Monthly Archives: January 2011
Well I guess I need to begin with an apology… I know many of my friends and family are quite frustrated with the lack of blogging from Guatemala… and for that I am sorry. I cannot however be sorry for the reason why there was the silence… lets just say that sheer exhaustion took over. My family and everyone in our group worked so hard to get everything done in the timeframe we had. That meant long days… most meals were grabbed on the way home at night from the Nutrition Centre and once we got back we would hang out for a little while and then one by one trickle off to bed. I think the latest I stayed up was just after 11pm once. Most nights it was crash by 9pm. The drive from camp to El Progresso was just over an hour one way and that took a toll on all of us as well. Keep in mind the roads are rough, winding and with many changes in elevation. Guatemala sure puts the human body through its paces… well perhaps its more doing Guatemala Doppenberg style that has a bit to do with it lol.
Hmmm where to begin? How about one more apology… this is 1 month worth of blogs in 1 so it may be pretty long… Read it in shifts if you must haha…Well last you heard I had said my painful mental goodbye to Estuardo from the Malnutrition Hospital. I have to tell you, there is much more to this story… Its funny, in one of our many evening conversations at camp our eldest son Zack said: “I don’t really go to youth at the church anymore, I find it sort of lame for me… I don’t feel God there like everyone else seems to…. I feel God here in Guatemala… Its where I know He is for me.”…. In so many ways, I agree with him. I get very overwhelmed by life here at home and bogged down in such un-necessary worries etc that, if I am honest, I go through the motions of faith a very large part of the time. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am dead inside until I get to a place like Guatemala and even though life is busy with doing our work there, we are very aware of God and how He is working in our lives. It all just seems more obvious… Anyway, a couple of days after our sad visit to the hospital we went to Yolanda’s village. Rachel had brought some toys etc she wanted to give away and if you’ve followed my blog for our last trip you know that Yolanda’s village is my version of Disney World. Kids of all ages rush to you and they are all happy and so thankful to have visitors. As soon as we got there I recognized so many faces from last year. They recognized us as well. What began as 10 kids quickly multiplied into 40 +. Within seconds the kids were climbing on us, hugging us, grabbing our hands to take us to see friends and family members etc. One little girl who I recognized from my favourite profile picture came up to me and hugged me. It was an awkward hug because she had a bundle in her arms. That bundle was a tiny baby. I asked her how old this precious little baby was and she said he was uno mes (one month)…. She put him into my arms and I couldn’t help but already love this tiny little sleeping baby. I asked her what his name was…. when she told me I was so taken aback I had to ask her to repeat it. I repeated it back to her just to be sure I wasn’t crazy. His name was Estuardo…. born around the exact same time that my Estuardo passed away. Instantly my eyes filled with tears…. A feeling of happiness came over me…. I had been quite sad inside and been overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness after finding out my Estuardo passed away and instantly that was gone. God gave me a gift in that moment. The gift of Hope. I quietly whispered to Geoff that the baby’s name was Estuardo… Geoff was shocked in his own way… I looked across the yard to see Rachel and the others being mobbed by kids. Rachel and I locked eyes and she came toward me. As soon as I told her this little miracles name she too was shocked in a good way. Everyone knew that this was totally God showing Himself to me so I would have renewed hope. It’s these moments more than any that are the reason I love Guatemala so much.
The next weeks work wise were fairly much the same day in, day out. We were joined by Dave, Sarah and Jenn just under a week into our trip. The day after they arrived we began our intense work schedule, having used the week prior to their arrival to set up everything and get materials ordered. The first few days were devoted to going up the mountain to deliver bricks so Martin (the builder) could begin construction on the adobe mud brick home we were building for Mynor and his family. Mynor’s daughter Lisbia we met last year has undergone 1 of the 2 operations to fix a cleft palate and we hope she gets the other operation soon! Within a few hours of beginning to carry those adobe bricks (which I will say, I had forgotten how much I despise carrying those heavy, awkward things), I put one down in an area and I must have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time because I didn’t notice the ones behind were falling like dominoes…. I may not have seen it coming, but I sure felt it when it crushed my knuckle. When I looked at my hand at first I was kind of shocked. Zack was beside me and he screamed to Geoff that he was pretty sure “mom just broke her knuckles”. The blood and swelling made it look much worse than it actually was and although I was out of commission for the rest of the afternoon as far as carrying was concerned I was fine the next day. It hurt still… and kind of still does at times but overall it was a near miss! Whew!
