Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Hijas del Rey (Daughters of the King) Women's Home

We've had some resident changes and needed to hire additional staff, but with the arrival of Caty, a young woman who grew up in a children's home in Monjas, Jalapa in Guatemala, our women's home is complete--at least for now.

Living with women is very different from living with the men (DUH!).  There is such a strong sense of community and affection among the women that it is a delight to be with them.  Don't get me wrong.  Our men care about and are friends with each other, but have much more varied interests and different personalities, so tend to be more independent and go their own way.  Our women love being together, and are "off-balance" when someone goes home for a visit.

Debora with her son

Debora, our young woman who is deaf, has been home with her family since Easter.  While on her home visit she became ill with something which still is not identified, and her family felt it best if the were the ones to care for her.  I agree, though we miss her.  And I think it was especially hard for her to be separated from her son, even though he would visit often. Will she come back?  Time will tell.

Petronila on her arrival, with her mother and sister-in-law

Petronila was our first permanent resident, coming to us in January.  She is bright and very independent despite being in a wheelchair due to spina bifida.   I tell her she is my memory because she often keeps track of where I need to be and what I'm supposed to do.

Next came Griselda, who is the light of the house.  She has never met a stranger, and though she can be quite stubborn at times, is a delight to live with.  Gris surprises me with her abilities and understanding, though I have known her for six years at New Life School.

Chepa (Josefa) was our next resident, coming to us from a children's home in San Andres, Quiche.  I truly believe her presence is God ordained.  It began with a question from my friend, Norman Sutton (an Omaha resident who served as a missionary at the children's home with his wife Vicki) if I ever thought we could take Chepa.  The home now had mostly very young children, and her companion, Agelita, had gone to Jesus last year, so Chepa was well loved, but very along.  Now she is an essential part of our family and we are so glad.

Caty on her first visit, accompanied by Carroll Bishop,
the founder of the home where she grew up.

Caty completed our little community.  Caty had an extremely abusive early childhood before coming to the home in Jalapa, and the founder, Carroll Bishop thought of her as her own daughter.  The time had come, however, when they realized Caty needed more than they could provide, and came to us.  We were a bit concerned that her transition would be difficult, since a couple of trial placements with families had not been successful.   Her adjustment to living with us, after just one trial week with a caregiver from the home, could not have gone better and she really does "complete" our community.

Our program for the women, given their special needs, is much more structured than for the men's home.

We have regular classes in reading and math, as well as life skills.  A young woman from the community, Esmeralda, joins us on these mornings.  She herself has special needs and lives with another missionary family.

Griselda and Chepa working on recognizing their names.
Esme, who functions at about a 3rd to 4th grade level,
has her own individualized curriculum.
Basic cooking is also part of the program

And who doesn't love to lick the bowl?
Homemade French bread pizza is a favorite

No one really likes the clean up,
but somebody's got to do it.
Everyone gets their turn.

And there's no food to cook if you don't go to the market

And sometimes you just have to kick back at Pat's house
conveniently located just across the driveway

The girls have made many friends in our area. You can see Olivia, above, who enjoys spending time with our ladies.  Maya, the daughter of a missionary family in the area has developed a special affection for the women and they for her.

Going to the park with Maya is always a treat.

We were honored to attend the wedding of Edwin and Leah, a former housemate

We have been heartily welcomed by Calvary Chapel Antigua as our home church for the women.  They are two doors down from the house, and we are really included there, especially by Pastor Luis who knows each of the women by name, and makes sure to greet them personally each week.  There is no special "program" for them, they are just part of the church and participate as they wish.  It has been such a blessing and the girls eagerly wait for Sundays to roll around.

Casa de Esperanza

We are holding steady at four residents in our men's home, but even at that, we require 6 caregivers, working full-time shifts in rotations, to care for them.  God has blessed us with an amazing team of companion-caregivers who see our guys as a ministry opportunity as well as a "job."

