Published: January 3rd 2008January 3rd 2008
I think he liked his t-shirt!
This morning we were up early to catch the chicken bus to Escuintla, where Dad´s sponsored child, Jorge, lives with his grandmother. Due to some terrible wind storms, there were trees and cables down along the road, so it made for a slowish trip, but still only an hour away. It´s a different world to Antigua, where there is a lot more money, with many tourists and quite a few Americans who live here. Escuintla is described in the guidebook as a ¨hot, shabby commercial centre¨with nothing to recommend it other than for bus connections. That´s a generous description, as frankly I thought it was grim. The wind didn´t really help, and also there was no power anywhere, again as a result of the storm. The town itself is much hotter than Antigua as it is lower and near the coast. It is also (we discovered later) the second most dangerous place in Guatemala, after Guat. City itself because of the poverty and problems with drugs and alcohol. This of course, makes it an essential place for the Christian Children´s Fund (or the Child Fund in NZ) to be.
We were met by Hugo Palacios, who is the director of
This is the welcome sign for me and Lucy. Jorge is on the left, and one of the women who works at CCF is next to Lucy.
Proyecto Palmeras, which is the local project. He has been working for CCF for 17 years, and for 7 years in the Escuintla project. He is very passionate about what he does, and the project itself does fantastic work.
Of course the main point of our visit was to visit Jorge, who is the 13 year old boy that Dad has been sponsoring for around 8 years. He came with his grandmother to meet us. It was a fascinating visit. Not surprisingly, very few sponsors visit the children, so I think that they were pretty pleased to see us, however Jorge is very shy and a 13 year old boy to boot, so not too chatty! But we got to talk to him, ask lots of questions, and he asked a few questions of us too. Granny however was much chattier, and she said how grateful she was for the help that Jorge receives thanks to Dad.
Jorge goes to school everyday and says his favourite subject is maths, but it also became evident that his real passion, like many Guatemalans, is football. He plays every free moment he gets! He also likes painting and has lots of
friends. He goes to school from 7.30 (I think) until midday, but he said he always gets tons of homework. Not surprisingly he prefers to play football! I asked if he helps his grandmother around the house much, but he said he´s always playing football. However despite this, it came out in later conversation that he collects firewood for Granny to cook with every day, and yesterday when the roof came off in the winds he helped to fix it. That´s why in the photos he has some scars on his cheek.
They are obviously very poor. The meticulous records at the CCF offices, where we spent the morning, include an inventory of their house and its chattels, which include two beds, one table, three chairs but no fridge. Granny gets power from her neighbour´s house, but cooks with a fire. Granny works as a cleaner and laundry woman, and is unable to read or write - she tried to learn by going to night school, but the classes stopped, so she couldn´t go anymore. When she has to sign for something, for example when Dad sent some money over for Jorge´s birthday, she uses a thumbprint. Granny also
With Hugo Palacios
You can see some of the meticulous record keeping in the background. We are reading the book of Jorge´s correspondence. With us, is our translator for the day, Sandra.
said that it´s very hard to get a job in Guatemala, so she´s happy that Jorge is learning to read and write. She voted recently for a new president and hopes he lives up to his promises of providing more jobs and a safer country. She told us that it is too dangerous to go out at night time for anyone. I asked Jorge what he wanted to do when he left school - he said he´d like to have a job. If he was able to have a choice, he would like to be an accountant.
They were very happy to meet us, and Granny particularly said she was very grateful for the assistance a number of times. There is a large map of the world, with ¨Where does your sponsor live?¨above it. Jorge knew where NZ was, and they asked lots of questions about New Zealand. When I was describing our country, I was well aware that it sounded like complete paradise in comparison - it´s very safe, nobody has guns, we have low unemployment, eduction and health care are free. I´m not sure that they could even comprehend a country so different.
The project does
Meticulous record keeping
They have an entire history of every transaction for every child. Every penny (or centavo) is accounted for.
a fantastic job with incredibly few resources. The centre itself is a very simple structure, with a an education area, a doctor´s office, pharmacy/record keeping room, and Hugo and the accountant share an office. Everything is done manually, as there are only two computers and two telephones, although there are a lot of people who work in the office. One of the computers is solely for correspondence, as every three months, or when a child receives a letter from the sponsor, they come in and write a letter in an exercise book. Somebody then re-writes it on the computer, prints it off and it is sent to Guatemala City, Head Office, where it is translated and sent to the sponsor. Someone drives to Guat. City once a week to collect and drop off correspondence. Each room has a large wallplanner type thing with numbers representing children, and coloured drawing pins tracking activity. For example in the doctor´s office it keeps track of whether or not the child has received vitamins, and in the correspondence room it tracks payments and letters or gifts from sponsors. In the room where they track housing, the woman in charge told us that it wasn´t
finished as she didn´t have any drawing pins left.
The project pays for the children´s schooling, and provide some things for them to go to school with. They can´t afford to give them everything that they need for school, but everyone gets something. They keep records of the children´s marks, and if a child is not doing very well they provide coaching, plus they have two psychologists available who can visit the child in their home and find out if there is any reason why they might not be doing so well. They provide free health care, and ensure they get regular vitamins, although from what I could gather this was twice a year. Granny also gets free healthcare. They check on the family´s health and try to provide some health education. At the centre, there were also some old Singer sewing machines, so they could teach the mothers how to sew, presumably so that they can then work and earn some money for the family. There is a small concrete yard, with a donated playground. I didn´t think it would see the light of day back in NZ - OSH would have whipped it away in a flash.
CCF office in Escuintla
This is with Jorge, Granny, Hugo and the rest of the workers from the CCF office in Escuintla
However the children there have nothing else, and it was clearly in high demand. CCF visit the families regularly and keep records of the type of housing they live in, what´s in the houses (in Jorge´s case it was a short list).
It was an incredible experience to visit Escuintla and meet Jorge and his Granny. Hugo tells us the Project currently supports 551 children, although not all have a sponsor. However ironically, because they were not badly impacted by the war they haven´t received much in the way of assistance, and there are a further 1,000 children who are waiting for a sponsor. The first thing I´m doing when I get home is signing up to sponsor a child in Proyecto Palmeras 2394. So should you!
There are more photos below