After Martin had all the bricks he needed we were off to El Progresso and to our work on the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro. Day in and day out there we painted, replaced roofs and remodelled a bathroom. Frank and Laurie from Southridge and Ryan & Pete from Toronto joined our team a few days into work there and were truly a Godsend! Frank worked so hard on that bathroom that had he not been there Im sure the work in there wouldn’t have gotten done in time. Laurie truly was our painting superstar and truly showed how awesome she is by volunteering to paint the Rojo Oxido, which was a terrible, pudding consistency red paint that was used for bottom trim and a multitude of metal bars that were tedious beyond your wildest imagination. All of us harboured a special hatred for that red paint…. and I truly am surprised we survived that experience ahahaha. The building, the windows, the bars, the gates all did get painted and it truly looks fantastic even considering none of us are professionals! Ryan, Peter, Geoff and Zack set out to work on replacing the 2 roofs that we raised money for. So many more roofs need to be replaced there but this was a great start! One roof was a huge undertaking because large heavy panels of asbestos needed to be removed and then metal panels put on it its place. The metal roof panels in Guatemala are much thinner than here and just as the guys began to work with it, out of no where the wind began. It made doing the roofing very dangerous not only because of gusts on the roof making life hazardous but also because if the wind caught one of those panels it would act like a razor blade and slice any exposed skin to ribbons. Ryan was the first victim and gashed himself pretty badly. I have to send a shout out to Pete and Ryan… truly our roofing superstars as well… Game ball for roofing goes to you guys! There were issues, problems and fatigue throughout the weeks… It all got done though… the roofs are done…. and the painting is done. We called in reinforcements in the form of Ed and Andy from another team to join us one day because the plumbing and electrical at the nutrition hospital was a total Guatemalan nightmare. They did an amazing job figuring it all out for us in the 1 day they were there and we were able to continue and complete the bathroom on the very last day there. Just under the wire but we did it! Funny part was having Hermana Veronica leading me around by the hand showing me other things that needed to be done as if we would never return. The poor woman doesn’t understand out commitment… I assured her that we would return next year and the year after, and the year after etc etc haha. Hermana Mercedes and all the sisters were very pleased with everything we did and are compiling a list for next time! Thanks to everyone who helped and donated money…. thanks to all of you, the hospital has a functional bathroom for bathing babies now, 2 new roofs to keep those kids and sisters healthy and dry…. and a like new building that is bright and will help promote hope and healing for the families and children at the hospital!
I’m going to take a little time now and tell you about another couple of miracles that occurred for us in our time in Guatemala. You see, I took Phase 1 Spanish at Niagara College before our trip. Phase 1 provides you with a very minimal base of the language… It does not prepare you to talk with anyone lol. You can order a drink in a restaurant but not drywall at a bodega. We were lost, confused and generally in some serious trouble. That’s when God stepped in and sent Geoff to a paint store. In that paint store as Geoff struggled, God sent Fernando out of the back room…. Fernando speaks amazing english and as they say, the rest is history. Fernando lived in an English speaking country for years and returned home to help his retired parents. We formed a very strong friendship with Fernando… we went out for dinners with him… he took us to his home and we met his parents and quite quickly became like family to us. His amazing mother made a traditional meal of Guatemalan tamales (which just happen to be my favourite food after trying them for the first time last year), which are not easy to make and are therefore saved for very special occasions like Christmas etc. What an awesome time we had with Fernando and his family. We rode horses, talked, toured and laughed for hours. It truly was a time all of us will cherish in our memories and hearts forever! I know in my heart that we have made lifelong friends now in Guatemala and we will be heading back to visit them asap.
Now, the best part of all…. Last year there was a family that lived at camp… Mynor, Vicenta, Dinora (Claudia), Mainitor, Moso, Lusvin and Jose David. Im sure you have seen my pictures of my boys with their kids. They played and our families truly cared for one another. Claudia would greet us every morning with a smile and a hug… some of our team and family worked with her helping her to learn English. Our boys and their boys played and laughed so much together despite the language barrier. Truly it was an honour to get to know them. Sometime after our last visit the family left camp and moved to Jalapa. Everyone from camp lost touch with them. When we arrived this time our first question to Mario and his family (the new family that lives at camp) was if anyone knew where Mynor and his family had moved. No one knew. Our boys (and quite frankly us) were devastated. It became our personal mission to find the family. One Saturday afternoon we drove around Jalapa for hours searching and searching but to no avail. Jalapa is not a huge city but it is still pretty large and trying to find a few people is comparable to the proverbial needle in a haystack. Geoff and I resigned ourselves that this family was lost to us… That Monday morning Geoff and Zack had to go into Jalapa to order wood needed for the house that was being built up in the mountain (which by the way is being built for a different Mynor). Zack and Geoff were talking and all of a sudden out of the corner of his eye Zack spotted the Mynor we had been looking for! He screamed for Geoff to pull over and apparently the reunion was the stuff of movies! Just when we had given up, God put Mynor and our van on some random street in Jalapa…. as if to say…. Never, EVER give up Hope! Have I not shown you before what I can do?