Sometimes our patio looks like a junk yard, and
I feel I need to hang a disclaimer that the liquor bottles in the trash
are not from our consumption, but recycling!

Fidel is quite the entrepreneur.  He continues his recycling business, but invested some of the profits to begin selling small electronic accessories, such as phone cables and head phones.  Most of his first purchases were to our workers, but I hope he can make a go of it as people in the town find out what he is doing.

Osmi will graduate from high school this November after attending school on Saturdays in Santa Maria de Jesus.  He would love to attend university, but we are still trying to figure out how to make this happen.  The tuition, books, and fees would require quite a financial investment, and in addition, we would need to pay for special transportation for him into Antigua.  I don't doubt, for a moment, though, that if God wants this, He will make it happen.

Osmi in "white face" after participating in an activity
in Santa Maria de Jesus as a mime.
He sure doesn't show up this way, though,
when Ali, his girlfriend comes over.

Roberto is trying to earn a bit of money selling coconuts at the door to our home.  He buys 30 at a time, trims them down, pokes a hole in them and inserts a straw, and there you have a natural drink!  He still struggles with academic learning, and sometimes with his relationships with those in the home, but he really wants, and needs to be with us.

Roberto when we found him,
July 4, 2015
August 5, 2019

Moises--what can I say about Moy?  No matter how tired or down I might feel, he always can make me laugh.  He does not have a "outside job" (he's much younger than the other guys) but helps out a lot in maintenance and cleaning of the home.  It's a standing joke that whenever I ask him to do something, he says, "No!" and immediately goes and does it.  I say he's 22 (can you believe that) going on twelve, but that's what happens when you grow up in an institution.

Yes, that's Mosis STANDING next to Fidel.
He now walks around the table three times before
each meal, and his balance, control and gait are improving.

With the other activities I'm responsible for, I don't see the guys as much as I used to, and I miss them.  God has provided a wonderful house-manager in Brenda, and she keeps me constantly appraised about what is going on.

The home church, Rey de Gloria, continues under the leadership of Derrick and Brittany Burden.  They are amazing, Biblically grounded, and genuinely love the guys.  About once a month, Pastor Harold Salvador, a national pastor, comes and visits and preaches.  They are being well discipled.

The Burden Family with some of our guys

As you can see, Derrick is not a small guy,
and has a playful nature.
Perfect for our men.

Pastor Harold "preaching".
I love that our guys get to hear from a Guatemalan just who Jesus really is.

Often I am approached about taking other residents, but have had to say no.  It breaks my heart, knowing that really there is nothing like our home anywhere in the country, but to add more people would make us become more and more a small "institution" (even if we call it a home) and less of a family.  We could easily start another home, though, if we had the funds and could find qualified staff.

Eight residents, seven staff members, two friends
made turning 67 much less painful!

So, there you have it!  Recently I celebrated my 67th birthday (at my age I don't hide it but am proud I'm still around) with both the men and women who live with us was well as the staff who serves us so well.  As I looked down the table at the dinner, Fidel and I reminisced about my birthday 6 years ago when there were 3 of us at the table our rented house in Antigua. Now there are 18, in a house with own.  Not a bad six years progress.

And my birthday cakes could have burned down
a small village!

Our Community Centers

In addition to the two community living homes we operate in Guatemala, Reason to Hope has become known as somewhere those with disabilities and their families can come for help in a number of areas.

Melanie, Jesus and Brayan study every Saturday
at Casa de Esperanza

A large emphasis at this time is our community outreach centers where we provide education and support to children and their families.  We began with one in San Pedro Las Huertas, at our men's home, Casa de Esperanza.

Petronila, one of our residents who has graduated high school.
working with Chepa on beginning math skills
and activities to build her fine motor skills

We expanded when we opened the women's home, Hijas del Rey (Daughters of the King) to serve those in the Antigua and Panorama area, as well as the women living in the home who continue to have special educational needs.

