We step out of the 4WD truck onto a narrow and dusty road. Dirty water runs down the edges through roots, rocks, plastic bottles and candy wrappers – a mixture of mud and garbage. Unfinished cinder block buildings with steel rods sticking out from the top wait for remittance money from legal/illegal relatives in the US, to add a second floor. Looking down on the small Mayan village of San Rafael El Arado are mountain slopes scattered with cultivated fields and limbless trees, missing most of their lower branches because they’ve been stripped for firewood. The mountains are steep. A few dirt paths rise between the half-hazard fenced properties, carved by decades of indigenous villagers who’ve walked up and down from their corrugated steel homes to the village center. It’s easy to notice the erosion from the mountain runoff that happens during the rainy season turning these pathways into gushing streams. For now, the paths are very hard packed dirt with natural steps created by the roots, rocks and human feet.
We are doing a couple of home visits today to check in on those that have not been the Hands of Hope clinic for a while.
We walk up a long dirt path, passing several shacks in various states of disrepair. A dog barks as we approach. A bent old woman sweeps her dirt path of stray garbage. We pass more starving dogs lying in the shade, too weak to care. Mayan women, children and elderly peek out their doors, smiling and curious about what these gringos might be bringing. The villagers know Gregory. “Buenos dias”, they say when we reach the furthest home up the hill; it’s a 22x17 rectangular cornstalk hut with a corrugated steel roof, dirt floor and one lightbulb. There’s no running water or bathroom. A spigot and a small pila, a sink area, are shared among the families living on this section of the mountain. Inside the shack, Rosa, the mom, is sitting on a queen size bed, which is also covered by a pile of clothes and 4 kids. In another corner there is a bunk bed. Some children run in and out of the door, giggling. A homemade two-layers crib/hammock hangs from the ceiling. It’s for the baby twins, born 4 months ago. Rosa who is 44 and her husband, along with the other 8 children and twins all live in this 375sf space with a small wood-burning cooking stove in the corner opposite the bed. There’s also a small altar to Jesus and a statue of our lady of Guadalupe with a vase of fresh roses. From where? We don’t ask, but they’re clearly a priority.
We talk to Rosa in broken Spanish with the help of Reyes, one of Anita’s clinic workers, who speaks Kaqchikel, the local Mayan language. Rosa smiles, she seems comfortable with us strangers in her house. Her babies are doing OK, she says, so she hasn’t been to the clinic for several weeks. We tell her Anita wants to see them anyway, for a well visit. Rosa just smiles and says she’ll try. As we make our way down the dirt path, we are silent and sober. In the truck, we finally ask Gregory what it would take to get the family a cement floor and cinder block walls. He estimates around US$4,000. We decide to fundraise the money for this family. It’s an easy decision… Not much has changed in the past 20 years since we first came, but it still hurts to experience the abject poverty that’s been in this village for decades (probably centuries). At least we can do something for one family and maybe a couple of more folks. Before returning to the clinic, we stop to pay a visit to an 86 year old woman, who is going blind and living alone since her husband died 4 years ago. She needs money for food, so we tell Gregory that we will find $50/month so that Hands of Hope can buy her enough rice, beans and eggs every month. And then there is Juanita, whose husband was killed and now lives alone with 5 children on a tiny piece of her in-laws’ property. Unfortunately, they don’t like her and don’t help her or their grandchildren; so, she has no food except for what Hands of Hope provides. Juanita will need $100 per month to feed her family, until her children are old enough to work in the fields.
That’s enough for the day. It seems like a lost battle. But, like we did when we adopted Paolo, we decide to think about it as the famous story of the starfish. We cannot save everyone, but our small effort will make a difference for the one that is thrown back into the ocean. And we ask God to take it from there.
Written by Enrico and Norine Contolini