Friday, December 16, 2016

Silence

James and Ellie Carr
Within the past two weeks, James and I have had a life-changing experience we want to share with you.  It has changed our perspective on our work, on Guatemala, and on orphan care as a whole.

Here in Guatemala, there hundreds of orphanages or children's homes, most of which are private, including Fundaniños where we live and work.  A small handful, however, are owned and operated by the Guatemalan government.  One such is located about half a mile away from us.  Recently but on separate occasions, James and I both visited the home where we were both astounded by what we found.  I write to you regarding the occasion on which I visited, although James' visit was no different.  First, however, let me paint for you a picture of Fundaniños, the orphanage or children's home that we call home.
Fundaniños Children's Home
When you pull up the bumpy, winding dirt road to Fundaniños, you may notice the tall cement, walls surrounding the property (which are normal property barriers here in Guatemala), but chances are, the first thing to grab your attention is the large grassy hill leading up to a playground and several brightly colored buildings.  If you look long enough, you may note the onsite school at the bottom of the property or the small enclosure of farm animals that the children take pride in raising on the other side of the property.  It's nothing extravagant, but it more than meets the needs of the kids and staff who live here.
Whiffle ball tournament in the afternoon
As you pull up to enter the property, you see a tall black gate, more than likely unlocked, and easily slid open to access the property.  Entering, you will see a large grassy soccer field that was blocked from sight by the tall walls earlier.   There will probably be kids running and playing on the soccer field in the afternoon, but if not, just turn your gaze to the playground atop the hill, and there they will most definitely be.  As you enter the property you will here squeals, giggles, and shouts, not directed towards you, but noticeable nonetheless as the children play.  You may note the rhythmic thumping of bass if the girls are dancing along to Zumba videos in the dining hall, their current favorite work out.  You will see the bustling of several employees, as well as a few caretakers sitting on the lawn looking after the children who they oversee.
Girls making mud pies and brownies in their kitchen
What you will see is life.  You will hear joy.  You will feel happiness.  That's just how Fundaniños is.  Back to our recent visit to the "macro institution" for children down the road from us-

Last week, we received a donation of vegetables from a local farm- snow peas, brussel sprouts, and wax beans to be exact.  The donation was tremendous and more than the children and staff could (or were willing to) eat before it went bad.  James made the call to send our staff home with as many of the vegetables as their families could eat, feed our animals that night with some of the leftovers, and with what remained we would donate to the government-run children's home- a lavish improvement to the small portions of rice and beans rumored to be the day-to-day staples.

I accompanied that afternoon as we drove over to drop off the donation.  We took several teenage girls to witness what "the other" home was like.  We pulled up to their gate, and the driver, another missionary, got out of the van.  A guard with a gun on each hip came out to greet him.  He looked at van of children and vegetables suspiciously.  He agreed to allow the donation of vegetables into the home, but the adolescents would have to wait outside on the side of the road while the van made the drop off- presumably so they wouldn't get mixed in (or be left) to the enormous number of children already inhabiting the home.  The girls and a chaperone exited the van, and we entered the home.

Several gray block houses were immediately visible, bars covering what windows they had.  An armed guard in uniform with a rifle stood atop one of the homes.  I knew he wasn't there wasn't to prevent people from coming in.  The van was backed to the kitchen where a cook came out to receive our donation.  We got out of the van to unload and all looked around.  We were greeted by complete and utter silence.  It was eerie and death-like.  There were no laughs, squeals, or giggles.  In fact there was no trace of any children on the property.

As we waited for the cooks to empty the baskets of veggies and return them to us, we were accompanied by one of the staff.

"How many houses do you have onsite here?" we questioned the cook to break the silence while we waited.

"We have four homes, divided by gender and age," he said going on to explain how the kids were divided.

"How many kids do you have room for?" we asked.

"400," he replied smiling sheepishly.

"How many do you actually have?"

"Currently," he answered, "we have about 790."

As we chatted, a rat scurried up about three feet from us scavenging for food scraps we may have dropped.  Moments later, our baskets were returned, we were thanked, and escorted out of large gates.

