Thursday, March 29, 2007

Exercises for the Heart

Posted on behalf of Javier Cárcamo, Rural Guatemala
  1. First, get up and walk ten paces. Stop.

  2. Take another ten paces and sit down.

  3. Now think of the hundreds of children around the world who are unable to do this – not necessarily because of any physical disability, but because the place where they live is so small it is impossible to take ten consecutive steps.

This is how Juana del Carmen Rodríguez Valle, a girl who in the humblest of conditions shared a small bamboo room with her mother, her grandparents and her sister, spent the first five years of her life.

Because her grandparents are elderly and her father deserted the family, the things Juana and her family needed to improve their living conditions were simply out of reach. As a result, they were forced to live in a flimsy structure on a steep, nearly inaccessible hillside.

In the midst of this landscape (a harsh and dusty forest trail surrounded by coffee plantations) and facing into the imposing winds descending from Mount Alotenango, was Juanita, imprisoned by the borders of the tiny lot where she and her family lived as though on an island. It was painful to witness.

But life began anew for Juanita and her family when their generous sponsor, upon learning about their situation, decided to build them a home. Her grandfather offered his plot of land from which, little by little, a solid structure slowly rose above the bushes.

Now Juanita’s eyes sparkle with happiness as she peeks out the window and runs in and out of her new house, where she has plenty of space to play hide-and-seek with her sister. And the days when her mother would tell her, “Don’t go too far because you might fall into a ravine!” are over now.

Juanita’s grandmother sums up the family’s happiness. “She is an angel, a child who is good to everyone. She always helps me gather wood, and we all love her very much. She has been a blessing to this family since she was born, and her sponsor, by helping her, is also helping us.”

Javier Cárcamo is the communications coordinator for Children International's agency in Rural Guatemala.


Betsemes said...

I want to share an experience I had with a Sponsor Services representative when I called to ask for the cost of beds for the whole family of one of my sponsored girls. I wouldn't want to be too hard, I know why they said what they said. I guess most sponsors are sponsoring children almost by doing a sacrifice on their finances, trying to accomodate a sponsored child on their already tight budget. The website is very scarce in information about the waiting children, so their needs are almost always known after one is already sponsoring the child. When I sponsored Rovelyn, I knew that she was sleeping on the floor with a mat. I wanted to provide beds to her, but thinking that probably her bed would be taken from her because of egotistical reasons for another family member, I decided to ask for beds for the whole family. The representative I spoke with asked me whether I did actually intend to buy them beds because this raises hopes on the family that might go away with the wind afterwards. Now, even though I understand their reasons, I think this is a double edged sword. This can persuade a financially not so fortunate sponsor to stop his/her good intentions because of the possible scenario of the beds (or whatever) being too expensive for him/her to afford. I was able to provide beds to my beloved Rovelyn, but I think what if it were too expensive? I have to keep in mind that Robbie is not my only sponsored child and that they are not my only obligation. I think I can continue helping them widely yet, but what if one of them was homeless or lived on a house like Juanita's? Sometimes one would want to know how expensive is to build a house on another country, but a house is not a bed. Are the sponsor service representatives just scaring sponsors away from just asking in order to decide if they can afford it? I think it would be more desirable that the sponsors and donors would have wide freedom to ask whatever they want and then make it clear to the sponsored child's family that the cost assessment is for something that is not "set in stone". That would promote, in my opinion, the sponsors participation in the improvement of the child's family living conditions. It has it's drawbacks too. Maybe too many "false alarms". Just a thought.

Andy said...

She's beautiful! What a great story.

GJ said...

I'm surprised you got that kind of response. Why would they have to consult the family about the cost of beds? The project office should be able to tell them how much a bed costs, so you should have been able to get an estimate of the cost without the family being consulted.

However, I suspect many families wouldn't want beds for everyone, because they simply don't have room for them.

I send "special needs" gifts to my children regularly. As a rule, I don't specify what they should be used for. Usually, the families make good decisions for themselves. The exception was when I had a couple of children who had no sanitary facilities, so I sent money for building latrines. I used the figure on the website ($250), but it turns out that in India, a family latrine only costs about $75 to build and one family actually did have their own latrine but their record hadn't been updated. So that caused some brief consternation, until I authorized them to use the excess to build community latrines for the neighbors (one was for the village school), to further reduce the potential exposure to human waste.

Betsemes said...

Since I was asking for beds for the whole family, they wanted to know how many beds were needed.