Monday, July 25, 2005

12 in a Room?

Dear Friends and Family,

Last week I shared a room with 11 kids and one teenager who all live in Zone three (a zone that shares a border with the dump). I shared a valley with 120 kids and roughly 20 counselors in addition to roughly 20 gringos surrounded by lush green mountains (mountains that share a border with the sky). I shared a country with roughly 12 million people (A country that shares a border with Mexico, Belize and El Salvador). A country full of juxtaposition. Hundreds of single room shacks on the side of a breathtaking volcano wearing the clouds for clothes. A garbage dump filling a glorious gorge. Beautiful women carrying bags of garbage on their heads, wearing a creased smile on their face while harboring years of misery, of abuse and of deadly diseases in their bodies. The richness of the land here is indescribable a screaming contrast next to the poverty of the people.

Friday was the last day of camp. Camp was a chance to see an inside view of another aspect of Potters House’s ministry, the children. A definite high point of school is camp, located roughly three hours away, completely surrounded by mountains, lies Chiquimula. A town of roughly one hundred thousand people and one hundred degree weather. Near the town is the camp. Even seven weeks ago when we first arrived, the excitement for camp was building. Children and teachers both constantly asking if we were going to go with. For many of the children, this is their first time out of the city. Everyone is excited for the pool, even the teachers. Virtually no one knows how to swim. If you want to imagine it, picture 100 kids all packed into the shallow third of an averaged size hotel pool and a practically vacant deep end with a few gringos here and there teaching kids to float.
Camp is a chance to get away from work, from the time these kids can walk they have been helping their parents scavenge, unlike in the states, vacation days at school are sad for the kids because they simply mean another day working the dump. Camp is a chance to use a shower and to have your own bed. (Many of the kids share beds with brothers and sister, for example the first night my campers felt lonely by themselves and slept three to a bed.) Camp is a chance to get away from the dump, the idea of a trash can is a foreign concept to these kids. When you live in a dump, it doesn’t matter where you throw your garbage and so consequently, by the end of camp, our floor very much resembled home for the kids. Even the teachers (many of whom come from the dump) don’t understand the concept of littering. For example, after collecting the garbage from the bus, the teachers proceeded to throw the bags out the window. Camp is a chance to learn about Christ, the theme of camp was Mission Possible, and the children were taught the values of obedience, service, and thankfulness. The final night they prayed for all the things they had to be thankful for and it was very touching. They remembered those less fortunate than them, those who had no food, who didn’t have a place to sleep or someone to take care of them.
The school is a chance for hope in the future for the kids. These kids don’t know anything more than the dump, when I asked Rigo, an 11 year old in my cabin, what he wanted to do when he grew up if he could do anything, he responded that he wanted to be a teacher at Potter’s House. If he decides to follow through, he has a ways to go ahead of him, after finishing six years of school at Potter’s House, he will have to complete 3 years of basic school and then 3 years at a university for a teaching degree. In return, he will be able to apply for a teaching job. Which, should he secure a position, will award him with roughly 7 dollars a day. This in itself would be a huge improvement for him, but in addition he will get the chance to change the lives of hundreds more kids surrounding the dump, have meals provided, and have a safe and healthy place indoors to work.

