Friday, June 20, 2008

Filthy and Sad...Like Dolls in the Darkness

I’ve spent a lot of time in desperately poor neighborhoods, and I’ve witnessed scenes very similar to this one. You never quite get used to it. In this post, Javier Cárcamo, our Communications Coordinator in Rural Guatemala, shares the stark, ugly reality of poverty. In cases like these, sponsorship just might be the only frail thread that keeps families from total devastation:

I almost turned on my heel, as though I had been halted abruptly by an invisible barrier; it was the penetrating smell of human feces and the buzzing of the flies – more like an enormous beehive. There, inside that tiny house, were volcanoes of diapers and piles of dirty clothes strewn around the floor, emitting a terrible stench and steaming from the suffocating heat under the tin roof.

On the floor, sitting on old, dirty clothes and on the few areas of concrete that could be seen, were two girls and a baby – seated like plastic dolls, the girls with their fingers in their mouths and the baby with a bottle covered in dirt and ants and filled with murky water.

The walls, blackened by filth and damp, are little hiding places for spiders and cockroach eggs. The overpowering smell makes it hard for me to breathe; I can’t even open my mouth. The heat mingles with my desperation at not being able to find a space to step to get close to the children, who remain motionless in the darkness, seated in front of a tiny window that was only opened for my visit.

The oldest girl’s eyes are averted; her dirty face and tangled hair speak of neglect. The white spots on her skin are from poor nutrition. And the children have little sores from their environment – the rocks, bushes and barbed wire that surround the river that gives them the water they need to survive.

Childhood stress has taken on a new meaning for me. Lidia, the oldest child at just 10, is responsible for the younger children, but she has to do the household chores so she won’t be scolded. The time it takes for me to visit worries her, because she’s afraid her parents will come home.

The baby looks like an inanimate object, while the flies and ants celebrate the conquest of the tip of the baby bottle – the same spot where he’s trying to put his mouth. I don’t even want to imagine what experience has motivated him to try to coordinate the hand movement he needs to clean it off, but his little hand is dirty because he’s left on the floor with no care whatsoever. His clothes smell terrible, and from what I can tell he doesn’t have another change of clothes.

Lidia, who is the other children's aunt but is more like a sister to them, shows me the old mattress where she sleeps. It’s covered in unidentifiable stains, and when she tosses it to the floor it releases a cloud of dust and a heavy smell of urine. Volatile…truly indescribable.

I can’t stay inside any longer. I can’t find any space, any angle. All mobility is reduced and the atmosphere inside is dense. Outside the weather is fresh and bright, but the children have to stay inside so they won’t get lost or be robbed.

As I leave I keep trying to explain to myself why there are so many families that can’t overcome poverty even with the help of the organization. Immediately, the answer comes to my head like a chilling sentence. Simply this: without the organization, they’d be even worse off….


Dana said...

this is incredibly heartbreaking! are these children sponsored?

Kelly said...

Hi Dana,

There are some sponsored children in the family, but I believe some are not sponsored.

Hilde said...

Kelly, what can we do? Buy them beds, pay for groceries and clothes?

Kelly said...

Anyone wishing to help this family through a special donation can drop us an email at, and we'll have the field staff go out and determine how the donation can best be used. Thanks!

Pamcake said...

I will definately help with a donation. This is horrible but am glad you brought it to our attention.

TK said...


The family's living condition is terrible, and I'll help too.

Did CI provide the family with some help or support on taking care of the children? Have the children's sponsors been made aware of their situation?

Why Lidia is worried and afraid her parent will come home during your visit? Some of the children are sponsored, isn't it?

TK said...

From postings in CI Sponsors Goggle Group, I found several very good ideas suggested by CI sponsors.
Sponsors are given only limited information about the child's living condition e.g. the child's family has concrete block wall, toilet, bed, etc., so does Lidia and her family. If I were her sponsor, I would not know how horrible her living condition actually is. It would be helpful, with the family's consent, to have pictures showing the family's actual living condition sent to the sponsors, so that the sponsors can give extra help to the family.
One sponsor also suggested setting up a special project-specific donation page on CI's blog (maybe also one in CI's website too) like the one in Aura's House. This is a wonderful idea that anyone can donate any amount to a specific family in need with ease.