Below is Coral's summary of the amazing connections and encounters they have already made in just 2 days! Before starting the clinic, she and Sr. Pam had hoped to deepen our connections in the Peten with the hopes of giving us direction for future efforts. Seems like God is opening so many doors!
How does a 30ish year old women of Mayan descent in Guatemala in a very small village an hour away from any paved road develop a dream of creating a business to sell soap and shampoo and other products around the world? Today we followed Sister Pam's ambition to explore a potential microfinance opportunity in a village names "El Cartucho". This village lies on a gravel/ stone road approximately an hour from Santa Ana (our home base for our clinic), and is home to approximately 75 families, many of Mayan descent and many are non-Spanish speakers (many speak a Mayan dialect called q'eqchi' ). Eleven beautiful, motivated women were waiting in the community center when we arrived, with a table lined with their products for us to inspect. The leader of the group, Marina, is a visionary who would like to be able to earn money to send her children to school past 6th grade, which is what the government provides. I asked where she thought she would like to sell her products, and she said, "todo el mundo" (all over the world).
She told us that her grandmother and mother knew how to make soaps and shampoos, so she has gathered together a group of women, now numbering 14, who each chipped in 100 quetzales (about 15 dollars) to get the business started. They all come together for a full day and make about 500 bottles of shampoo and 50 bars of soap, then go door to door in their village and the surrounding villages selling them so that they can make a small profit to help feed their families, and hopefully save a little for future endeavors such as education. The fact that these women are so organized and motivated, and the fact the their husbands are supportive of their efforts, is truly amazing in a setting such as this.
We had a wonderful discussion about some marketing ideas, some potential sources of capital/ resources for future endeavors, and praised them for their amazing work. They proudly explained what each soap and shampoo contained (mostly seeds or roots or leaves from special plants in the area), and what that particular ingredient treated: seed of zapote for headaches. Pimiento for stretch marks. miel (honey) for wrinkles. They even performed a little "skit" for us, which we videotaped, to demonstrate one of the women selling the product to another woman explaining what each one was meant to treat.
I left with a sense of hope for this community, and a realization that at the core, we all have the same desires: to care for our children, see them do well, and provide them with opportunities better than the ones we had. The hope and motivation that this woman has to make this happen is inspiring, and I believe that some day very soon, we may be seeing products with the label "el cartucho" lining shelves of salons all over the world.
Hope amidst adversity. That is the best way to summarize what I see in Daniel's face. Daniel is an unfortunate young man of 17 years who was involved in a tragic accident with a "tuk-tuk" (motorcycle-like taxi) 2 years ago. He had a t-spine injury and is hemiplegic. He has endured MANY complications, including extensive sacral decubitus ulcers (bed sores), colostomy placement, and recurrent infections of his urinary tract. We went to visit him in the government hospital today, which is an eye-opening experience in itself. Daniel has been in the hospital for two months, initiated by a bad urinary tract infection. He has had much trouble with urinary retention, has had a chronically indwelling foley catheter (a tube to drain his bladder) and many infections. From his explanation, I believe that they have decided to perform a ureterostomy (diverting the ducts that leave his kidneys and normally go into the bladder into a pouch that would come out onto his stomach. He has already had one surgery, and they are planning to do another. In his always-cheerful voice, with his always-smiling face, he welcomed us, we chatted about his family, and when Ismael asked if he wishes he were home, he said, 'yes, but I know I need to be here, so it is okay." What an amazing spirit this boy has!
We returned to meet with a larger group of leaders in El Chal, the village where we would like to build a birthing center. As is typical in Guatemala, the communication wires got a bit crossed, and while most of the leaders thoughts that the meeting was to be tomorrow, Catalina and we thought that it was to be today. Regardless, we were able to pull together a small meeting of 2 gringas and 4 Guatemalans, including the president of the village counsel, Carlos, to discuss the needs, desires, and opportunities for this community. Needless to say, the community leaders with whom we met are thrilled about the prospect of having a "centro salud" (health center) of any kind in their community. We discussed options for location, including which area would be the most accessible, the safest, the quietest, and the most accepted by the community. Carlos had many wise suggestions and ultimately reported that he thinks this is a "marvelous" opportunity for their community. He wants to meet with the rest of the group of leaders, meet with the people of his community, and will get back to us soon about a location. He wants to know how soon we can build! I told him I would start raising money the day I get back. Anyone want to come on a construction trip in June!?! :)
Sister Pam arrived in Guatemala with a small spiral notebook which I would guess contains 200 lined pages. On Day 3, she is getting dangerously close to reaching the half-way point of the book with her pencil constantly recording events, names, places, and important follow-up points. Although I have known Sr. Pam for several years, she never ceases to amaze me with her gently probing questions which get right to the heart of the matter, her many areas of interest and knowledge, which seem to always be pertinent to whatever topic is at hand, her words of wisdom which she freely and wilingly shares, and her gentle, loving smile, which is omnipresent.
This has been an amazing two days; I feel like we 4 gringas (and our trusty Guatemalan hosts) have accomplished a weeks' worth of feats in the past 48 hours. Tomorrow, the second wave arrives...safe travels, amigo y amigas!