While there are many good things going on here, there is still a huge amount of suffering. The other day while we were out in the city collecting for Vida Nueva, we came across Lesbia who is dying from cancer, she has spent all her money on doctors bills and is unable to repay her loan. So we pray for her but what more can we do? Past that what should we do? The questions are difficult, can we cancel her debt? Everyone who can’t repay has a very touching story, but Vida Nueva is already under pressure from it’s donors to show results, to continue towards self sufficiency. Maybe you can help? (If you really want to help let me know and I’ll get you the information you need to help out). The next house we visit is the home of a single woman, her husband was a bus driver but was recently murdered in a robbery, now she works a small business and at the same time tries to raise her two very young children.
Last weekend, while me and a friend were walking down the street we witnessed a homeless man walking slowly across the street, a car became impatient and started honking. After a few more seconds, the driver apparently had had enough and drove off, hitting the man as he left. The striking part was that nobody seemed to notice or care. A few people stared out of store windows, but we all have enough to worry about simply to survive, how can we help you? The man attempts to stand and fails. The people here are too poor, perhaps too calloused by their own pains to help out. Are we too rich, too calloused by our own comfort to help? I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to drink. We give the man some money and he stares up at us in confusion. Too many nights on the street and years of sniffing glue have broken his mind, and now his body is broken too. My friend phones the hospital but it is closed so we leave and make our way back to the home of my friend Lazaro. Quit staring at me, what more do you want me to do?
The four room building is home to 11. Kept very clean and neat, Lazaro spends his weekends working with his dad to make additions to the house. During the week Lazaro’s dad works various construction jobs in the neighboring cities, his mom has a job as a cook in a ministry for AIDS children. Senor Pirir pummels me with questions about the Bible as their children serve us dinner. They are a beautiful and pious family and consider themselves blessed. I am touched by their hospitality and it really sinks in how little we really need to be happy, as well as how little time I have left here.
With only two weeks to go I am becoming exited to return to America but also am sad to have so little time left with these people. I have come to love the people I work with as well as our host family. The Rivera’s have been a huge blessing to live with.
It’s getting late, only 4 and a half hours until the rooster crows. So I should go to bed. Please pray for Nery (our Papa and seemingly full time Chauffer) as well as Tracy and Shane, all who are feeling a bit under the weather.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I love getting your replies.
God Bless,

Got Time?

