Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Saving Lives?

As we gathered in a small upper room in the Safe Passage office, we were met by a passionate Guatemalan named Freddy. This former professional soccer player seems to have transferred his fire from the field to the streets of the slums outside of the garbage dump. His first words to us were, "Do not think, that by coming here for one week that you are changing lives," (dramatic pause) "you are saving lives." He then proceeded to explain that the kids are motivated to come to the program for food and love; their education is secondary to them. Education is not the answer to the cycle of extreme poverty, but restoring one's humanity is. By spending our week with Safe Passage and loving on kids, we were restoring their humanity. Without hope, education is useless.

Our first morning began with a drive through the national cemetery, which sits high on a hill overlooking the city dump. Hundreds of vultures circled above and sat on the cliff ledges and tombstones. We could see the people working below and sorting through the trash for recyclable goods. Hospital waste, human waste, dead animals, etc. are all dumped in the same place, as there are few regulations here. It was quickly apparent which truck was from a wealthier community as many raced alongside, keeping one hand in contact with the vehicle, staking a claim and a place in line as the waste was dumped. Perhaps food or other items of use were on board.

Over the past three days, we've been so impressed with the work that Safe Passage is doing within this community. It's amazing the programs and infrastructure that have been established here in just 12 years. As part of our comprehensive tour and week volunteering, we've met with the Executive Director, the health department, the adult literacy department, social services, sports, and the art and music department. Their holistic approach is quite extensive and their primary objective seems to be to build relationships with and provide opportunities for the whole family. They've found that the kids who have parents in school and see them studying, are more successful. The literacy program and the jewelry making coorporative provide such avenues to promote parental support and success.

In addition, two years ago, Safe Passage opened an all day school for children ages 2 - 6. They found that often older children weren't able to attend school because they were needed to stay home and care for younger siblings. The Guarderia was the answer to that problem. We had the opportunity to spend today playing with the kids and assisting the teachers with the little ones and were thoroughly impressed with their care and discipline. I was in a class of two year olds and entered during singing time. When it was time to leave for English class, each child was called by name, stood up, put his or her chair away and waited in line by the door. Huh? These kids are two! The English class was so fun, as the 9 kids sat in a circle, sang songs, played with finger puppets (brown monkey, yellow bear, green frog), and counted bean bags. We were all big fans of the munchkins! And what a blessing for those kids to have that experience before they transition into the main Safe Passage program (called the educational reinforcement center).

One of my favorite experiences was assisting one of the English teachers as we rotated between 5 different classrooms. We played a song from last year's world cup and gave the kids lyrics printed partially in English and partially in Spanish. They had to look up and define a list of the words found in the lyrics and then listen to the song and fill in blank spaces. It was such a fun way to practice English!

A couple other team highlights I'd say have been our chocolate covered bananas and chocolate covered pineapple we purchase on the street after lunch and the "Gasolina" song we listen to on the hour long drive back to Antigua each night with our driver Jorge (although we recently found out it doesn't mean putting gas in your car, like we thought it did . . . oh well :))

I better close off and head to bed now, as we're up at 6:30am tomorrow. We leave our hotel in Antigua each morning at either 7:30am or 8am.

Buenos noches!

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome ladies! Thanks for the update. I love hearing your summation of Freddy's comment. It's true, you are making a difference in people's lives. I'm proud of you.

    I hope your trip continues to be fulfilling, fun, and inspired.

    Un abrazo,