Sr. Pamela Marie Buganski
“God is always talking to me when I am in Guatemala.”
Profe Elvin has been working with Orfe's group of children in Santa Ana. Each morning he gathers a small group of similar age or grade to work on grammar, mathematics and all sorts of other things. For the past two days, we have been team teaching. The two of us are having a BLAST and so are the kids!!! It is AWESOME to see the lights go on and the intense effort that each one is making.
This morning, the children were singing Christmas Carols in Spanish. I thought it a wonderful way to wish you all a blessed Advent and Christmas season. Sing along with Jary (Harry), Rigoberto, Brandon, José, Ruth and Katerin!
Noche de paz, Noche de amor, Todo duerme en rededor, Ha nacido el niño Jesús. Brilla la estrella de paz, brilla la estrella de paz.
Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Prospero año y Felicidad.
Today is International Human Rights Day. For today's blog, I am borrowing from the words of Dr. Coral Matus who was recently reflecting on the book "Toxic Charity".
Dr. Coral explains: " The idea is that Mercy (compassion, kindness) without Justice (reasonable fairness in the way people are treated) causes dependency (in the receiver) and a sense of power (in the giver over the receiver), while Justice without Mercy becomes cold and impersonal. (One simple example is: Mercy without Justice is giving a dollar to a street beggar without knowing if it will be used for food, or to feed his addiction. Justice without Mercy is walking past him, and giving money to the local addiction prevention organization and expecting them to help him. Combining the two would mean forming a Relationship with him, inviting him to breakfast, asking him what he needs to meet his own personal goals, telling him that you believe in him and are rooting for him and praying for him and will help keep him accountable. It is encouraging him to be the person God means for him to be, not imposing your wishes for him).
Jesus asks us to be Weavers, to weave together the threads of Justice and Mercy by meeting the stranger, the hungry one, the thirsty one, the blind one.
These questions of Justice and Mercy and Relationships are constant in my work with SewHope. There are no easy answers.
For example: By the grace of God, 393 persons have had vision screenings since March 2013. Thirty-eight of them need some kind of follow-up which means at least one visit to the eye clinic in San Benito. The people come from Mango, Santa Ana or Purushila. To drive from Santa Ana to Mango and from Mango to San Benito and then reverse the trip takes a minimun of 4.5 hours. And that is just the driving. If a person is in need of surgery, the person needs to be in San Benito at 7:00 am. It takes a considerable amount of gas to make this trip. And gas costs money. It would take all day for me to accomplish this task. And I have many tasks. (For Purushila, the driving time is 2.5 hours; for Santa Ana 1 hour).
Should I take the people to the eye clinic? Does SewHope apply Mercy and allow me to pick up the people and take them to San Benito for the cost of gasoline and a day of ministry? Does SewHope apply Justice and say that we did our part by getting them tested, now they need to follow through? And what are the alternatives? What is a reasonable level of kindness (assuming that kindness can be measured).
Very, very, very few of the 100 adults in Purushila have a car. Some have a motorcycle. If there is a need to get somewhere, there is a school bus that runs to and from Purushila to Santa Ana and back once a day at scheduled times. From there, the person would need to take another bus and then another vehicle to get to San Benito. The bus leaves Purushila at about 10:00 am....too late for a 7:00 appointment. How else are the people who have been identified as needing help to get there? There just aren't too many options. So asking them to do it themselves is condemning them to sightlessness. Would you want your mother to ride home on the back of a motorcycle for this distance after having cataract surgery?
Perhaps a clue is the use of the word "they"; "they need to follow through". "They" is impersonal, cold, and demonstrates a lack of Mercy. But if we put a name, a face, and a Relationship with each person, the question becomes simpler. I will take Tecla for surgery because she is my sister, my mother, my friend. I will take Tecla for surgery because she has no other way to get there, and God has put us together for this purpose. (It is already God's MIRACLE that a professional has evaluated Tecla as needing help to see! Tecla lives in the middle of nowhere...literally.)
I'm thinking that Orfe and Ismael and Hanssel and Elvin and I are asked to be Weavers. We are asked to meet individuals as God sends them to us (Justice...not walking by) and help them in the name of Jesus with the resources of SewHope. The persons are paying for the services (see the blog of November 29, 2013); we are simply helping to make the services available (Mercy). My interaction with Tecla is the weaving of Justice with Mercy.
That Tecla and those like her have no other options is a sign that SewHope is indeed in the places where the poor are. With love, this service brings blessings to all.