Two of our Santo Tomas students and their moms,
along with Gloria Donis,
the school psychologist with the vision to start this program
In February of this year I was contacted by the municipal psychologist for a neighboring village who asked if I would come and help her evaluate the needs of children she was serving.  We partnered with a team from Beeline Wheelchairs to provide communication support to a number of the children, but they needed more.  Would I come one afternoon every two weeks to work with them?

Teaching at the Women's Center in Santa Lucia
It became apparent we needed a permanent home
for our tutoring program
Soon, this grew to two afternoons a week, and it became clear we needed a permanent home for our center.  I was absolutely astounded when, through the social work program for the village, the mayor of the town offered me the use of a building, rent and utility-free. If you know anything about the social and political structure of Guatemala, can understand what a work of God this was.  This wasn't on my radar for 2019, but after consulting my "wise counsel" here and in the US, we accepted.  We trust if God opened a door so widely, He will provide to keep it open.

This is the entrance to our three room tutoring center,
the use of which is donated by
the city of Santa Lucia

We began negotiating a contract with the city council (are you beginning to see just how over my head I am?) and in June moved into a permanent facility, between the childcare center and the cemetery in the village of Santo Tomas.  (Read more about this here). 

We only have one classroom painted and pretty,
but it gets a lot of use.
We are currently serving about 12 children two days a week.  I have set the limit at 15 children until our budget permits us to hire a teacher for the center, so, like our homes, we are just about at capacity.  I continue to teach two mornings a week at the women's home, and Saturdays at the San Pedro location.  New Life School is still very important to me, but I have moved into a position of consultant rather than providing direct services to the children in Santa Maria.  This was a difficult decision, but I have learned there is only so much of me to go around!

While we don't present formal Bible lessons at the centers, our constant emphasis, through words and actions, is to help the children learn they are loved and valued, by us and more importantly by their Heavenly Father.  We talk about them using their God-given talents and abilities to fulfill His plan and purpose for their lives, and base all of our discipline and social skills instruction on Biblical principles using Bible verses and stories.

We do our best to support our parents.
Here, Estefany, a Peace Corp worker, volunteering with us,
talks with the mothers about school issues.
Many of our children and their families do not attend church and I love as I see their parents, who stay with them for they sessions to learn how to work with their children, listening as attentively as their children to what we are saying.  Since we are not a "church" even our Catholic families are open to what we teach.  It's an amazing privilege but also a heavy responsibility to be faithful to help them come to know Jesus personally, as more than a historic figure or religious icon.

The results we are seeing in this short time are overwhelming.  Mother after mother will tell me how the children do not like to go to school (where they are ignored, bullied or even abused) but ask almost daily when they get to see Seño Paty.  When a twelve year old boy on the autism spectrum cannot enter or leave the center without hugging me, I know they are experiencing love which comes not from my own heart, but straight from the Heart of the Father.  What an awesome place to be.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Our "wishlist"

School supplies

These are all things which we either cannot buy in Guatemala 
or are much more expensive

Fine and wide point
watercolor markers
(Crayola, Roseart preferred)
Glue sticks
(brand not important)

Two pocket folders

Plastic snap close envelopes

Laminating pouches (8.5" x 11")
available from
Office Depot
(brand not important)

If you would like to see more materials we could use for our outreach centers, you can go to our Amazon Wishlist.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Reaching Out Beyond Our Doors

The therapy addition is complete, unfortunately I don't have a picture!
Here Pastor Roberto, who is also a "maestro de obra" (contractor)
is finishing the outside cement.  (He is also Brenda's dad!)

When Westside Church's Children's Ministry approached me about sponsoring a project in Guatemala, the first thing that popped into my mind was a way to reach the larger community of people with disabilities, especially those who lived in our area.  I had in my mind what this would look like, and still hope to complete this vision.

Moving in!
I dream of a center in Casa de Esperanza where people can come for therapy and encouragement, as well as learn about the Ultimate Healer, Jesus.  We are already known in our town of San Pedro, as the "wheelchair house" and many, many people in town know the guys living there.  Slowly the mental image of someone with a disability has changed from pity and total dependence, to seeing them as individuals, similar to themselves, who face a unique set of challenges to reach the same goals they pursue.

