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.

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