Dear Friends and Family,

Not only is punctuality not a virtue for people here, even the television stations seem to have no concept of time. The Academia (think American Idol meets Central America) runs for four hours every Sunday. The movie on TV just finished at 9:41…exactly. Just about the only thing that does keep time is the roosters. Unfortunately their day starts precisely at 4:30 AM. An hour and a half later we are up and showering.
Shower water is heated in a little heating coil directly above the shower head. There is only on or off, to get hotter water you turn the pressure down, more water means cold water. This is luxury compared to most houses, who have water for about an hour a day. They fill up all their buckets during this hour and use it throughout the remainder of the day. Still these people are better off than most around the dump. Their showers come direct from above, and their baths from below. As their dirt floors are finally drying out from last nights rain we arrive at Potter’s House. Today is particularly pungent as the rain water has accentuated the smell. Unlike the squirrels and deer that run rampant where I live in the US. The local wildlife consists of a myriad of vultures hovering over the dump and literally hundreds of lactating dogs running the streets. A few minutes later I find myself three blocks away at AVN (Associacion Vida Nueva) (Micro Loan Department) even here the smell remains overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who work directly in the dump.
Like normal I am not the first one to arrive. Lazaro, a 21 year old who lives in one of the neighboring towns is already here. Unlike me his day began before the rooster’s alarm. Every day he wakes at 4:00AM in order to take the two hour bus ride from Chimaltinango to Guatemala City. Spending roughly 10% of his daily earnings on bus fare. He won’t return until after I leave, fortunately the traffic isn’t as bad in the evening and he can make the trip in an hour and a half. The thirteen + hour work day is followed by school where he is studying to be a lawyer. Someday he hopes to have a family, be a lawyer, and own a small store. Apparently working two jobs is the norm here, yet somehow everybody still has time to talk with you.
As Lazaro doesn’t speak English I guess I’ve learned to converse to some extent in Spanish. At least I’ve passed the point where I can speak faster than I can play charades. Today I spend my time sorting checks and entering deposits into the computer. As I sort the checks I start to wonder why so many of them have thumbprints and then I realize that it’s because they can’t write. Walter informs me that Guatemala has the highest illiteracy rate in Central America and his figure of 60% is overwhelming (please note that when I give statistics I have received through people here, there is a great chance that I misunderstood something when translating from Spanish to English, add to that the fact that many statistics are made up on the spot and 60% is better stated as a lot of people are illiterate).
Back at Potter’s House the summer teams have started coming in from the states. Churches will supply one to two teams per week until the end of the rainy season (the end of August). Teams have and will continue to work in the surrounding communities. Potter house employees have helped create a system of communities to organize the people surrounding the dump. The communities have roughly 100 community leaders who will meet with their communities to let Potter’s house know what types of work projects can help their community. For example, one community has petitioned for concrete to be laid in their streets in order that rain water will flush faster through their community leaving the mud floors in their houses dry.
Most people who live near the dump know about Potter’s House and that they are a Christian Organization. As this week’s team handed out food and new shoes while helping to build a number of houses, many begin to ask about Christ.
Back at Potter’s two of my friends from Wheaton work in the school. Sally tells me about one of her fellow teachers who grew up in the dump. She had a number of kids and a husband with a drinking problem. Approximately 10 years ago her sister told her about Potter’s House and she decided to give it a try. Receiving help and hope she continued to get involved in the activities offered by Potter’s House. Fast forward to today, she works in the very place she once came to for help. She says she can’t believe that they would pay her to stay in this place. Her husband hasn’t had a drink in years and they were just recently able to buy a real house. In addition, with help in regards to funding from Potter’s House, she has recently received her Bachelor’s degree and has started her master’s degree in medicine. Most importantly she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who she has claimed as her Lord and Savior. While not all stories are as happy as this one, God is definitely working through Potter’s House to make a tangible difference here both physically and spiritually.
I really want to write about my host family, but there is one other thing that I also want to write about and I am afraid to write too much. So just know that the Rivera’s have been absolutely marvelous to live with.
Ok the other thing that I wanted to write about is something that’s been on my mind lately. In my heart of hearts I’m a Christian but just outside that I’m an economist. After my last email I received a number of replies with sayings roughly equal to, “Doesn’t the way these people live make a person feel guilty for all the things we have?” And you know what? It does, at least for me, and it should. And I think that’s a good start, but it must lead to action. And I don’t want to euphemize the power out of these feelings just so that we can feel comfortable with the way we live. After seeing how hard these people work, there is no way I can say that all I have I deserve.
I’ve been reading a book (“God’s Politics”) lately that accuses religious Republican’s of getting caught up on a few issues like abortion and homosexuality and forgetting about everything else. And you know what? I think to some extent, he’s right. Especially when it comes to the poor. However, as a Christian Republican I believe that the government is inefficient at helping the poor, and that it is better done through individuals. That is IF individuals, (that’s me and you) actually start doing something with the money that we don’t end up giving to the government.
How many times do we see a poor person on the street and not give money to them because we assume they’re going to use it for drugs and alcohol (this may be a justifiable thought). But the problem is, the money we say we would have given to them had we known their intentions to be good, we most likely will never give to the poor. Whether it be our laziness or our selfishness we Christian Republican’s don’t do all that great a job of really giving that extra money we save through a smaller government towards the poor or towards some other worthy endeavor. Maybe the democrats are right, even if sometimes inefficient, something is better than nothing. Either way government alone is not going to solve the worlds problems and it is not enough to simply vote our problems away, we have to take action on an individual level.
Two of the three times I can think of where Jesus gives a direct response for how people get into the kingdom of heaven involve helping the poor. The rich young ruler was told to sell everything he had and to give it to the poor, and in the passage of the sheep and the goats, those who Jesus recognizes are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison etc. (The third one I can think of is Nicodemas).
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in salvation through grace, but I am saying it’s time we started getting uncomfortable with the way we live, and doing something about it. There’s no shortage of poverty in the world, according to the facts in this book I’m reading, 1 billion (1 in 6) live on less than a dollar a day, and 3 billion on less than 2 dollars. You don’t have quit your job, there’s plenty of organizations to give to, but you may have to change your lifestyle. If you truly feel bad for how much we have, there’s nothing stopping you from doing something about it.
OK thanks for letting me rant.

Thank you for your letters and your prayers,

God Bless,
-Enoch Hill

PS. If you send me mail I do read it, but I only have access to the internet for a few minutes a day, so my replies are limited

Taller without Steriods?

