After 6+ years of hard work, I am thrilled to share this news with you… Please bear with me while I unfold some of the details.
Two weeks ago we accepted our first two families here in the Project Somos Children’s Village!!! We welcomed two women and a total of seven children ranging from 1-8 years of age.
Since their arrival, we have been busy dealing with a myriad of different things; health challenges, nutrition, a lice outbreak, etc. Before sharing photos and stories with you, I want to share a bit of a background about how things have unfolded here at Project Somos over the last number of months.
In December, we were approached by a group of local Guatemalan leaders about the extreme conditions faced by many families here in Guatemala. We heard many heartbreaking stories. We heard tragic stories of recently widowed young women with many children. We learned of women who had lost their children to care or were on the verge of losing them. We were told about young girls taken out of school and sent to work long days as domestic help to support their families.
In many cases, there is only enough to feed a child one meal a day. Often this is nothing more than tortillas and salt. None have electricity. Running water is rare. Toilets are non-existent or are nothing more than an outhouse. All live on dirt floors and their homes are full of toxic smoke from cooking with firewood. The majority of the moms are illiterate.
Many mothers don’t send their children to school because they need them to work to earn money to support the family. The children grow up uneducated and the cycle begins all over again.
In collaboration with these local Guatemalan leaders, we have formed a team and are working together to help to improve the situation for these impoverished families. No matter how good and caring an institution is, children need the love and nurturing only a family can give. We are launching this as a pilot project and see it as an orphan prevention program.
We believe a child’s best chance at success in life is to stay with his/her family. Our team will work together to build life skills and vocational capacity with the moms, ensuring the children have access to education, and then to re-locate the family into better living conditions. Part of the team will work specifically on building new low-cost homes for the families. These will all be equipped with safe stoves and water filtration devices and the mother will have the means to support her family.
According to UNICEF there are 370,000 orphaned and abandoned children in Guatemala. Defined by UNICEF and global partners, an orphan is a child who has lost one or both parents. According to UNICEF only 10% of orphans are double orphans (both parents deceased). This means that 90% of these children still have a living parent. In many cases, the child has gone into government care due to extreme poverty not because the parent is abusive or neglectful. It is rare to find a Guatemalan mother who does not do everything in her power to provide for her children.
In February we hired our social worker, Francisca Perez y Perez. Frances has years of experience in human rights and especially, women’s rights. She is Kaqchikel Mayan and is a wonderful women with much wisdom and compassion. She loves our vision and is excited to be working with us to better the situation for impoverished families. She spent much of the last six weeks out in the field getting to know different community leaders and identifying families living in extreme situations. All I can say is that the need is great and unfortunately, we will never run out of women and children in crisis to assist.
After doing a tour with the two moms and their children, it became clear that there was an urgency to move one of the moms right away. She had been put in a very dangerous situation and she and her four children were living in nothing more than an animal pen in an agricultural field.
We believe that one of the ways to success with this model is to have the families cooperate and assist each other. They will live together and collaborate on all day to day chores and activities. Because the houses are more than big enough, this makes great sense and will allow us to provide for more families.
We are thrilled to welcome Ana and her four children aged 8, 6, 5 and 2 years old AND Marta and her three children; 4 years and 15 months (yes! twins!)
For their arrival, we were fortunate to have a team of volunteers from York House School that week. The young women were a huge help as they assisted Marta, Ana and the kids with their settling in. They all worked hard to help us prepare the rooms, the beds, the pajamas, towels, toothbrushes, etc. for the big arrival. The week following, we had volunteers from Strathcona Tweedsmuir and they too, were able to assist on many practical levels.
It’s a very sweet and emotional time for all of us. It has taken a ton of energy and work to get where we are today. We wouldn’t be here without the support of people like YOU. We thank you.
And now… the real work starts. Now we get to help impact the lives of these precious children. Now they will be offered opportunities to have a happy and healthy life. We will empower and support the moms to move out of poverty and to assist her in providing for her precious children.