed in one of the Presbyterian churches we’ve come to know. They take the regular municipal (untreated) water that’s piped in from God knows where, purify it and fill five-gallon water jugs. Then they seal the jugs. They sell them at cost or give them away if you can’t pay.
Giovanni (our translator) and Ludin Leon as he explains the system
Our group has known first-hand what a serious issue clean water is in Guatemala. I will never forget the year we went to visit a church that had not received training on how to take care of the gringos. We knew by the look on our translators faces that these folks had made our refrescos from tap water instead of bottled water. Linda got so sick she needed an IV for dehydration and one of the translators ended up in the hospital. And this is how everyone in Guatemala lives. “Agua pura” is the only thing people will drink if they can afford to buy it. Last week I was asking an old friend Karla Cordon about it and she said bottled water is all her family drinks but she still gets sick sometimes.
I think you could look on the internet and get statistics that will tell you how much of the world has unsafe water sources. And then they marvel at Americans who bathe in drinking water.
So getting a water treatment source in a church is a big help in a community. We were able to visit three of these treatment plants and I think the Norte Presbytery has plans for three more. The equipment costs about $5,000 but $1,000 of that is paid by the Guatemala Presbiterio del Norte.
The other project we visited is one of our favorites that our cluster of churches began five years ago. Through the marvel of photography and skill of Nancy Gray, I can now show you a photograph I thought I had lost.
Miriam Leon explains to Loida Giron how they could do the Nutrition Project
It was 2002 and we were sitting in the courtyard of the Presbyterian Church in Usumaltan.
The year before , we had met Loida de Giron and painted the church in Berea pink. I could say it was a poor church in a poor town and I would be describing any church we’ve ever visited in Guatamala. But there was something different about the children we met that year. I’ve seen babies that were so poor they wore rags for diapers but these families were so poor they didn’t even have diaper pins and the rags were just tied onto the kids. They had a vacant stare and looked sick and droopy. Loida said we were looking at malnutrition. The only thing their mothers had to feed them was rice and beans. They never got meat or fruit. And we returned home that year with the question in our hearts, “What can we do?”
When we returned the next year we met another woman, Miriam Leon. She is a nurse and was working for the Christian Children’s fund in Usumatlan. She took us to her work one morning to show us how they track the kids’ progress and what they feed the kids to supplement their diet. The next day somebody managed to bring Loida to meet with us for breakfast and Miriam was there. And that’s when this photo was taken. I knew at the time it was a moment the world shifted, even if just a bit, even if just for a few hungry children. The lady who understood the problem met the lady with a solution and who should be watching but the ladies with the financial resources to pay for it?
For about $4,000 a year the program provides two meals and a snack for two days a week plus vitamins and parasite medicine for 20 children. The kids are weighed and measured to chart their progress. They get a bible study those days, the mothers get training in how to feed their families and three women in the host church get paid for doing the cooking and leading the bible study. One of the most exciting things to Linda and I back home was the fact that the woman came up with this plan, designed the program and run it themselves.
At the end of the year the program moves to another town, to another set of hungry kids to another family who needs a little help and education. Every year when we visit Guatemala we sit down with the Presbiterio del Norte Executive Committee, evaluate the program and give them a check for the next six months. Then, usually around December we send another six-month check.
Sometimes we wonder where we’ll get the money for another six months but it always comes. If you’d like to make a donation in someone’s honor as an alternative Christmas gift we can give you a really cool gift card. Just leave me a note in the comments section of the blog or email me.
Jesus told his disciples not worry about what they would eat or drink but He also told us to take care of each other. And this is what I think he meant.
2009 Nutrition Project kids at Iglesia de Nueva Jerusalen