Dear Friends and Family,
Have you ever wanted to be taller? Well you could have a bunch of costly surgeries and take steroids, or you could just pack your stuff and move on down to Guatemala. You’d also probably cut your cost of living by more than half, (although your standard of living would likely fall as well).
It’s true, you can find certain items for much less here than in the states. A bottle of agua pura (pure water) will only set you back around 20 cents (which is a good thing, considering the tap water will set you back on the pot). If you’re feeling a bit more spendy, you could buy some agua (which is the word they use for pop) for around 30 to 40 cents per 20 oz bottle. Yet at this point something strange (or actually more normal) occurs. You don’t pay for convenience in Guatemala, you pay for size. A 2 liter will cost you $1.20 and a 2.5 liter is $1.40. If you want a car you’re going to have to pay around double what you might in the states, and computers run even more expensive. Gas is around $3 a gallon, with all this in mind, it’s no surprise most of the people here elect (or are forced) into not owning a car. About every 10th car on the street is a Camianeta (or bus). Depending on the day, these cost 14-28 cents for a ride (as far as you want). This morning our 1.25 hour trip to work cost us each 14 cents. Yet with so few cars, you can still find plenty of repuestos (or car repair shops). It seems only about half the cars here actually run. On just about every corner you’ll find a repuesto, a local tienda (shop), or a passed out drunk man.
While the men are getting drunk the women are coming to receive their loans from the new life association (or asosiacion vida nueva…not spelled right). In fact 80% of the clients who take out loans from where I work are female. They have quite a unique system of loans. The official unemployment rate is over 50% in the City of Guatemala, although I can’t figure out what constitutes a real job. Either way, much of the economy here takes place on an informal level. Often the people who run these tiny businesses are barely scrape by, having hardly enough to live on it’s extremely difficult to purchase the goods and capital needed to expand and earn more. For this reason small scale loans can and have been very helpful to many people who are unable to find money elsewhere.
In order to take out a loan, you must find a solidarity group, with whom you will hold each other accountable. These groups consist of 3-10 people all of which are ultimately responsible for each other. Should one of member of the group fail to repay the loan then the others in the group must repay their share. Talk about peer pressure.
As our clients repay their loans they are required to take classes in basic entrepreneurial skills. Here they learn how their contributions effect the economy and they also learn how to responsibly run a business based on biblical principles.
Finally, as they repay the loan, the repayment plan is fixed, the plan is extremely simple. The amount of the first loan is 1000 Quetzales (Around 130$) per person and will be repaid over the course of four months. In addition to repayment the clients are encouraged to begin a savings account. Almost all of which do. And so they set aside around 2$ a week as savings.
Usually, my mornings are spent traveling with Walter and Lazaro from house to house in order to see how people are doing, to examine new client’s businesses, and to advertise. The people are truly beautiful. While extremely poor, for the most part they seem happy. They always invite us in, and occasionally they give us something to eat or drink.
Sixto is an older man who lives right next to the garbage dump, he owns a small fruit stand, and has been doing well with his loans. His house consists of a dirt floor a hammock and a small TV. Cluttering the single room dwelling lie a number of objects perhaps collected from the dump. Most of which we might call junk, these items include: ripped cardboard boxes, broken canoe paddles, as well as some small pieces of tin (with which he informs us he is going to enlarge his house). As we talk, he gives us each a bottle of coke and some crackers. I am overwhelmed by his generosity and although I feel terrible to take what little he has, it would be worse for me to reject his gifts.
For lunch we walk down the block to a small shop that sells tortillas for 1.5 cents each. As we return Walter makes a comment on how the price just keeps going up.
After lunch I begin working on an excel spreadsheet in order to automate some of their processes. Association Vida Nueva is a two story building, located approximately half a mile from the dump. There are four employees plus myself who currently work there. Vida Nueva currently has roughly 80 groups consisting of nearly 300 people with loans still outstanding.
Roughly 4 blocks from Vida Nueva is the building known as Potter’s House (or Casa del Alferero). Smelling strongly of rotting garbage and inhabited by more flies than people, casa del alferero offers hope to those who’ve spent their lives living in the garbage.
Victor, or Fito for short, is one of the most friendly people you’ll ever meet. After 22 years of being a, “recycler,” someone who rummages through the garbage for a specific good to sell, (yes their jobs titles have just about as much name inflation as jobs in the US) Fito now serves as the humanitarian director, his sister Auri mans the front gate, and his mom works primarily as a cook. Apparently Fito was third to the top of the gang world prior to coming to Potter’s House. Like in most any company, the dump has it’s hierarchy. Those higher up gaining better access to first picks of the garbage. The farther down the ladder, the less that’s left. However, promotions are not generally given, they are taken. Joining a gang can be very appealing, perhaps even necessary for life.
The work that God is doing through Potter’s House (including allowing Fito and his family to get out of the dump) is truly amazing. My time here so far has been outstanding and there is a ton more that I would love to write about but this is getting extremely long and I know that mass emails are sometimes tedious to read.
Thank you for your prayers and your time.
God Bless,
-Enoch Hill