Later that day we set out to visit the family. Me and the little guys couldn’t wait to see them! When we got there it was like a reunion of best friends that hadn’t seen each other in years. Claudia for me was the most special. As it turned out it was her 13th birthday and when she saw me she threw herself into my arms and didn’t let go for a very long time. Once my tear filled eyes dried enough to look around I was astounded by the living conditions this family had to endure. There was 1 room with several beds and a few blankets… then a kitchen/living area that only had 1/2 a roof on it. The rest was totally open to the elements! It became obvious to me that this was an old workshop of sorts that was now being rented as a home. To be totally honest, the adobe mud brick huts up in the mountain are better then this!!! In as gentle a way as possible without hurting Mynor’s pride we asked him if we could help him in some way. He was totally receptive to the idea, and I thank God for that. I could not sleep at night knowing that this family was living like that… we knew we had to do something! Claudia chatted on in Spanish and even though I could only catch a few words per sentence I figured out enough that she was ready to attend school taking some courses equivalent to our ‘college’ for computers so she could get a job. She asked if we could help her get her computer working so she could go. She brought out the computer and it was the largest, clunkiest, oldest computer I had seen… (and trust me, I learned on a commodore 64… no windows, only dos). I told her that there was no way that was going to get fixed… not by us anyway… I felt awful. When we left Mynor’s home I cried yet again. I didn’t understand how any of the stuff I have seen in Guatemala is fair. We have so much… others have so little… I simply don’t understand the world and how it spins sometimes so wildly out of sync. For the next weeks, we visited Mynor and his family several times. Each time we brought lamina to help close in his roof… blankets for the children to be warm at night… money from us to fix his motorcycle so he can work….metal to build a chimney so his stove smoke won’t choke the baby…. food…. prayers, hugs, support and encouragement!
During our last week we decided to talk to our team…. What did they think about putting some money together to buy Claudia a new laptop? Fernando, our new friend had done some searching and found a small mini laptop for $250.00 USD. Everyone without question was in. Everyone understood that if Claudia gets a useful education she can get a good job and help support her family. That is the goal of every family in Guatemala… do whatever it takes to take care of each other because family is everything! It truly is a blessing to watch unfold. That night, we all piled in the truck… all our team and Ed and Andy from the other team and headed to Mynor’s. Once inside I had the privilege of presenting Claudia with a note, handwritten in English… signed by everyone… translated into Spanish by Fernando and the box containing her new computer. She began to sob before she even opened the box. She clung to me crying… I held it together long enough for her to say a choked “gracias” and then we just stood there together holding each other. Looking over at her dad standing behind everyone I could see the tears in his eyes. We all left, with a feeling that is indescribable. Geoff hung back and as we all piled into the van, Mynor was clinging to Geoff, unable to speak he was crying so much. It truly was quite a moment. We saw the family one more time just before we left Guatemala. It was sad to say ‘adios’… but I know its not goodbye now. I left Claudia all my contact information so she can email me once she gets into school and figures out email. Mynor stopped us before we left and presented us with a handwritten letter that I have sitting beside me right now. It says words like… “pain”… “tears”…. “new hope”… “blessing” …. Once I got the letter translated it made my cry yet again…. it was one of the most heartfelt things I had ever read. It was as though just when I think I know and understand why God has placed Guatemala so firmly into my families hearts something else springs up to let me in on a new reason… a new hope… a new spirit. I will cherish the people I’ve met, that letter, the pictures, video and the memories I have from Guatemala forever.
People ask me all the time why we do what we do…. I always say I honestly do not know why…. I just know that I will continue to do it as long as I am physically able. There is something about my life right now that just feels right. Like my life pre-Guatemala was missing something and now its been filled. I cannot explain it any better than that…. I know when I am home there is a piece of my heart that seems to be missing… like I am only whole and complete when I am there with my family doing what we do. There was a news crew at the hospital one day wanting to interview us…. my lovely team threw me under the bus and nominated me since I knew more spanish than any of them haha… The last question the man asked me was: “Why do you do this work here in Guatemala?”… I struggled to think of an answer in English, never mind translate it into Spanish …. I said the first thing that came into my head…. “Porque Jesucristo!” … Because of Jesus Christ. ….. You know what… that answer works for me!
Thanks so much again for all the prayers and support…. All of you who donated money, time, sweat, tears, prayers, thoughts, love etc…. You will never understand how much it all means to me, my family and the people who’s lives you’ve touched. Until next time…. (and who knows it could be sooner than you think…. )…. Dios te bendiga (God Bless You)…. Rita… and Geoff, Zachary, Lucas and Gabriel.. xoxo
I’ve sat staring at a blank page for an eternity. I find writing take a lot out of me…. Putting my heart and soul out there for all to read is something I find very draining… but here goes nothing.