The "train question" seals the deal for me. I am pretty sure that St. Peter is not going to ask me the famous "train question" when I am knocking on the gates of heaven. Even thinking about responding to St. Peter that I didn't take Tecla to the eye clinic because it took too much time and money, embarrasses me!
Sometimes readers of this blog or of the SewHope website personally respond to a story. Something or someone touches a heart...and someone is compelled to do something. When children respond, it is extra special!
Mrs. Bonnie Walton follows the blog and sometimes includes the stories and powerpoints in her religion classes. Two of her fifth grade students at St. Pat's of Heatherdowns School in Toledo, OH, were touched by the stories about the children needing frames for glasses....and they did something! They collected old glasses.
Our last team was able to bring about 150 pairs of glasses in cases with their luggage on a recent trip. This week, Orfe and I presented these to the administrator at the Vincent Pescatore eye clinic in San Benito. She was VERY EXCITED and happy to receive this donation. The remaining glasses will come on future trips.
The usual crowd of kids of all ages gathered at the clinic in Santa Ana this morning. Some worked on the garden. Others worked on the computers. Then after a time, Orfe and Prof. Elvin gathered the students inside the clinic for a powerpoint presentation on good dental hygiene. This was our first use of the projector and powerpoint for the students on an educational topic.
Orfe prepared the powerpoint and walked the children through it. They also watched a couple of short children's videos on the topics. Students demonstrated correct tooth brushing and flossing to the cheers of the others. Many topics were addressed including "Do's and Don'ts", such as not sharing toothbrushes or using your toothbrush to comb your hair! I was very impressed with the whole educational experience!
Of course, then we had to do an experiment! Prof Elvin's wife is a baker and to celebrate one month of Elvin's employment with SewHope and the famous day of The Day of The Devil* (which is today), she made us a huge cake. So we ate cake and drank pop. Of course, now our teeth were full of sugar!
Next, Orfe passed out a tooth brush to each student with some paste and the fun began! Each child took home a new toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste.
It would be wonderful to add a dentist or a dental student who is advanced in study to our regular teams! Anyone interested??
*In some senses today is like April Fool's Day as it is funny to wish someone a Happy Birthday today as Profe Elvin did to me! So, Dr. Gary, Happy Birthday from all of us here!! Another way to celebrate is to "beat the devil" out of a piñata that is in the form a red devil with horns. Another practice is to build a scarecrow like figure in the shape of a devil and set fire to it when it is dark outside. The scarecrow is also stufffed with fireworks which adds to the excitement and noise of the event. It is NOT devil worship, but rather a way to symbolize getting rid of evil.
SewHope has hired a Guatemalan teacher to help with the tutoring and summer school programs. Instruction is not always about mathematics and writing skills. Here Professor Edvin Maldonado is helping the children make a garden at the clinic in Santa Ana.
Perhaps it is because I remember so fondly making house calls with my dad, Dr. Raymond Buganski. Perhaps because it gives me a chance to see the homes and families in their everyday settings. Perhaps because it allows for greater personal contact. But I love making home visits!
Dr. Gary, Gladys and I drove 90 minutes (2/3 of the way driving 10 mph because of poor roads) to visit José in Juleque. Thirteen year old José who was born with stumps for arms and legs received new legs from Dr. John Lane and his donors. Unfortunately, José was not home. We did talk to his grandmother, his two aunts and several cows!
This 80 year old woman is perhaps the most charming person that I have ever met! I told her that I wanted to live in her house in heaven! She has spent her life caring for her daughter, now 44, who has cerebral palsy. This was my first time to meet this family who live close to the clinic, and I promised to pay future visits.
Our group of six also visited Nieve and her baby. Neive lives very close to the clinic with her father and two young boys in one of the poorest homes I have seen. She and has some mental deficiencies and likely a very, very sad life story. Her mother, who died about 1.5 ago, was the caregiver for the family. There is really no one to replace her. It is one of those cases where we feel that there is very little that we can actually do except visit and bring baby formula for the now 18 month old child.
On the way to Purushila this morning, I prayed. I reminded myself that God's plans are always so much greater than mine. Even if I think I have a great idea or have great plans for the day, if I can let go of them, God will make things turn out even better than I had hoped. So, I prayed to be able to let go.
Well, I was put to the test within minutes. The plan for this morning was to go with Carment to the eye clinic in San Benito with a teenage girl and with Mario Luis and his mother. Norma was going to get her eyes tested for glasses. Mario Luis was to prepare for the next step toward surgery.
I found Carmen! Norma, however, was far away from her home helping her mother in the corn fields. Though Mario Luis was home with his siblings, his mother was far away with an aunt. So, we could not take anyone to the eye center today.
