Bob Rees' Trip to Guatemala Part 4

Saturday, June 29

Up in the morning, walk down the road to the coordinator’s house for breakfast, back to the chapel where we evaluated 175 kids. It is enchanting I must say to interact with so many beautiful children; even those who might not be classified as “beautiful” are beautiful. Lots of infants which the mothers carry around in a sort of sling like blanket on their backs (photo) or which the mothers hang on a wall or on a hook. (photo).

Sleeping baby hanging from a hook

Many of the children are a bit scared, likely because they aren’t used to seeing so many strangers and because they are uncertain as to what awaits them. Some kids burst into tears and kick as they are held to be weighed (the ones too small to stand on the scale by themselves) or laid down on the table where we measure them. Others are timid and compliant, although a few are also clearly frightened of what is happening. In the meantime, lots of older children crowd around the windows to see what is going on. Then there are those kids who find the whole experience great fun: they jump on the scale, climb up on the table, and joyfully hold their sucker or chocolate (our bribe!).

Coordinator and her baby

Since I love kids and babies so much it is like a feast for me. I love to tickle and tease them, rustle their hair, help them get their shoes off and then on. For the most part they are clean and well dressed (not in the sense of having great clothing but in terms of looking good—I suspect mothers prepared them as if they were going to church. The women wear their beautiful native clothing, which is quite colorful (photo). And their white blouses and white shirts are very white, although when I saw them doing laundry, I didn’t see how they could be. It is a pretty primitive arrangement. It is clear that they take a lot of pride in their appearance. The women nurse their babies openly.

The village people here in the mountains speak a native Mayan language (Qú‘eqchi = keck-chi). Most do not speak Spanish. It is a very beautiful and even musical language.

Waiting women and children in colorful native attire

Some of the kids were dirty, some had skin diseases and some were clearly malnourished (although it isn’t always easy to tell because with their diet of rice beans and corn tortillas they can be pretty chubby and still be malnourished). There are also some sad cases. I interviewed one woman about thirty four who had been widowed for five years. She has ten year old twins and an eight year old daughter. (see photo, below) She is unable to work and so has a hard time making ends meet. She said one of the twins had not gone to church the last couple of weeks because he was embarrassed at not having shoes to wear. I gave his mother enough quetzales to get him some shoes and some food for the family and talked with the district president about more resources from the Church.

Widow and her three children

The district president and his wife showed us their two year old daughter who has feet that turn in. She had an operation, but needs special shoes which they can’t afford to buy. I told him I would see if I could find some way to help them. (see photo)

District president's wife and daughter

One father brought a child who was ill (apparently from a previous diagnosis he has only one healthy lung) and asked if we had any medicine. We informed him that we were not medical doctors and had no medicine. The nearest clinic is a couple of hours away and sometimes they have to walk to it.

It is our hope to expand our adopt-a-stake program whereby a stake in the developed world adopts a stake in the developing world. This particular district would be a good one to adopt. It consists of five branches all in the mountains and, from what an area representative told me, is the poorest in Central America.

When one considers that our foundation can provide the nutrition supplements for one child for an entire year for $50, it wouldn’t take many people in an American stake to provide for this critical need. We estimate that a stake could provide the nutritional needs for a stake or district down here for around $5,000 a year. That would also provide nutrition supplements for pregnant mothers who need extra nutrition (one of our areas has twenty such women). If a stake could raise additional funds, they could also help kids go to school. At present in the mountain district there are at least twenty kids who don’t have shoes or pants that they need to go to school.

We consider this a great opportunity because the return on investment is so great. A kid who doesn’t get sufficient nutrition suffers from cognitive and physical impairment. Such a child is not likely to go to school, acquire the skills necessary to get a job, be capable of serving a mission or taking leadership positions and unlikely to make a good marriage decision. This means that he/she is much more likely to be dependent on both the Church and his/her own government—possibly for a lifetime. For $50 a year for a few short years, the chances are just the opposite: the child goes to school, acquires a skill, goes on a mission, serves others, makes a good marriage decision, is a good parent and citizen, earns a salary, pays tithing and fast offering and thus repays many times what it cost to give him/her a healthy beginning.

Our foundation is fortunate to have a group of competent, dependable, well-trained coordinators for each stake or area down here (and in Ecuador, Peru and Cambodia). They receive the money for the supplements, distribute them to the needy families (but only for a month so they can ensure they are being used properly), and help monitor the program.