On November 14th a man was killed just outside of El Cartucho, Petén Guatemala. His house was set on fire in the middle of the night, and as he ran outside to save himself, he was gunned down. Two days later well over 100 people congregated in the nearby village of El Chal to pay their respects to the departed. Also on hand were Sr. Pam, Ismael Halssel and myself. Granted, we were not there to attend the funeral, but were instead in the area to begin working on the floor of the new birthing center, which is currently under construction adjacent to the cemetery. The birthing center is a joint effort between SewHope and the community of El Chal. Whereas the resources and materials were made available through the fundraising efforts of Dr. Coral Matus and SewHope, the local people are completing the actual construction. Speaking with these local workers, it is clear they recognize how valuable an asset the maternity home will be once completed. Every child will be born into a clean and safe environment while mothers will be kept comfortable and protected during the birthing process.
However, as I helped backfill the foundation with dirt and loose gravel, it was impossible not to note the bizarre juxtaposition of the contradictory events. On one side you had construction of a new building, which will stand as testament to the beauty of life, and on the other side you had a whole village mourning the destruction of a man who was cut down well before his life should have rightfully terminated. And while it was interesting to note the holism of that moment, the situation seemed largely indicative of the sort of problems that organizations such as SewHope struggle with everyday. Every victory seems to be met with an equally catastrophic failure. When working in developing nations, how do you measure meaningful change? Certainly the birthing center is a meaningful endeavor, but how do you continue to promote public health and community reciprocity when the people you are working with keep gunning each other down? How do we cope with such irrationality?
The point here is not to discourage any work with the people of the Petén, but instead to serve as a reminder that the path we are called to take is not necessarily the easiest one. If you want to affect meaningful change in Guatemala, you can’t just dig a well or paint a school and turn around and go home. You have to remain committed and follow through with all of your promises, regardless of the outcomes. The fact that working here can be discouraging at times does not make the people here any less deserving of love. The fact that the universe is irrational at times does not make it any less beautiful.
Peter joined a SewHope team in the Peten for three weeks. During that time, he was instrumental in the building of a fish farm, a solar oven, and a food dehydrator. Peter also used his grasp of the Spanish language to assist in the intake of patients at our week in the hospital in San Cristobal and at the clinic in Santa Ana. Peter hopes to return to Guatemala in January 2013 as part of the SewHope team.
For more information on the Birthing Center being built in El Chal, see http://www.sewhope.org/maternal-health.html.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012