Sandra, our Guatemala Project Director

Sometimes people wonder why our projects are so diverse when we are such a small organization. The answer, of course, is that we don’t choose or run projects – we choose people. I think the best way to explain what I mean is to introduce you to one of our project directors.

Sandra and her family are poor from a material standpoint. They live in a home with a thin layer of concrete poured right over the ground, grass and all. They have no running water and no heat. Winter nights can drop below freezing, so that certainly isn’t comfortable!

Sandra has always known poverty. Her father was an alcoholic which kept the family destitute, and Sandra had to drop out of school after the third grade so she could work and help the family survive. She married a man, Carlos, who was also an alcoholic – an attempt to numb traumatic events from his childhood – and this caused great struggles for Sandra, Carlos, and their four children.

A few years ago, however, Sandra’s two daughters were chosen to receive educational scholarships and life began to turn around for the family. Carlos overcame his alcohol addiction, and, with both parents working full-time jobs, life began to improve. Materially they are still poor, but their home is now filled with love and hope, and they have great empathy for others who suffer.

Sandra now runs a scholarship program for girls, for which she is paid nothing, though it costs her immense amounts of time, energy, and even money of her own. She constantly visits the girls and mothers in the program to monitor their progress and encourage them, advocates for them when they need help fighting for their rights, brings food to them on occasion when she knows they are hungry, helps with rent payments to keep them from being evicted…

A scholarship girl returns home with firewood

We recently began funding a business for the family to generate money for the project, and it also increased their own income. Given their poverty, you might think they would use the extra income to improve their own living conditions, but they have other priorities. Sandra decided to expand the scholarship program to a new, indigenous community that is a two-hour commute from her house each way – by combination of walking, two buses, and a tuk tuk. She also hopes to expand the program to a few destitute boys in addition to the girls, as well as families that work in the gravel mines and others who scavenge garbage dumps to survive.

Sandra isn’t alone with her priorities. Her oldest daughter, Denise, wants to go to medical school and start a clinic that serves the poor who can’t afford medical care. Once a month, her oldest son, Xavier, uses his own earnings to buy chuchitos ingredients (like tamales) which his grandmother starts cooking at 4am. In the early morning before work, Xavier then distributes about 75 chuchitos to homeless alcoholics and families camped outside a hospital that serves the poor.

Children from the gravel mines

Sandra’s husband, Carlos, works all day Monday through Saturday to support the family and raise money for the projects, then spends Sunday volunteering his time to work with people who are trying to overcome alcohol and drug addictions. When do they rest? Yet on my recent visit, Carlos asked to talk to me about something. He said with his income going up, he really wants to use his own funds to create a “comedor” – a place where young, parentless children who sleep on the streets could come every morning for a meal. When he gives them food, he says, they eat ravenously because they are so hungry. He hopes that by the summer he will be able to open the comedor.

People like Sandra and her family exist in poor communities around the world. They know poverty and they know their communities, and they are driven to make a difference. Like Sor Marta who didn’t have a penny to her name when she opened an educational program for children in Honduras who couldn’t attend traditional schools because of poverty. Or like Nakinti who overcame enormous odds in her Cameroon village and was a 2017 Women Have Wings Award Recipient and was chosen a 2016 World Pulse Impact Leader for the work she is doing with our organization.

Supporting the work of such people is an incredibly effective way to make a difference in this world. I also think we can learn an awful lot from them. Despite their material poverty, I am always impressed with the incredible riches in the lives of our project directors. Their lives are filled with people who love them – not just their biological families, but the wider community created by their work. You should see how excited families become when Sandra shows up for an unexpected visit! Their houses may be cold, but their hearts are full of joy and peace – as is mine because I get to work with such wonderful project directors! I hope that joy extends to your hearts as well!