Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Courageous Spirit of Guatemala - Part 3 of 4

Posted on behalf of Jim Cook.

This morning, the agency requested to pick me up from the hotel at 6:00 a.m. These guys would make great duck hunters, arising at that early hour! And I thought yesterday’s 7:00 a.m. departure was a bit early. But okay...when in Rome....

Off we a place west of Guatemala City called Patulul, where we take care of nearly 4,000 sponsored children in this town of about 35,000.

I noted that the roads in Guatemala had improved substantially (even if the driving habits hadn’t). Mind you, this is based upon two days’ travel only. But they were the same routes I’d taken many times before with far more jostling and careening around large potholes.

Arriving at Patulul, we went to a Children International community center. “Community center” is a pretty sterile term for what is really the heartbeat of the Children International sponsorship field efforts and the focus of the community where each center is located.

These community centers include a clinic, pharmacy, dental office, library and homework center, feeding area, warehouse for gifts and material benefits, local staff offices and more. THIS is where sponsorship happens!

I met the staff and said “hi” to a bunch of mothers and their children who were either waiting for the doctor and dentist or writing letters to their sponsors. But what I noticed most was how we had outgrown that center. Badly. That center has served us quite well for a long time, but the community deserves a new, modern center and fortunately, one is in the works.

I traveled a few blocks to see the land where a new center will be built if we can find funding for it. I spoke with the architect about the design, stressing that I’m a big fan of playgrounds for the children AND the parents, having found great solace in taking my own children to them not that many years ago. The plans look great and I sincerely hope we can get the funding to enable the poor children’s (and their parents’) dreams to come true in Patulul.

With that, we moved on to the river named Madre Vieja, or, literally, The Old Mother. Well, the old mother wreaked havoc on the poor people living along this river when Hurricane Stan came calling in 2005. I spoke to an elderly woman who described in great and poignant detail the horror as the river rose and ultimately took everything she and her husband owned. She indicated that she is doing okay now…okay being a relative term.

It was on the banks of that river that the Mayor of Patulul caught up with us…the Honorable Gilberto Perez, a youngish mayor with a lot of contagious enthusiasm. (I expect when you’re my age, “youngish” encompasses a lot more people than it used to!)

He expressed his profound thanks for the assistance we’re providing to a significant portion of the children in the town. I thanked him for his considerable help in enabling us to secure land and a building permit at no cost for the new center. In these small towns, it is good to work with the local leaders, which is far easier and more productive than trying to communicate with bureaucrats at higher governmental levels.

After that visit we headed up to the slightly higher elevation (and thankfully cooler temperatures) of the lovely small town of Antigua. If you come to Guatemala and only have one day to spend, visit Antigua. It’s surrounded by volcanoes, making it very picturesque and charming. The shopping, if you’re so inclined, is excellent for the colorful local clothing and crafts.

But it’s also poor. We have a center there, but the most interesting part was visiting the home of volunteer mother Luisa, who was hosting yet another sponsorship activity – this time a letter writing effort where children write their sponsors. I joined in the fun by sitting with some of the sponsored children and writing part of this blog there. That might have been the first blog entry created at Luisa’s, but you never know!

Then we headed back to “The Capital,” as Guatemala City is referred to. About an hour later I was in my hotel room reflecting on what an emotionally charged and satisfying, yet challenging, two days it had been.

After all that I’ve seen, the bottom line is that we need more sponsors to reach more children…here in Guatemala as well as around the world.

More later.

Jim Cook is the president and CEO of Children International. Check back tomorrow for more personal commentary on his recent experience in Guatemala.

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