I am trying to live my prayer by not being utterly disappointed. I SO LOOK FORWARD to moving these children one step forward. I know that I am more excited than they are! I have yet to see what God is going to deliver, but I have faith and full confidence that ALL is in His HANDS.
Today the 60 or so members of the church that Ismael and Orfe and their family attend met at the shore of Lake Itza in the village of San Miguel. The service proceeded as usual but then had a surprise ending....at least for me.
Three adults and two children were prayed over by the congregation at the end of the service in preparation for baptism by immersion in the lake. First the minister walked into the lake. Then he signaled for the adult man to follow. After a time of conversation and prayer, the minister put his hand on the head of the man and gently dunked him into the water. A similar procedure followed for the two adult women. The mother of the young boy walked with him into the lake for baptism. His little sister was too afraid to follow through...maybe next time.
The congregation sang and prayed on the surrounding shore. All were welcomed with hugs and greetings and then a simple picnic followed.
It was a meaningful and sacred time for all.
Children and young adults ages 15 and under are treated free at the Vincent Pescatore Eye Clinic in San Benito. So far, six youth have been measured for prescription glasses, and we have more children on the list. (Both boys shown below received glasses and will also have free eye surgery at the start of the new year.)
Despite their poverty and a reduced price due to our affiliation with the eye clinic, the adults still need to pay a fee for surgery, medication or glasses. So far we have taken 4 adults to the eye clinic. All of them need additional help. Now what??????
Well, I figure we can do this one person at a time with a combination of generosity, microfinance and paying it forward.
Here is my plan. I will pay up front the $50 (Q350) needed for Maria's eye surgery. Maria will pay back as she can week by week. Maria's payments will secure the $50 needed for Tecla's surgery. Tecla will pay back week by week as she can and provide the $50 for Tomasa's surgery. I believe that we will be able to help many people with this system while demonstrating respect, empowerment and
generosity within the community. I can't wait to begin!!!
I chose to work with Maria first for a number of reasons. First, I have known her the longest of the four candidates, I have taught her son Luis and have met her husband and daughter; we have a start of a solid relationship. I thought that she would understand the plan and be a willing participant as well as an avid and respected spokesperson for the plan within the community. Also, she took the first step of participation.....she showed up!!! The doctor at the clinic said that she needed to get her diabetes under control. Maria then attended the diabletic group that Orfe and Dr. Coral started about 6 months ago. This will allow SewHope to educate, monitor and assist Maria with this health situation which causes eyesight to deteriorate. I believe that the doctor will move forward with the surgery knowing that she is under our care for diabetes. (Left: Tecla in green, Maria, Tomasa in black. Right: Mario.)
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the plan is that no one at the clinic speaks English. This is where I hope that Carmen can be very helpful. Carmen knows the people because she lives in their village, she "understands" what I am trying to say in Spanish, and she can work with me until I understand the Spanish that the doctors are speaking. Carmen can also assist with follow up after surgery and to see that glasses are being used by those receiving them.
And that leaves Mario. Mario is not yet 50 years old. He is almost totally blind in one eye and the second eye is not much better. Because of his disability, it is difficult for him to find work and to actually work. It seems that Mario's problem is more serious than that of the others. It may take a trip to Guatemala City to help Mario. I have full confidence that Mario can and will receive help.
Each SewHope project begins with an idea and the courage to put the first foot forward.
Seeing the frequency and seriousness of diabetes among the people of Santa Ana, Dr. Coral made a simple outline of topics and Orfe meets with a group each month to carry out the plan. This past week, I had the privilege of witnessing this in action.
Twelve adults attended the clinic, 3 of them for the first time, 1 man and 11 women. Each person carried a small notebook which holds the history of vital signs taken before each meeting as well as any medications given. Once all had their weight, blood pressure and blood sugar level taken, they gathered in a group.
Orfe began with a Bible reflection. One sheet of information relating to diabetes was distributed and discussed. Each person had a chance to ask questions. Dr. Coral was present for the last meeting. I was thrilled that almost each person asked a vey personal and relavant question. Then, Dr. Coral went from person to person to look at their vital sign history, talked with each one personally, and distributed medication with instructions. The date of the next meeting was set before they disbursed.
So far the group has been meeting for six months. The participants are faithful. This is a means to address holistic health, education, and to provide preventive measures. This is so much better than handing out random medication. Thank you Dr. Coral for putting a simple plan in place! Thank you Orfe for keeping the plan going!!
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012