Leaving Tomorrow

Dear Friends and Family,I leave for Guatemala City tomorrow. I'll be working with anorganization called Potter's House that is located right next to theGuatemala City Garbage Dump, which services the garbage of 90% (2000metric tons daily) of the cities garbage. It also serves as home toover 10,000 people and as office building to an additional 130,000people known to the locals as scavengers. These people battle throughthe stench and decomposing filth in order to find food as well asglass and aluminum to sell.In a country where over 50% of the people are considered below povertylevel, these people are considered poor by the poor.Potter's House offers relief through immediate aid (such as food andblankets), providing health care, through education, communitydevelopment, and finally through micro-financing which is where I'llbe working. ( ultimate goal is to make the occupation of scavenger obsoleteproviding the job skills and resources necessary to move out of thedump.My specific jobs (from what I can gather) will be to instruct the fulltime staff how to use Excel, as well as to interview people in orderto determine if they are a good candidate for a micro-loan (forexample, lending a family $50 US dollars in order to allow them to buyleather with which to start a shoe store).It's hard to believe that I leave tomorrow. These past few weeks havealmost been surreal. The end of college, 2 days ago witnessing themarraige of a close friend, yesterday seeing another friend off to themarines, and saying goodbye to many more. And as the date ofdeparture draws within sight, I have no time to reflect as I attemptto push years of Spanish lessons, into a week long cram session with
lives who have probably struggled and suffered more than I ever haveand ever will. The closer to departure the more inadequate I feel.Who am I who hardly can even speak your language to help you? How canI even begin to understand the pain that you\'ve endured your wholelife? How can I stare you in the face knowing that I live on a lake,that I have a whole bedroom to myself back in the states, that I justsunk more money into my education then you will probably ever see inyour lifetime? How can I determine wheather you should or shouldn\'trecieve a loan that could save your life? But where I am weak theLord is strong, and he uses the weak to do his will. And he is theonly ultimate hope any of us have. So I will try to be humble, andnot insult anyone too badly with my Spanish ability. If you get achance I\'d love to hear how you are doing.Hasta Luego, and hopefully I\'ll see you in the fall,-EnochIn order to keep you updated and because my access to the Internetwill likely be limited, I\'ll be sending out periodic mass emails. Ifyou do not wish to receive these emails let me know. Also if you knowof anyone\'s email address who would like to receive them let me know.Things to Pray for:Wisdom in how to interact,Grace in my interactions,Safety in travel, from disease and from criminal activity",0]
my final being to interact with real people. Real people with reallives who have probably struggled and suffered more than I ever haveand ever will. The closer to departure the more inadequate I feel.Who am I who hardly can even speak your language to help you? How canI even begin to understand the pain that you've endured your wholelife? How can I stare you in the face knowing that I live on a lake,that I have a whole bedroom to myself back in the states, that I justsunk more money into my education then you will probably ever see inyour lifetime? How can I determine wheather you should or shouldn'trecieve a loan that could save your life? But where I am weak theLord is strong, and he uses the weak to do his will. And he is theonly ultimate hope any of us have. So I will try to be humble, andnot insult anyone too badly with my Spanish ability. If you get achance I'd love to hear how you are doing.Hasta Luego, and hopefully I'll see you in the fall,-EnochIn order to keep you updated and because my access to the Internetwill likely be limited, I'll be sending out periodic mass emails. Ifyou do not wish to receive these emails let me know. Also if you knowof anyone's email address who would like to receive them let me know.Things to Pray for:Wisdom in how to interact,Grace in my interactions,Safety in travel, from disease and from criminal activity