Before coming to live in Guatemala almost four years ago, I had travelled to various countries like India, Peru, Mexico and Bolivia. I felt I had a strong sense of what poverty looked like, sounded like and smelled like. I didn’t consider myself naïve to the true despair of the abyss of extreme poverty. I thought I saw it close up and personal. Well, I can tell you, I was naïve and I am being schooled about the reality of poverty.
Poverty is an insidious legacy that sucks the very life out of innocent human beings from generation to generation. It is almost impossible to climb out of extreme poverty and if we have any notion that people chose this road or have much opportunity to escape its reach once in its grip, we are uninformed or deluding ourselves. I had also thought every mother wants a better, healthier life, more stable life and an education for her children. Well, I was wrong again.
Consider centuries of oppression with a slave-like existence, without education, (meaning some training in critical and creative thinking), without good nutrition, and living a life under extreme life and death type stress. This seems to have impaired the ability to chose a better road for oneself and one’s children even if you are on the edge of a life-consuming abyss.
Project Somos currently has three mothers with nine children living on the property. Antolin and Nico screen potential family candidates to come and participate in what is being offered here – a safe place to live, nutritious food, capacity building for the mother, education for the children, and vocational training so that the mothers can support their families when they leave Somos. Sounds ideal and you would think there would be a waiting list to live here? Wrong again.
We receive referrals from community leaders and neighbours of mothers and children who are in extreme need and would benefit from what Somos offers. Antolin and Nico go to where they are living, which is usually a shack with no electricity, no plumbing, with a dirt floor. One of the mothers was living with her four children in an animal pen. The severity of their situations is more than sobering.
I will not go into the details of each case, but I will tell you, we have offered 8 abandoned or widowed mothers with children an opportunity to come under the roof of Somos and five rejected the offer and only three have accepted. How is this possible? It is shocking for us –mothers with five or more kids choosing to stay in extreme poverty. I can only offer my perspective, as I am not a trained sociologist or psychologist.
As we know, in our somewhat comfortable lives, fear of change is not uncommon, and so it seems this driving emotional state is not isolated by social or economic position. What we have no experience with or cannot imagine, often makes us fearful and not want to take any risk. But wouldn’t the well-being of your children overcome this fear? Apparently not. In some of the cases, the children said they didn’t want to come to Somos and the mothers followed their children’s lead. Bewildering.
This five to three situation has left us shaking our heads, realizing how much we don’t understand about the harsh conditioning of extreme poverty. We continue to look for widowed and abandoned mothers with children who are willing to take the risk of jumping into the unknown for the benefit of their kids. We are not discouraged, but sobered and trust the right families will find their way to Somos.