Thursday, Jan 27
First time ever this morning that Ismael was 20 minutes late. Hmmm….is he getting like me or did something happen?
As always, I am always blindsided with issues that I didn’t see coming. When we started our high school sponsorship program, I didn’t see this potential problem.
Turns out that a small group of teens on “motos” (small motorcycles) were on their way to to high school yesterday (not our group) and they were stopped by 3 men with guns. By the grace of God our group in the bus had passed just a little earlier. However, the news quickly got out and the parents of our group were of course alarmed. Once again, Ismael sprung into action to immediately address the issue. First, he typed up 2 notarized letters to be sent to the local police and another to the school. He immediately called the police chief to arrange for security on that road.
In the letter to the school, he explained to the principal the concerns of the parents and that SewHope was in complete agreement with any wishes that the parents might have to decide not to send their children until we have had a chance to develop a plan. He then contacted the community leaders to arrange for a meeting with the parents today. He had done all this since we left him at 9PM last night and still made it at 7:20 AM to pick us up!! In all my life, I have never met anyone so humble and yet so incredibly responsible, capable and unceasing in his determination to correct injustice. And in all this, he and Orfe get up every morning at 5AM to pray for an hour and again every evening before dinner. The more I see here, the more I realize that he and Orfe are working day and night for us at a salary that would not be close to minimum wage in the states.
More on the parents meeting later……
So off we drove in our usual manner for an hour and a half, talking, planning, struggling with Spanish, laughing and sometimes almost crying.
On the way, we stopped on a busy road to pick up some of our patients who would be treated for their cervical dysplasia! They had arrived on this part of the road at 6AM since that’s the only time the bus comes. By now, it was 8AM. They happily laughed and were so delighted that we really did come as promised. They had actually also come 2 days before when we hadn’t figured out how to have the treatment available. But no problem! They just waited for the next bus which wouldn’t arrive for 5 more hours and happily come back 2 days later!! And they were each holding a small toddler !! Can you imagine???? I think of my patients In Maumee who sometimes swear at my nurses if they have to wait 30 minutes!
So they joined us on the bus and sat quietly in the back with their babies who never made a sound for the next hour. As we pulled into Pueblo Nuevo, we saw that great preparations had been made for the great celebration! Today was going to be the “Dedication of the Classroom”!!! The school was completely decorated with flowers, beautiful palm branches and ribbons. The 2 Ministers of Education had promised they would be there but since they hadn’t arrived at the designated time, the community decided to wait for them and we went ahead and started our clinic. I saw a few patients and then by 11, when they still hadn’t come, the leaders decided to go ahead. Orfe had even spoken with these 2 Ministers the evening before and they told her how excited they were to come. It’s always the same – everywhere here. Again, when I read books and go on organizational websites, the constant theme is that you need to involve the local officials. Well, we always try and they always say all the right things and make all the right promises and they NEVER follow their end of the bargain. And this is really why the poor are poor. Yet, knowing what I do about what the United States has done to greatly contribute to the devastation of this country, I can hardly blame the local “Guatemalteca” officials for the corruption that exists now.
So, on for the celebration! Once we arrived, one of the leaders came running up to me with this little plastic sizzors (the really cheap kind you buy at WalMart!) and asked if we’d cut the ribbon to the classroom for the event! And the party began! First, the Guatemalan national music resounding on the speakers! The school director began the announcements on the microphone welcoming us and calling for all to recognize this great achievement. We were ushered up to the open porch in front of the school and asked to sit in the special chairs put out just for us. Of course the only seats available were the ones that the kindergartners use!! Can you imagine Randy and I sitting there on these tiny seats looking like Prince Charles and Princess Diana surround by hundred of children and all the people of the community! This is surely the closest I will ever come to royalty! The speeches began and then the official cutting of the white ribbon!! The paparazzi were there – oh if only I was wearing something a little fancier than my usual Athleta skirt and white T-shirt!!
Then it becomes ever grander!! Hands on heart, everyone starts the singing of the Guatemala National Anthem which is about 5 times as long as hours. But everyone knows the words as if they have this great allegiance to this government that has abandoned them. Then the procession!! This is a picture Randy and I have in our minds forever! 3 of the community leaders (2 men and one woman) come solemnly processing in carrying the official banner of the community looking very stern and very, very official. They carefully climb the stairs and make a careful turn as they face the croud. Massive applause!!!
And then the speeches begin and go on and on and on. Massive thanks to SewHope!! Many speeches about this is a day they will never forget! Great hope for their children! Great promises that the teachers are now going to show up and the children will also show up!! After over an hour of speeches, I was asked to speak. Realizing that at this point, the children were totally not listening, I spoke only to them and yes, I kept it brief. “I have 4 questions for you. Who knows the date?” They all looked puzzedly at each other and a couple of the smart ones came up with the answer. “When do you finish school this year?” Now that was a tough one…..great debate on even the month they finish but they finally made a decision….”OK, Randy and I are going to be here on the last day of your classes this year!” And now…..”Who wants to advance to the next grade next year?”””” WOW…..all the hands zoomed into the air! “And who wants the Pueblo Nuevo school to be the best in Guatemala??” WOW……great shouts! We do!!! And how will you get there? “READ” STUDY” WRITE”, they shouted.”We will start coming to school every day!!
OK, you all get the idea! Then the feast began….the community had paid for a meal of chicken and race for all and one of the pastors had done all the cooking! Could it get any better????
But it only took a few minutes for the sense of exhilaration to be brought back to reality. I began to talk to one of the teachers (the biggest liar I’ve ever met in my life). He hadn’t shared any of the books that we had sent last year with the students. During the celebration, he had taken 2 of each of them and put them into the children’s bookbags pretending that they had been reading them all month. Since they obviously didn’t look used, it only took me a minute to find out from the kids that they had never seen them. Randy, Ismael, Orfe and met spent another hour talking with the teachers…..by the end of it we all agreed that we need some plan to have some control over these teachers. They are completely worthless and even worse, their level of pathologic lying is sad. But that’s for another day…
So then, the meeting with the parents of the high schoolers. It was awesome! They came in looking sad and a little hopeless. They clearly have great respect for us but I think it was the first time in their lives that they had a meeting with “officials” (i.e. people with money!) that actually listened to them. We allowed them to talk at length and we completed acknowledged their fears and their right to take the children out of the program. But they eagerly chatted and finally came up with a plan for varying the roads that the busdriver would travel. They talked about the great sadness that they lived in a country where people couldn’t even help them. They discussed the great need for education and their tremendous gratitude for this opportunity. There was some debate about how to go forward but everyone left satisfied and empowered. Hugs all around!
Then back to the clinic. I then had to use the new electrocautery machine for the women with the advanced dysplasia. This is something I only do at the hospital at home and of course I have all the right equipment and right supplies, etc. I was definitely nervous!! But with my trusty penlight, my lidocaine, the generator and the grace of God, everything went perfectly. Yes, it took about an hour to do each procedure that normally takes 5 minutes but everyone went home happy and hopefully cured. Since it was so late and dark when we finished, we drove them all home to various parts of the Peten which took another 2 hours!!
OK....then Randy and I once again got to enjoy a beautiful dinner at 9PM where we had to chance to “digest” the day and discuss hopes for the future. And this is life in Guatemala….