Being here in Guatemala again seems almost unreal at times. It’s our 3rd visit here in 2010 and that makes it seem unreal… and yet it feels so much like home its scary. The family dynamic we have here is unlike anything we experience anywhere else on the planet. We bicker less, we annoy each other less and we are way more simply a family here. There is no tv, no major distractions so we spend time together doing family things… after working that is… haha
Rachel, one of my youth girls is along with us for a portion of this trip. She expressed that she really felt God was leading her to go so after much thought and discussion between her parents and us we decided to have her accompany us for 12 days. I have to say its amazing to watch a fresh young mind with fresh young eyes see this place for the first time. Its beauty, its people etc. She has fit right into our family and is having the time of her young life. At times she struggles here as we all do. The physical struggle of the work is manageable, it’s the emotional struggle dealing with the broken-ness of our world that is hardest to manage. She expressed through tears the other night that she feels ridiculous complaining about anything in her life after seeing what she has seen here in the short time she has been here. I know that feeling… my entire family does… and I also know that fades after time but I also know that there is a piece of this place that stays with you forever. It’s impossible to come here and not be changed. We are all thankful for each other here… We talk together, cry together, pray together and bond together to help each other manage all we see and feel as a unified community. We can also feel the prayers from home and for those we are eternally thankful!
A few days after arriving here we travelled to the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro to see Hermana Mercedes and gather material lists for the work projects we fundraised for. A trip to the malnutrition hospital is always a struggle for me, a beautiful struggle but a struggle none the less. It was at this place just over 10 months ago that my life was forever changed by a tiny 17year old boy, severely malnourished with brain damage, confined to a crib, by the name of Estuardo. For those of you that have followed my blog you will remember Estuardo rocked my world and my perception of just about everything. Months ago, I cried as I stroked his head and swore to help him and others like him. I knew then and there that God led me to that place to show me the new path for my life. I remember crying more that day than I ever had in my life…. Crying for the needless suffering that severe mal-nutrition brings. I cried at the hospital, the car ride home, back at camp, through dinner, and most of the night as my life changed in an instant.
I guess you could compare it to the Grinch and how his heart grew 3 sizes that day. The day I met little Estuardo lying in a crib my heart not only grew but it changed completely. I would never, ever be the same and I knew it from the moment I laid eyes on him.
All the way to the hospital I wondered how he was and I was so excited to see the boy who unknowingly changed my life. It’s very true what they say… you never quite know how you are affecting the lives of those around you….
After touring the hospital and getting the necessary material lists for the main building repairs it was time to head to the nursery building. My heart was beating fast and I was shaking all over. A familiar face was there to greet us when we walked into the nursery. A tiny little 5year old boy who could not walk during our last visit. We were pleasantly surprised to see him scurrying around on solid legs, he was walking! The rest of the nursery was quiet and pretty much empty except for 2 small girls in strollers and one baby in a crib. The baby was obviously blind and had a severe facial deformity. Basically the worst case of cleft palate I have ever seen where her front teeth were completely visible because they were where her top lip should have been.
I asked Mario to ask Hermana Mercedes where all the children were. She explained that ones that are healthy enough can go home for Christmas to spend time with their families. My heart leapt. I asked about Estuardo. Mario translated that Estuardo was indeed home!!! I smiled so wide and for a brief moment I was elated! Hermana Mercedes sensed my misunderstanding and quietly spoke to Mario to translate. By the look in her eyes I knew instinctively and I held my breath. Estuardo went home to Jesus one month ago. Estuardo had died……
Instantly my eyes filled with bittersweet tears and the room began to spin. I felt the eyes of everyone, my family, Rachel, Hermana Mercedes on me and I began to cry quietly and walked away for a moment. While I know that Estuardo is with God now and free of the pain, suffering and strife of this world it still broke my heart for the loss from this earth a beautiful boy that the world will never have the pleasure of knowing. I had a completely human reaction. As I walked back to join the others I saw all the love and compassion in their eyes. They understood. My family knew Estuardo and all that he meant to me. Even Rachel who had never met Estuardo but had heard me talk of him understood completely. After a few more discussions of renovations etc we were back off home to camp. The 1 1/2hr ride back was very quiet as all rides back from the hospital are. I shed tears yet again on that ride home.
That night I walked around the ground of Esperanza staring up into the night sky. I wish I could describe the night sky here in Guatemala and do it justice. Suffice it to say that there is no denying the existence of God when you gaze up into a clear sky here with its countless stars twinkling everywhere. To me Estuardo is one of those stars… far away and beautiful. I picture him laughing, playing and running into the arms of Jesus… all things he was incapable of doing here on earth in his frail, broken earthly body. I know he is healthy and happy now in Heaven.
Little Estuardo is my twinkling star… forever a piece of me now… I look forward to a day when I can see him again, hug him and tell him exactly what he meant to me and how he changed my life. For now I will be content to remember him every time I see a star twinkling in the night sky anywhere in the world. God speed little one!