We met Ricardo’s family in 2002 when his wife started coming to the clinic with their youngest child, a small baby girl. She and her family lived in the next village about three miles away. Their home was a cornstalk shack with a mud floor and no kitchen area. Without a stove, table or chairs, they cooked on simple fire made from a few sticks of wood and dried leaves and ate sitting on the floor around the fire which served to keep them warm during the cold months. The children were often sick due to poor nutrition and unclean water. The family was obviously one of the poorest, so we helped with free clinic visits and medicines and donations of food as much as possible
Ricardo, now 47, used to work as a helper on a bus collecting fares and placing the passengers’ huge baskets and bundles of fruit and vegetables on the roof of the bus. Starting at 4:30 am, six days a week, it was dangerous and harrowing work, climbing on the roof often when the bus was already moving at high speeds on curvy mountain roads.
Hard at work early one morning about ten years ago, he lost his balance and fell off the bus while it was moving and he was hit by a car. When he was discharged from the hospital months later, he was brain-damaged, could barely speak and was unable to walk. His wife and five children were left in a severe poverty-stricken situation without any compensation from the bus company; Ricardo could never work again.
Despite six operations over the years, Ricardo continues to suffer from kidney problems and his health is always precarious. He has only stayed alive this long because his wife takes good care of him and our clinic provides the special medicines he frequently needs including those for urinary tract infections.
He is often in pain and sits alone all day in his wheelchair while his wife and children hunt and collect firewood, which they then chop into small pieces to sell. She also buys firewood in large bundles, uses a machete to cut into smaller pieces and ties into smaller packs for sale to the villagers.
This very hard work allows her and the children to earn a total of $40 a month, which is all they have to live on. They manage to raise a little bit of corn and beans on a tiny plot of land which belongs to Ricardo’s father. The most amount of food they have is what they gather by walking through already-harvested fields to pick up the small poorly-formed and teeny cobs of corn left behind by others who didn’t consider those stubs worthy of harvesting.
In 2006 the government had a project to give cement blocks to poor families with the requirement that they do the construction within thirty days to qualify to get a free door and concrete floor. A local man agreed to do the building work for a discount price of $40. Through much hard work the mother saved the equivalent of $20 to pay a worker to start building the block walls, but was $20 short upon completion. She begged us for the money which we gladly gave her.
The little house was very small and on a bank of dirt along the road. The entrance to the house is about ten feet straight up from the roadway to the house with steps carved out of the mud. The father sits by the roadway all day to wait for people to come by and buy firewood. Halfway through the day, he would drag himself up the mud steps to the kitchen area, eat the few tortillas his wife would leave already made for him, then crawl back down to keep watch over the firewood. To see him claw his way up those steps, dragging his limp body was a slow, difficult and very sad difficult process to watch.
Two years ago, the wife came to the clinic to say Ricardo was seriously sick and the family thought he would die. He refused to go to the hospital, aware it would be an added expense to the family to retrieve his body, should he die at the hospital. So he laid out on the floor, quietly suffering in pain and fever.
When I visited the family the wife confided in me, with tears, that her father-in-law who owned the land that the house was on, had already announced that he was planning to evict her and the children should her husband die. Now, in addition to worrying about her husband dying, she was also scared to see how coldhearted the father-in-law was acting, and frightened to think she would have absolutely no other place to go with her children.
We sent a Guatemalan man to talk to the father-in-law about selling the land, even though that land was supposed to be Ricardo’s inheritance. However, most times there is no paperwork and many agreements are only oral and in this case the father-in-law’s position was that if the son died, then he doesn’t qualify for any inheritance and the wife and children must leave. The asking price for the land was an exorbitant amount so we suspect he knew we might somehow be involved. He probably hoped we would pay a high price for what really was an almost uselessly tiny plot of land. And, the land is already scheduled to be reduced when the road is widened.
We decided the best option for this family was to look for plot of land to build a home of their own. We had no funds for this project but felt moved to pursue this. A month later, Jane, a lady from the USA was visiting our clinic and saw Ricardo sitting in his wheelchair beside a pile of firewood on the side of the road.
When we told her his story and how the family lived in such poverty, she said she would try to raise funds to help us with this family housing project.
Coincidentally, another man, Daniel, came to me the same week to tell me he was in financial predicament because of several loans he had incurred when his parents died. He had given his land as collateral for the high interest rate loans.
Daniel was a good hardworking man with seven small children living at home. However with several unexpected expenses a poor growing season and little work, Daniel was soon behind in his payments. When he came to me, the bank was ready to foreclose on his property which would leave him and his family with no place to live or grow a little crop for food.
God worked it out, with the help of Jane who later sent us a sufficient amount of money to buy a plot of land and contribute towards the building of the house. Daniel was then able to pay off the bank loans with the money from the land, so he still had a home and a little land for his family.
After the rains had stopped in the late fall, we started to make plans to build. The local man that we hired to build the house designed it like any other in the area – two bedrooms and a covered open area to serve as a family room and kitchen. But Gregory was concerned that there were provisions to accommodate Ricardo’s special needs.
So working with the builder, he redesigned the plans to make the house wheelchair accessible and livable with a gentle ramp to get in and out of the home from the road, remembering to design it so that heavy rains did not enter the home or the walkway. No more would Ricardo have to crawl with his hands to drag himself up mud stairs! Importantly, the house was along a main road so that the mother would still be able to sell her firewood to the villagers.
The clean, neat cement block house was finished in a few months and it had a feature few people in the village have – a bathroom! There is no running water in the village of Yalu but there is a nearby public pila which is the public washing and water storage area.
Gregory set a barrel in the bathroom designed to fill with water from the roof and instructed the family to fill it with buckets of water if there was no rain. And showed them how water from the barrel can be dumped into the toilet. Now envious people from the village come to admire this bathroom with a “flush toilet”. And wall bars and a wide door make it easy for Ricardo to use the bathroom.
Gregory even planned it so Ricardo can look out of the bedroom window and porch to see the beautiful mountain views, while seated in his wheelchair!
We were even able to make a large bed for the family so now the children can sleep on a bed instead of the floor.
What a happy and joyfully tear-filled day when we presented the family with the keys to their own home. The change in the entire family is so visible and nice to see. God is so wonderfully good!
Thank you so much to all who contributed to make these wonderful things possible. We feel so blessed to be a part of it all, and our hope and prayer is that you, too, will feel blessed and appreciated.