Offering physical and occupational therapy has been a complicate process, which we are still navigating.  We have met an excellent physical therapist who works at a children's home about ten blocks from us.  We are looking at ways to hire her to come in one day a week and do out-patient therapy.  Our biggest obstacle is raising her salary which would come to about $400 each month.  But, in time, God will provide.  We may start out with her just coming to work with the guys in the home, and see where it leads.

Finding occupational therapy is even more difficult.  In the US, you must now have a Doctorate to get your degree in Physical Therapy, and a minimum of a Masters Degree to be an Occupational Therapist.  Here in Guatemala the training program in our area is a three year undergraduate program in combined PT/OT.  There is no way you get the same level of competence in three years that you do in Graduate School. (Apologies to the "education doesn't matter" group, but it does!)

Mario sharing Christmas dinner with me.
He sacrificed his own Christmas to make sure
all our guys got to visit their friends and family for the day.
Mario, one of our companion-caregivers, expressed an interest in studying Physical Therapy, so we are providing a scholarship for him to pursue this three year degree.  This is on the condition that he is willing to receive further training from visiting therapists from the US who have more education and experience.  It also requires that he will work for us one year after his graduation (with pay, of course) for each year we sponsor him.  We are "growing our own" so to speak.

We also are now able to offer assistance to non-verbal children to help them communicate their wants and needs, thanks to the generous donations of the Communication Team from Illinois, and Mary Tieken, who was the instigator behind this project.

My first thought was to offer physical therapy because I thought that was the greatest need of those with disabilities in our town.  While that may be true among the adults, I have discovered that among the children their greatest need is education.  While there is a school for children with special needs about ten blocks from our home, gossip has that it is not a good place.

Bryan and Melanie, our two
San Pedro students

From what I have seen, it is not the best school ever, but they do treat the children well.  I know parents who send their children there. What I do know is that the staff do not pull any punches in dealing with the kids.  They treat them like typical children their age, and, in a country where children with disabilities are either rejected or coddled, this doesn't go over very well. (By the way, this school is completely Guatemalan run.)

So parents have come to me, asking if I would teach their children who either have been told they can no longer attend public school, or sit in classes with students their age, but learn nothing.  This has been a hard decision for me, because I want to support the special school in our area, but know I can't force parents to send their children there.

Running an individualize education program requires
as much in materials as it does in time.  
I have agreed to work with these children once a week.  They will not learn a lot of academics in a couple of hours, but I am hoping to forge a relationship with the parents so that they are at least willing to talk to some parents I know whose children are in the special school, and maybe even go with me to visit.  Should they decide to enroll their children, it will still be a challenge, because these families live about ten blocks in the opposite direction from our home, and will need to ride a bus to take and pick up their kids.  Nothing, it seems, is simple in Guatemala.  But, if we get to the point where they want to enroll, we'll figure out something.  God always shows us how to do what He asks of us.

In addition, we have begun an outreach to the village of Santa Lucia Milpas Altas, about 12 miles from Antigua.  We received a call from the Mayor's office asking if we could help and we agreed to go one time with the Communication Team from Illinois.  Of course, we didn't stop at one, but meet each week on Thursday afternoon with these children.

Education here is under the Federal Government, so the Mayor has no control over what goes on in the school.  Actually, the municipal psychologist, Gloria, is the disability champion for this project.  Our goal here is to convince the principal of the local public school to provide us with a classroom and desks, free of charge.  We would then hire a teacher to teach these children in their local school, using techniques and materials we would provide.  This is probably years in the making, but I think well worth the effort. Would you please make this a prayer priority?

We are reaching out, a little differently than we thought we might, but God knew and prepared the way to get us where He needed us to be.  We are excited to see what he does next.

To learn more about our educational outreach, read the article about our tutoring program.