Posted by: geolocke | 2015/01/26

The Smiling Eyes of Guatemala

When I think of Guatemala, the first thing that comes to my mind are the eyes and the smiles on the faces of her people. Their eyes, even the eyes of her youngest, are touched with a look of care and a sense of their presence in the world in which they live. The life that they live demands so much of them, just existing day-to-day, that their eyes are often “branded” with an expression of resolute purpose. But then, at the sight of a friend, a family member, a loved one, their eyes are transformed in an instant into beacons of joyous love. Smiles erupt from their faces and they cannot contain the joy of their hearts. Bright flashing smiles set on gentle tan faces with dark glittering eyes. This is especially true of the children that I have met who positively radiate the joy they feel throughout their entire body, illuminating their whole essence. This is a people who even when living in physical poverty still place their greatest treasure, their love, out in plain sight for all to see.

Growing up, I never thought of Guatemala except as a Country on a map, south of Mexico. From time to time a news article would appear concerning some trouble or another, but nothing that ever affected my life. Then one Sunday morning years ago, a man I did not yet know stood up before our congregation and asked for help. He told us about some of the children of his Country, Guatemala. He told us about how the majority of the citizens lived in a state of poverty that had taken its toll on the poorest families in his Country. He told us how years of civil war had left almost 600,000 orphaned children in his Country. He told us of families that lived in garbage dumps, some spending their entire lives there, living off the scraps thrown away by others.

This man, Allan, whom I did not yet know, then told us about a dream of his to build a school in his Country for the poorest of these children. It would be a place where the homeless children could come to live. They would have a home where they would be fed, clothed educated and loved. It would be a place where the homeless children of his country would be given a chance to break the cycle of poverty that had such a strong grip on their lives.

Allan then continued to tell us about his last trip home to Guatemala, and how he came to discover an existing school in a town called Chichi that served girls from Mayan Villages surrounding the town, and how this school was in dire need of help. He told us how the sleeping quarters were arranged so as to avoid the leaks in the roofs when it rained. He told us about how when it rained, sewage would back up through the drains into the buildings. He told us that only the teachers had text books and these they had to share with one another. And he told us how, when food was available, meals for 200 girls were prepared over a single wood fired stove. There where many days when the Sisters running the school did not know where they were going to get the food to feed the girls. He then asked for our help so the girls could be fed. He told us that if 200 families in our parish could each sponsor one girl for $30 a month, then each girl at the school would be fed and that they would also be able to purchase hygienic necessities. That is how the “Children of God” mission began at our church, with that one impassioned plea for help on a Sunday morning many years ago. My wife and I signed up to sponsor one of the girls that very morning.

The next spring I happened to pass this man in the parking lot of our church and stopping to talk to him, I told him that I thought that what he was doing was really great and how I hoped that I might be able to visit his country some day to see these children for myself. He invited me to join him on his next trip that coming summer and on a whim I decided to join him. It is a decision that I will never regret having made. I found Guatemala to be a country with so much beauty that it can not be captured with a camera or with pen and paper. Her people are warm and friendly, even those who live amid a level of poverty that shocked my North American senses. By the time I returned home I had found a new friend in Allan and I had fallen in love with the Country of his birth and her people. I wanted to do more to help the girls in Chichi, and I wanted to help my new friend build his school for the homeless children of Guatemala.

It has now been 14 years since that first Sunday morning call for help and a lot has changed for the Girls at Chichi. Through voluntary donations, from within our parish and from outside our parish, the quality of life for the girls at Chichi has improved dramatically. The first and most visible change is that the girls are well fed and healthy now. But there have also been major physical improvements made to the school itself. These big projects are due to the voluntary response of companies, groups, and individuals who have learned of our efforts and who have donated their time, their talent and their treasure in order to help improve the lives of these children. New roofs have been put on the dormitories and the school buildings. There have been text books purchased, not only for the teachers, but for the children too. A library has been built and filled with books, and it is used not only by the school, but by the whole community. The antiquated kitchen with its wood fired stove has been replaced with a modern kitchen, where meals can be prepared in a sanitary manner. The sewer overflow problem has been eliminated and the bath house has been refurbished. And most recently, an entire new classroom building has been constructed to allow for the addition of three more years of education that allows the girls to complete their education.

Throughout the years several things have remained consistent. First and foremost is the willingness of individuals to sponsor these children and to ensure that they are fed daily. Another constant is the willingness of companies and individuals, both those with great means and those with little means, to donate their time, materials, labor and their money to make the larger improvements in Chichi a reality. But behind it all, the thing that remained most constant was my friend Allan’s drive to build a school for the homeless children of Guatemala; To take the many blessings that he had received in his life and to offer them back as a gift for the homeless children in Guatemala. Unfortunately, Allan did not live to see the completion of his dream.

I believe that it is not just chance that every time we took on another big project at Chichi, the persons that could make it a reality came to us and offered to help. I believe that we were meant to help rebuild the school in Chichi as a way of preparing for the larger task of building the new school that Allan first dreamed about. And while work on the school in Chichi was continuing, Allan never stopped sharing his vision about building a school for the poorest Children of Guatemala with anyone who would listen. And when his illness grew and spread, others stepped in and made Allan’s vision of a school for Guatemala’s poorest children into their own vision. Today, that vision is a reality.

I believe that all these things happened for a reason. For us who are of religious belief, this is called the providence of God. I have no idea why God chose me to become friends with Allan, or to share his heartfelt love for the country of his birth. I no longer question it, but accept it for fact. I miss my friend Allan terribly but my memories of him still ring with the sound of his hearty laughter and his larger than life greetings. I know that his spirit still lives on in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew him. And I know that there are many more projects that Allan would want us to take on in Guatemala; more children to help and more love to be shared. And even though I know that a part of me will be missing the next time I return to Guatemala, all I need to do is look into the faces of the Children of Guatemala, and I will see my friend Allan once again peering back at me from the bright smiling eyes of the Children of God in Guatemala.

Allan y Niña

Allan y Niña

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Responses

  1. Thanks George! Magnificent !

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. Wow, really a tight piece of writing and such an excellent word-painting of the mission in Guatemala. Thanks, George!

    Like

  3. Thanks guys. I’ve wanted to put this one out here for a while.

    Like


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