While at the end of every trip, we usually feel like things are improving, there is always the sense that there is still a mountain to be moved. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." For all of us who have spent years really feeling like we were pushing an immovable beast, we now feel as though there is a slippery pad under the mountain that just needs some pulling.
Yesterday was almost surreal. I had the great privilege of sitting in on multiple meetings which demonstrated that this community has actually realized that there is indeed hope for real change and they are grabbing on to it. The men who were previously uninvolved have actually made assignments to monitor the school each day. Seriously! The walk up and down in front of the school yard and stand there throughout the entire class time. The teachers now realize that they are being watched and so after the first day, they actually showed up on time and all 4 of them were there during the rest of the week! These very macho Latino men were laughing and describing what hard work it was to make sure the kids stayed in the building!! This has been a monumental breakthrough; something that no amount of money could have paid for! We watched them marvel at the results of the water testing and intensely watch as Pastor Julian demonstrated the water filtration system and then yes (I couldn't believe he did this...) actually drank the water in front of them!!! This was the water from the filthy pond which the cows and pigs share. Sorry, MaryKay (his wife) - it's just his nature to complete all the jobs!! All the men "passed the bottle around" laughing and drinking from the pure water.
After our earlier meeting this week, the leaders came in prepared with a long list of wants but more importantly of promises. They decided to start a fish farm project. In addition to listing off all the great advantages that this would bring to this community, they had a plan for what would be needed and how they would pay it back. They even were considering how they would handle things democratically within the community.
As I've often mentioned, one of the greatest roadblocks to this community has been the divisive nature of having different churches within a small community. Having a pastor with as much insight and education about the foundations of the church as Pastor Julian has proven to be crucial to some of these breakthroughs. Trying to get different religious communities to worship together is impossible. But trying to get people of faith who are ultimately trying to know God working together on a project for the good of the poorest is a different thing!! Julian and Ismael met with the 3 pastors (getting them in the same room was a miracle!) and they devised a plan to have an upcoming sermon devoted to how you live your life affects your health. We spent much of the week speaking individually to each of them explaining how so many of these clinic visits are really just the result of poor sanitation, filthy water and inadequate food. They were so excited to find biblical teachings on this subject and they are planning a "sermon series" on these issues.
We debated about where to put the community center, what it should look like, what the goals for it would be. They started a list of all the families who would be involved in it's creation and how greatly it would benefit the community. They eagerly discussed the library and would be in charge of it as well as the adult education program and the after school student enrichment program.
In the last post, you may have read about Tiburcia's very serious illness. She is the wife of one of the pastor's so the story we've been trying to tell truly "hit home". As she lay in the clinic gasping for air and burning with fever, Deena (our Spanish professor) was smart enough to ask them in detail about what kind of medications and herbs she has been taking. When we realized that the things she was taking were actually causing most of the problem, I quietly praised God in my mind for bringing Deena to our organization. She has translated with Gary, Coral and I enough to know ALL the right questions to ask. I think she needs to receive an honoraray medical degree!! Knowing this, we were not only able to reverse the situation, but this clearly gave us an opening to let the people REALLY understand how they are being exploited by random people who are selling them expensive, dangerous, unnecessary medications and vitamins. When they started adding up the amount they are spending on these things, they realized that they really can pay for the solar lights and water filters that we can bring them. No, it was certainly not God's will that Tiburcia would get so sick but it was God's will that all the people on this trip and all of you at home who have worked so diligently "behind the scenes" have opened your hearts to these people. While I surely don't have that crystal ball, I do believe that Tiburcia could have easily passed away had we not been here. And I do believe that because so many intelligent, insightful, faithful people have worked to hear God's call to end injustice, that things really are changing.
Now.....I have to add that as all these wonderful things were unfolding, many of the people who were key to all of it humbly continued to their work and didn't even get to experience the joy of those "ah ha" moments. As we busily had our "meetings", the patients continued to flow in. Our pediatrician, Dr. Gary Collins (also our expert on the latest developments in child health from the World Health Organization) diligently saw 8 children for every adult the rest of us can see. He sat huddled over his chair all these days listening with great compassion to the cries for help from these hopeless mothers. He spends his weeks away from here studying and finding tools that can best be used for this kind of environment. He listens so intently and gives such consideration to all the possibilities before he decides on a treatment. It is so humbling for me to watch him work.
For the last 2 years, Dr. Coral has had a dream to have a "children's health fair" where we would work on multiple issues in child health - vaccinations, growth and development charting, classes on breastfeeding and nutrition, etc. The event was spectacular and far exceeded anything she had dreamed of. BUT.....because of her diligence and insistence on ALWAYS doing what needs to be done, she continued seeing the onslaught of patients and didn't even get to experience all that she had worked so hard for. As the sun started to set last night, and I had the joy of seeing our vision unfold, 20 more patients arrived and Coral worked her way through all of them!! OK, I made a last minute splash and did a pap smear in the dark on my Guatemalan sister, Flori!! ( the woman who came to the U.S. for treatment of cervical cancer).
And now, I have to share my sadness that my husband, Randy, couldn't be here to share in all of this. Being the intellectual one in our marriage, he sits up night after night searching for answers to the public health issues we see here. Having them all come together when he wasn't here seems so unfair. He is also one the most humble people and so I know he would be annoyed that I put this out for all to see. But it is true. While we would both love to spend more of our year here, he was kind enough to keep things going at home while I had the privilege of being here this week. He has been the quiet person behind so much of this.
Off to Pueblo Nuevo for our last day. For any of you reading this who have been so integral to what we are doing, I can't thank you enough for your love and devotion to these poorest people.
We are all thinking of Karen Cothren this week and all she did to support our efforts. We're looking for a specific project to designate in her memory.