Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recommended Books

It is so easy, I think, for organizations to get off track from their original mission and goals. It isn't always intentional, in fact I think most of the time it is unintentional as we are forced to work with what we have access to. Sadly, some become stuck in that never ending cycle of handouts and temporary fixes instead of re-evaluating and coming back to their original goal of working out long term solutions. Just during the short amount of time we have been in Guatemala I have seen how easy it could be to make multiple trips a year to poverty stricken countries and do nothing but distributions of meds, shoes, school supplies, etc. I am not saying that those things aren't needed, but what happens when things like toothpaste and antibacterial ointment run out and we aren't there to provide them with more? Does it really do any good to provide a child with pencils and notebooks for the school year when they don't have access to a pencil sharpener? And what good does that one bag of food REALLY do, other than giving them a holiday meal, filling their bellies for a week and reminding them that they are loved and not forgotten? As we work at finding long term solutions for poverty elimination in an effort to prevent children from becoming orphans in Pueblo Nuevo and beyond, we are learning how hard it is for those around us to understand why it is so important to focus on those long term solutions instead of focusing only on short term fixes that result in constant handouts that do more harm than good.

That leads me to two book recommendations...

I am currently reading The Poor Will Be Glad and recommend it to anyone that is considering beginning or partnering with a non-profit with a focus on poverty elimination. Whether you do not understand the impact that micro finance programs can have in developing countries or you want to learn more about how they work, this has some of the information you need. It has been an encouragement to me as we look at ways to establish such a program in Guatemala.

When Helping Hurts is a book I am recommending before I read it. I have been meaning to read it for a while and will start it when I am finished with The Poor Will Be Glad. It is highly recommended by others that have read it and I am anxious to get started.

This comes as I am sorting through thoughts that are leading to a blog post about the "new" UNICEF-Haiti news. We do not support UNICEF or anyone affiliated with them, but I know that I am in the miniority of adoptive parents in my thoughts on international adoption as a form of orphan opinion that has changed for me over the last few years. Of course, we believe in adoption as an option for children that are truly eligble, but we also believe international adoption is not the answer to the world's growing orphan crisis. Working to eliminiate poverty and in turn preventing orphans is. More on my thoughts about UNICEF and international adoption soon...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

$21 for Haiti

If you have ever read my blog, chances are you have heard about the Caswell family. The Caswell's have been an inspiration to me for the last five years, since adopting their first child from Guatemala, and continue to inspire us with their love for orphans and heart for those in need around the world. Today I learned that their two oldest children want to help the people of Haiti. These children have the biggest hearts of any children I have ever met, thanks to the example of their parents, so it is not a surprise to me that they would begin thinking of ways to help. After some discussion, it was decided that their family would hold a bake sale in their driveway this Saturday. They will be selling baked goods, coffee, cocoa and maybe some toys. 100% of the proceeds will go to Samaritan's Purse for Haiti Disaster Assistance

Gannon's goal is to raise $21 because, as he says, "That's more money than I ever had in my whole life." I am sending my $21 tomorrow. Will you match me? If you are able to donate $21 or any other amount, please send paypal donations to terry dot bracey at gmail dot com or mail checks or money orders made payable to Rebecca Caswell to: AAB, P.O. Box 14086, Baton Rouge, LA 70898 and I will send them to her all at once.

Again, ALL proceeds will go to Samaritan's Purse. This is NOT to benefit Across All Borders or projects in Guatemala in any way.

Please consider donating. Feel free to post this on Facebook, Twitter and other blogs. Also consider hosting your own bake sale this weekend as a way to support those in Haiti and increase your children's awareness to the needs there.

To read Rebecca's blog post about their bake sale, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In the News

CLICK HERE to read a short article about the students that worked to collect school supplies, OTC meds, toys and shirts that AAB distributed in October and December. Great kids, awesome teachers!

Friday, January 1, 2010


During our time in Pueblo Nuevo last year information had to be obtained, observations had to be made and basic decisions had to be finalized. In order to do more than just handouts and reach needs that we can only temporarily meet through occasional short term mission trips, we had to (and have to continue to) get into the community, learn as much as possible about the families there and start working strategically on long term solutions for poverty elimination while also meeting immediate physical needs as well as spiritual needs. Each time I was in Guatemala, I could be found walking around, carrying a notebook and a pen, taking notes, asking questions and listening to every word spoken by those that opened their doors of tin or simple wooden gates.

As with any village in Guatemala, we learned that the needs are great. If you ever travel to any part of Guatemala, you will see the same needs in varying degrees. From the jungles of north Guatemala to the southern most point and from coast to coast, there are needs that need to be met and I will dare say that EVERY village could benefit from some type of long term community development and orphan care/prevention programs.

We have big goals for 2010 and I will start sharing them a little later and as the year goes on. What we pray for this year goes far beyond our short term mission trips (though they are important and needed), but instead begins our long term focus as we have talked about from the beginning.

During our trips to Guatemala last year, I talked a lot about families in Pueblo Nuevo and shared pictures of each trip, but until I had better facts, I was hesitant to share more information here. Now that we know more about this village and the people that call it home, I want to share some of my observations with you. These are just some of my observations from three trips in 2009.

Orphans - We all know that there are an estimated 130 million to 210 million orphans in the world. That figure includes "single orphans" (a child that has lost or been abandoned by one parent) and "double orphans" (a child that has lost or been abandoned by both parents). These numbers do not include "street children". According to the definition of a single orphan, most of the children in Pueblo Nuevo are orphans, having lost or been abandoned by their fathers. There are some fathers that remain, but most of the men in the village have either died or left their wives for women in other villages.

