Santa Clara is the nursery that International Samaritan runs in cooperation with the city of Guatemala. There we met Sonia La Roche, a small but strong woman, who runs the nursery; she has worked at Santa Clara for years, since she met Fr. Vettesse. She shared with us that the people in the area told her she had to talk with “the crazy gringo who was giving away money .“ Their partnership has grown over the years, from a small program where the goal was to remove babies from spending as much time in the garbage dump, to a large program that works with small children until they are up to 5 years old and ready to go to St. Francis Coll. The original participants’ grandbabies are now in the nursery. Sonia, like Sr. Esperanza, and the people we met in the dump, repeated over and over her gratitude for God’s blessings, for International Samaritan, for the students we had brought.
We walked around and were able to see the teachers in action: little kids running around in pristine uniforms playing outside, students studying hard at work in classrooms. Distracted students in every room we passed waved at us, excited to see so many visitors.
There are nuances to the history of the nursery and to the application process that I missed in translation, so apologies to International Samaritan and the Santa Clara Nursery for any details I missed.
Sonia La Roche, the amazing woman who runs the nursery.
The other stop we made that day, as far as orientation, was to the Paso a Paso program. Their location is just across the street from St. Francis Coll.
Paso a Paso is a scholarship program that is for students who have completed “sexto” (sixth grade) and want to go to high school. There are qualifications to get in, and rules to follow once you are a participant. One of the interesting pieces about this stop, was that we had high school students we brought with us from America; they sat across from their Guatemalan peers for a presentation and then we dialogued. Again, the hospitality was overwhelming. The Guatemalans each had necklaces that they presented to us, placing them over our heads. Mine was a brightly painted turtle, given to me by Emma, a young girl who had been playing with a baby (whose story I would later learn).
The principal, with the aid of a volunteer translator, provided us with some statistics about violence, crime, and abuse in the garbage dump communities. We also learned about the general feelings of mistrust that people have toward the police. The firemen’s statistics were much higher (and we were told, likely more accurate) than those collected by the police. The principal shared with us the story of Emma, who had given me her necklace. Emma had left home as a young teenager to escape abuse; she moved in with her boyfriend and became pregnant. At some point, she had asked to return to Paso a Paso. Participants are not supposed to be pregnant or have babies. Emma was allowed back in, and was studying to be a chef.
Several things struck me about this part of our day.
1) In the back to back dialogue, the teens asked each other names and ages, dream jobs, and other questions. Not surprisingly, many of the answers were the same, across cultures. Lots of the teens wanted to be in business, several wanted to be cooks, we had a few teachers. What did surprise me, was that several of the Guatemalan teens wanted to be secretaries. I haven’t heard anyone in the US say “I want to be a secretary.”
2) The statistics were staggering. I have to see if I can track them down and share them with you.
3)Because I focused on the Spanish being spoken, I ignored the English translations. I know that there are gaps in what I understood, but there is strength and power in looking people in the eyes as they speak and seeing their heart. Their is power in listening to them and their is power in being seen and listened to. So, I sacrificed some of the literal translation, so as to acquire the sense. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Danielle LaPorte in The Firestarter Sessions says “If it doesn’t light you up, you’re not the right person for the job.” and “we must hold firm to what gives us joy, and in doing so, we ourselves become the dispensers of joy.” I can only hope that, in standing in what gave me joy, I dispensed just a small amount to those I encountered.