I had many great experiences on my recent trip to Guatemala, but nothing could compare to the privilege of sitting down and interviewing six families who attend the El Buen Samaritano community center. I am so grateful for their willingness to open their homes to me and share their worries and dreams. The overall purpose of the interviews was to gain a better perspective of the realities of daily life in Jocotenango and how Palms and Souls can provide opportunities that are actually needed and wanted. Specifically, we discussed health, education, employment, income, and expenses. This experience was invaluable in assessing the current situation and informing our future initiatives.
Their authenticity and vulnerability was truly astounding. Of the six families I interviewed, two of the husbands/fathers died of alcoholism-related issues. Another man was often incapacitated due to his alcoholism, leaving his estranged wife to raise and support their two daughters alone. Alcoholism is a huge problem in many Guatemalan communities and contributes to the larger issue of absentee fathers. Most of the families that attend the community center do not have a father in the household – a common result of alcoholism and divorce.
We also gained a much better idea of where these families work and what they earn. Employment in Guatemala occurs in two forms: official or unofficial. Official employment occurs through registered businesses and government jobs. These positions have a minimum wage and confer legal protection against employee abuse, which was legislated due to Guatemala’s long history of brutal indentured servitude to the landowners. Unofficial employment makes up the majority of Guatemalan jobs and is not subject to any minimum wage or other worker protections. Of the families we interviewed, one man had official employment as a cook. The rest took whatever intermittent employment they could find. Most often this was household work such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry for the wealthier families in the nearby city of Antigua. Monthly income is usually between 600-1200 quetzales (85-$170), about half of which usually goes to rent.
THE AMOUNT OF VALUE THEY PLACED ON EDUCATION WAS SO PALPABLE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW.
But these interviews also gave reason for hope in a better future. Even though only one of the parents had more than a 6th grade education, all of them had such a clear understanding that education was the link to stable employment. They all desired for their children to graduate secondary school – a feat none of their parents could achieve. They also shared dreams of sending their kids to college even though that is currently an impossibility. The amount of value they placed on education was so palpable throughout the entire interview. I was truly inspired that these parents could see so far beyond their current circumstances and hope for a better life.
So here we stand. We are starting to gain a better understanding of Jocotenango and the families we serve. We are continuing to fall more and more in love with this community and the kids that will direct its future. We will continue to pray that God will bless our efforts and make them into something so much greater than we can do ourselves. If you are the praying type, please pray your heart out for these kids – they need it so much. We are SO EXCITED to keep moving forward with our game plan to change these 60 little lives!