As the story unfolded today, I wondered how I would explain it given that it seemed like such a far-fetched tale from a tele-novella!
Up at 5:30 with the greatest of intentions of being "on-time", there was too much to do as always. Sending the final documentation for Jessi's visa has been a challenge (why was it so easy in the U.S??), getting the new clinic equipment that came on the container loaded up on the van, looking for buckets for the water filters (how can finding a decent bucket be so hard??), etc, etc. I'm constantly reminded of how difficult it is to do the simplest things here. Yes, they have some technologies but they function so inconsistently and haphazardly.
Anyway, as we finally drove up to Pueblo Nuevo around noon, we saw our infamous "maestro" speeding off on his moto. And so the story unfolds....
As I mentioned in the last blog, Deena and I had had a lengthy meeting with the women 2 days ago. As she and I both have great dreams of inspiring these women to stand up for what they know is right, we laid it on!! While we were't sure if anyone was getting anything that we were saying, we kept blabbly about not only women's rights, but human rights. We pronounced that a right to education is in the Guatemala constitution - not just in the U.S. We reminded them that their children were being denied the KAH food every day that the school director failed to show up (which is more than half the time). Perhaps we made the biggest impact when we explained that their children's brains were being denied capacity for full development because of starvation at very young ages. At one point, I just asked "So are your little children ever hungry??" Their heads quickly snapped up as they looked at each other and quickly responded "all the time". They began almost crying that they have tried to get the school to give the food to the preschool children but they were told they could only have 12 bags per day and when there were leftovers, the teachers decided who would get it. Deena and I were incredulous. We reminded them that the teachers have nothing to do with this program and we have always wanted their youngest children to receive it. At this point, we noticed a lot of whispering amongst them. We then brought up the issues of the filthy water. I hesitated to say this but since we haven't always gotten the greatest participation in our public health efforts but I thought "Why not"? In my very broken Spanish, I said:
"Do you know what I hear in this clinic from many, many women????? I hear that your children are dying. And I hear you explaining to me that the reason is because God wants it; that God wants another angel with Him, that it is an act of the Almighty. Sometimes He causes an eclipse or an act of nature that is the cause." Deena reminded them that she often hears it is because of the "evil eye". Almost in tears, I said "It isn't true!!! God doesn't want this! They are dying because the water is filthy, because you don't have enough to eat, because you are being denied the most basic of health care! While I surely noticed some glances and a few women appeared to be considering this, I surely thought our little sermons were going on deaf ears. We asked them why they don't stand up when the teachers not only fail to come to school but fail to teach the material that is required not by us, but by the Guatemalan government. The parents have already heard from their high school students that they are struggling to keep up with children from better off villages.
While the women were becoming fairly more animated, little did we realize that they were hanging on all our words!! We had no idea that they actually came together after the meeting with a plan for change. On Thursday morning, they actually got up at 4AM and went to the school to prepare an area to cook and prepare the food for the preschoolers. They next thing they knew, Concepcion (our problem school director) arrived and yelled at them to get out and they had no right to be there. As they really didn't know their rights, they did leave but quickly turned to the male community leaders for help. Of course, their husbands were as angry as they were so they sent Jose (in his 60's), the "chief" of the community, and Mario, their upcoming leader (in his 20's) to the school to carry on with the preparation to do the same work!! At this point, Concepcion demanded that they leave and when they angrily told them this was THEIR school and not his, he went "loco"!! He actually left and locked the fence so they couldn't get out!!!! Apparently, unbeknownst to the community, he had changed the locks so no one could get them out!!! Both had to to actually climb this high fence!! You would have to see Jose to picture the absurdity of this!!
Well.....that was indeed the final straw!! In all of our past meetings with the leaders, we had talked ad nauseum about the need for teachers who actually come to school and who care. The community had previously gone to the Ministry of Education asking for replacements but were denied. Well now they are not going to take no for an answer. They had emgency meetings of COCODE (the formal structure for their local government) and have big plans for Friday morning. Seven of them (including one women who is the local midwife) are going to the office of the International Human Rights Commission. They will then have a representative from there travel with them to the Ministry of Education where they will make a formal complaint that they have been denied their rights!! If they don't get what they want, they are planning to call the newspapers! I wish you could all hear Ismael! He laughed when I told him last night that it's good his skin is brown or else it would be awfully red!!
As we drove home on the bus last night and heard all the details of this, I know that we all felt very mixed emotions including great joy and a little fear of what will happen next. For myself, this has been the greatest breakthrough I have seen yet. Yes, there have been many, many stories where the work we have all done has had remarkable results but to watch a previously desolate, desperate and apathetic community rise to this kind of action is the greatest hope for change that I have witnessed in all these years here. As the truck jostled along the bumpy stone road, I thought about you all; about those of you who have so generously contributed, who have believed in this effort. Some of you have spent an inordinate amount of time arranging food packing events, hauling boxes, working on accounting, coming to meetings, dreaming dreams, using your God given talents for something that has often been discouraging. I quietly thanked God for the great voice and vision of Deena that I know was largely responsible for inciting these women to action. I thanked Him for my ingenious husband who quietly works for all that is good and who stays awake at night wondering how he can find meaningful ways to make the lives of these people better.
I wish you could all be here to feel this palpable hope.
Oh, and on a little more mundane note. Yes, the water filters are being bought!! The solar lights are a huge success and the children are treasuring the books!
Please pray for safety today and that these people are not disappointed as they take this great step.