Families - While the number is still unclear, there are an estimated 400 families living in Pueblo Nuevo. I have no way of knowing if this estimate is close to correct. I have no doubt that there are at least 300 families in Pueblo Nuevo. If there are 400, we will likely find out sometime this year. These families consist mostly of mothers and their children. The few husbands/fathers that have remained with their families generally work in the fields outside of Pueblo Nuevo, spend days away from home at a time, are alcoholics and have mistresses. I am sure that this isn't the case for every man in Pueblo Nuevo, but based on the information provided by women there, this is the case in many families. The average number of children in a family 6 to 7.

Employment - There is no employment in Pueblo Nuevo whatsoever. There are currently 5 tiendas that are consistently open, that I have seen, and none of them appear to produce a steady stream of income. There is 1 store front that sells tortillas, but it rarely makes a sale. Men that remain with their families are forced to work in the fields that are miles away from Pueblo Nuevo or not work at all. There are only a handful of women that are fortunate to have have found employment in other villages, though in order to work they must leave their small children home alone.

Health Care - There is no health care in Pueblo Nuevo. The nearest hospital is in Antigua, a 20-30 minute car ride away. Because the majority of families do not have personal transportation, they are forced to walk or, if they can afford public transportation, take a bus to Antigua. Most people in Pueblo Nuevo do not seek medical care, even when it is needed, because they cannot afford the minimal cost associated with it.

Education - There is a public, government run school in the village. It is overcrowded and typical of government run schools across Guatemala. Younger children attend school from 8 am - noon; older children attend from 1 pm through the afternoon. Obviously, some education is better than no education, but we know that 4 hours of education a day is not adequate. The government does provide the school with some necessary supplies, but the school lacks much of what is needed to properly educate. Even though the classrooms are overcrowded, the majority of children in Pueblo Nuevo do not attend school. We have been told by mothers that their children do not attend school because they do not want to, they need help from the older children to care for the younger ones and they believe that getting an education does not benefit the future.

Food Crisis - The food crisis is obvious throughout Guatemala, including in Pueblo Nuevo. Corn is the main source of food for most families. Most families eat only tortillas and beans. Some families have chickens, but those that do have them state that they only produce a couple of eggs a day...not even close to enough for a family of 7-10.

Housing - Fortunately, there are not many people living on the streets in Pueblo Nuevo. Other than a couple of men that appear to be homeless, most families do have some sort of shelter. Of all of the homes we have visited, only one of them has actual flooring (tile), walls separating rooms and a roof with no holes in it. A few homes had flooring consisting of dirt covered concrete. The majority of homes have walls made of cement blocks or tin (those with tin usually have large gaping holes where the tin is supposed to come together, no flooring (only packed dirt or concrete covered in a thick layer of dirt) and few have doors except for the main entrance of the house. Most roofs are in need of repair. Homes are often separated into sections (small separate structures) and usually contain one bedroom, a kitchen and sometimes a bathroom which may or may not contain a toilet. Some families have one bed, others do not even have that. Regardless, most children sleep on dirt floors. There is no room in most homes for additional beds. Blankets and sleeping bags are desperately needed.

Water - As with the rest of Guatemala, water in Pueblo Nuevo contains a number of contaminants that causes illness and disease. In all of Pueblo Nuevo, I have only seen two water filtration systems and one of them is not in use. Most families do have access to water and are able to use it for washing their clothes and cooking. They also drink the water. While their systems are accustomed to drinking it, it is still unhealthy and leads to an increased risk of preventable diseases. Some houses also have toilets. In one part of the village, there are few homes that have water or plumbing.

Stoves - I have seen only one onil stove in Pueblo Nuevo. In all but that home, all cooking is done over an open fire, usually in the kitchen. Walls are covered with black soot. Many women have a continuous cough. It is evident that this type of repeated exposure to smoke is causing what could be severe health problems.

Pre-Natal Care - Because there is no medical care in the area, there is no access to pre-natal care. During our October and December trips, we provided all pregnant and nursing women with pre-natal vitamins, but other than that, they have not and will not receive pre-natal care. In Guatemala, it is not uncommon for a women to die during childbirth and children die during infancy at an alarming rate.

There is so much more that I could say about Pueblo Nuevo and we still have so much to learn about this village and the families that live there.

As I said before, all of this is typical throughout Guatemala and there are different levels of need in each village. What we have seen in Pueblo Nuevo is a village of mostly women trying to care for an overwhelming number of children. Most children are at great risk of becoming double orphans. Should any mother in this community die, her children would be left to care for themselves. Every woman is at risk of disease and injury because there is no preventative measures for anything in this village.

But just as the rest of Guatemala and the rest of the world, this village is not fact, there is so much hope and potential there that just the thought of what it could (and I am convinced WILL) be makes me giddy.

So where do we go from here? Our ultimate goal is long term community development and reach short and especially long term physical and spiritual needs..basically, to do everything possible to eliminate poverty in this village while remembering that we aren't trying to turn it into something similar to a U.S. suburb. It sounds like a big dream and an unreachable goal to many, but it isn't. We have seen the need, we know that simple handouts a couple of times a year is not the answer and would, in fact, cause more harm than good in the long run. It's time to get to work....2010 is going to be a busy year!