This year nearly 50 children have "escaped" from the home.  In October alone, 31 went missing one night.  The majority were girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen.  It is believed they were sold into trafficking.  James and I both left there with a feeling of hopelessness.  The contrast between the sterility of the government home and the care and life at Fundaniños was palpable.  The fact is that we can't help everyone.
I only write this to make you aware of the vast needs here in Guatemala in the orphan care industry.  Yes, Fundaniños is a wonderful home, but still nowhere near the childhood that we dream of for our own kids.  The needs here are great.  The help is little.  Guatemala is facing a crisis with the number of orphaned, abused, and neglected children in the system.  Our family can't rescue them all, but with your help, we can continue making a difference in the lives of those whom we work with.  We will continue our work here as long as God calls us to do so, and you can be a part.  We need your prayers and support to continue our work here.  If you can help, we would appreciate your donation no matter the amount.  We thank you again for allowing us to be a part of orphan care here in Guatemala.

Until next time,
James + Ellie

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Burning of the Devil Celebration

James and Ellie Carr
Last night, James and I experienced our first "Quema del Diablo" or "Burning of the Devil" here in Guatemala.  The somewhat controversial celebration is one that we don't condone as Christians, but was interesting to be a part of, and I wanted to share a little more about the commemoration of the day with you, and why we observed it at Fundaniños Children's Home this year.
The devil shaped piñatas waiting to adorn the Fundaniños burn pile

History

Traditionally in Guatemala, December 7 is a day when people purify their households from the sin of the previous year in preparation for a new year and the celebration of the coming of Christ at Christmas.  The tradition is suspected to have started in colonial times on the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  As years passed, people grew the tradition believing that the devil was constantly lurking and living behind furniture and in dark corners of their homes.  To cleanse their homes, people would bring out any sort of trash, household items in disrepair, and even clean out their refrigerators of old food.  They would then burn off all of the items signifying a total cleansing of their households.

Today's Celebrations

La "Quema del Diablo" is now celebrated nationwide with heaps of trash and other flammable objects lit promptly at 6:00 pm on December 7 creating millions of buying trash piles nation wide.  It was so fascinating to see small fires all burning at exactly 6:00 across the rural mountains facing Fundaniños yesterday evening.  During the weeks leading up to the occasion, you will see Piñatas in the form of small red devils, about three feet tall, lining the highways and roads in Guatemala, as they are sold to passing by cars for any where from $2-$7.  Often the devils will also take the form of controversial or loathed public figures, and added to the scene this year was none other than small cartoon shaped Donald Trump piñatas.  The figures come stuffed with Black Cat firecrackers and other explosives and are perched at the top of each household's burn pile.  In some cities, devils and mannequins of disdained political figures are constructed, in some cases up to three stories tall, and the town or pueblo will gather to burn the figure hoping for a change in the coming year.
The fire moments after being doused in gasoline and lit

A Learning Opportunity

As the head of spiritual growth at Fundaniños, James took the opportunity to teach the kids about how our sins are really forgiven by a loving God, and how the celebration itself cannot cleanse us of our own sin nor temptations and demons that we face.  He took time yesterday to talk to each of the houses onsite and explain to the kids the historical and pagan beliefs behind the event as well as the cultural significance.  As it is a tradition here at Fundaniños, and we are cultural outsiders, it was not something that we wanted to come in a strong-arm and demand that the celebrations cease.  Instead we used it as a time to teach the kids about their nation, heritage, and God's truth regarding the issue. Several kids and caregivers opted not to participate in the occasion, and we gave them the liberty to do so and have free time instead.  Several others took it as an opportunity to write down sin in their lives that they wanted to take the initiative to get rid of and place it at the base of the fire symbolically to mark yesterday as a day in which they wanted to move forward in the Lord and let go of sins and burdens holding them back.  We made it clear that the ritual of the fire would not do so for them, but they would have to make an effort and a choice to put that sin behind them in their lives.
Riley with her first sparkler
After the initial burn pile had finished detonating, the children were provided with hours' worth of sparklers and small fireworks to play with.  I mean, forty-something children playing with smoke bombs and firecrackers, what could possibly have gone wrong?? We are learning how to do Guatemalan-sized celebrations here, and celebrations in Guatemala are neither reserved nor ordinary!  The night closed with a huge fireworks show donated by the founder of Fundaniños, that captivated not only the Funda kids, but also all of our neighbors in the valley.
Overall, we had a superb time learning and experiencing new traditions yesterday.  We would love to hear below what you truly think about the celebrations, and any doubts or questions you have for us as well!

In Him,
James + Ellie

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