Month: March 2017

What do you know about the war on women?

I deeply appreciate this powerful reflection by Francisco Herrera on “The War on Women” … and now I have another book to read.

A common maxim in our country is that before you can change, you have to acknowledge that there is a problem. In this week’s post, as part of Women’s History Month, return author Francisco Herrera speaks honestly and vulnerably about the moment that he realized that he personally wasn’t doing enough to fight sexism and […]

via The War on Women – Francisco Herrera — We Talk. We Listen.


Guatemalan joy

I think what I want to remember most about this last week in Guatemala was all the laughter, and the smiles.

At Parque Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala

Unselfconscious, genuine laughter, in all kinds of circumstances.

I love that I caught Candelaria in this moment of laughter, holding her sweet daughter Gabriela.

I loved that while we were hauling aluminum gutters from the church to the bus, a group of mothers and daughters and I smiled at each other and giggled, with them pointing and laughing and shyly looking away … it didn’t matter whether we spoke English, Spanish or Pokomchi. The laughter was universal. 

And our team recalled several times that during our first water system installation, when we had to figure out how to make the gutters and PVC pipe slope down into the water tank that was in fact at a higher level than the house, the response of the masons working with us wasn’t frustration, wasn’t anger, wasn’t blaming or giving up. They laughed, and tried different things, listened to others’ ideas, and kept working. Ingenuity won the day, with the help of laughter. The solution? Raising the roof.

I still can’t wrap my head around the poverty we witnessed. Can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no water source — no well or stream or lake or community water system. What it would be like to live on $2 a day or less. To have the experience of the death of a child — or children — be more common than not. 

But the laughter is a sign of resilience, and a sign of hope. I see it at the hospital too, sitting with a family after a death, sharing stories, and unfathomably laughing. Not in denial or with bitterness, but because the human spirit is strong, and perhaps inclined toward joy.

And so I want to remember the laughter. Of teammates who began as strangers and ended up as friends. Gladis, whose laugh is like a bubbling stream, tumbling over itself. Romeo, whose laugh is somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle, and an utterly genuine sound. Edy, whose laugh is gentle and kind and makes me smile. Trying to describe laughter to Isaias at dinner, when we couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (it’s “reirse,” to laugh) … until he started laughing.

I want to remember that, and so much more about this journey. The laughter is a good place to start.

Returning to Guatemala

In just three days, I leave for Guatemala.

I have vivid memories of my trip to Esquipulas, Chicaman last year, the intensity of poverty, the beauty of the people, all that I learned about prioritizing relationships, and a painful clarity about how much I have and take for granted.

Twelve of us spent the week helping install latrines and handwashing stations in Esquipulas, because the leading causes of death in children ages 0-5 are diarrhea (41%) and acute respiratory infection (25.3%). Providence Health International (PHI) is committed to ensuring that each home with children under five will have a sanitary latrine and clean-burning stove, and every mother will have access to health education and support. That each family will have access to clean water.

Some other facts about Chicaman: 

–Chicaman is made up of 71 communities, with a population of 35,000

–There is one doctor for every 10,726 people.

–The rate of chronic malnutrition under 24 months of age is 66%

–Almost 88% of the population lives in poverty (less than $2 a day) and 67% lives in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day).

It’s easy to go on a trip like this and be struck by how important it is to help, to want to offer as much as we can in the way of time and resources. But it was more important that we build relationships.

We witnessed powerful examples of the importance of relationships. PHI and Medical Teams International (MTI), our community partner, are committed to partnering with families — each family that was to receive a latrine was to dig a deep hole before we arrived. However, we came to Esquipulas the week after Easter. The majority of the village is Catholic, and the father of one family was also the deacon of the church, responsible for the community’s extensive Easter celebrations. When we arrived he was still finishing digging his hole.

However, we had seen him earlier that morning. Across the way, when we’d been installing a latrine for another family, this man was present, helping his neighbor, and putting his neighbor’s needs ahead of his own. And when the time came, his neighbors reciprocated.

I couldn’t help but think in “my” world, I would have said “Gosh, I’d really like to help you, but I’ve been really busy and I need to make sure I get my hole dug before the team arrives.” But that’s not how it works in Guatemala. And that sense of community, that valuing of relationship — they are the better for it, and I’m aware of what I lack.

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, known as the “Father of Liberation Theology,” in talking about the “preferential option for the poor,” says that “It is good to specify that the preferential option for the poor, if it aims at the promotion of justice, equally implies friendship with the poor and among the poor. Without friendship there is neither authentic solidarity or a true sharing. In fact, it is a commitment to specific people.” (P. 157, In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, edited by Michael Griffin and Jannie Weiss Block).

Gutierrez also says that “There is no true commitment to solidarity with the poor if one sees them merely as people passively waiting for help. Respecting their status as those who control their own destiny in an indispensable condition for genuine solidarity.” (P. 156)

Next week I’ll be returning to Esquipulas, this time co-leading a group of Providence Alaska caregivers (14 of us, altogether). Again, we will partner with Medical Teams International, this time helping with a water collection project.

I know that this trip will be about far more than water. My heart will stretch. And ache. And love. 

I can’t wait to share the stories with you.

If you’d like to support this work, you can do that by clicking here, through Providence Health International. We can only do this together.