Finally the day came. We met Paola our social worker at the Project and off we went to San Juan del Obispo, armed with bagful of little treasures for a 9-year-old girl and her family. Somewhere down the hill from the center we pulled over next to a metal lamina door. This was her home. Paola knocked on the door. "Tortillas and Tayullos" for sale a sign read (forgive me if my spelling is off). "What are tayullos" I though as we waited? Soon enough a young woman came to the door with a little girl by her side who rushed over and hugged us. She didn't look like Jackeline from what I remembered from our photo? She must be a sister. And as I turned to look around, there she was. Standing tall, thin and color-coordinated from head to toe, she looked a bit different than her photo, but there was no doubt in my mind that this was her. With a giant smile plastered on my face, we embraced. It felt right already. This is the girl that we will be connected to for years to come. I couldn't wait to get to know her!
Claudia, her lovely mother, welcomed us into her home as we walked back through the property, meeting Jackeline's grandmother along the way. Small but sufficient, clean and bright Jackeline's family of 5 (mom, dad and 2 little sisters) share a 1 room concrete block home that sits at the back of a lot where two or three relatives also have homes. During my year volunteering at Common Hope, I had seen all types of houses and met a myriad of families, all different, but all a bit the same - everyone needed a hand up. Jackeline's family was exactly what I had hoped for, although I would have been accepting of any child and family in need. A happy, healthy family. 2 loving parents, 2 stable jobs, a safe home, and a dream for the future.
As we entered into their home, I tried to take it all in - comparing it in my memory to the short report that we had been given. As we sat at a small wooden table in the middle of the room where the afternoon sun streamed through a window, the pieces of this puzzle began to come together.
A few weeks prior upon hearing the news that not only Jackeline, but her middle sister Melany, had both become sponsored, this newly Common Hope affiliated family felt very fortunate. And just a few weeks later the sponsors would be coming to visit? They could hardly believe it. Unfortunately Jackeline's father who works as caretaker of a home in Antigua was not able to have the afternoon off of work and therefore wasn't able to make the visit. Claudia explained that while they are appreciative of the good job that he has, it is often hard on the girls when they sometimes don't get to see him for a week at a time. Quite obviously worshiped by a houseful of females, the girls ushered us over to his bedside and proudly pointed to his photo high on the wall above the bed, a Father's Day present they said.
It just so happened that our visit coincided with the annual celebration of the town saint, San Juan, a huge deal in the community, and the girls had the day off of school. As a surprise, Jackeline's mother had prepared a special meal for us, my favorite Guatemalan dish, pepian de pollo with blue corn tortillas. We chatted over our delicious lunch and Jackeline answered all of questions very articulately. She shared with us that she really likes school and most enjoys studying the natural sciences. She also likes math, but her mom added that she struggles a bit with it. We learned that she loves marimba music and is learning how to play and one day she wants to become a doctor of children (or animals). Upon our social worker's prompting, she brought out her school notebooks and proudly handed them over for us to review. Cautiously we inspected page after page of neat cursive handwriting, with Jackeline beaming over our shoulders. After lunch she presented us with a picture that she had drawn of her family with 2 angels floating overhead. When she told us we were her family's angels, I was completely speechless. I don't feel like an angel - I feel completely lucky. Right there in front of us was a lovely little 9-year-old girl with a huge dream and we have been given the opportunity to be there alongside her, all the way until the end.
Not wanting the visit to end, we opened up the card game we had gifted her, Uno. Luckily her mom said that the family spends a lot of time playing games together and Jackeline and Melany brought them all out to show us. Of course their games were mostly just little cards for bingo or memory, but she expertly matched them all us for us nonetheless. Then Ben explained the rules to Uno and together we played for nearly an hour, teasing and laughing all the while, while the littlest sister carried around the family's 2 little puppies that were only about a month old. It was a really great way to really feel a part of her life and we highly suggest any sort of interactive activity for a sponsorship visit with young children.
Before leaving we asked Jackeline if she had any questions for us. She couldn't think of many, so we shared a few things about ourselves that we thought she may find interesting, like how we will be sharing her sponsorship with Ben's sister and her family, so she has 2 sets of "Godparents." I told her that I'm a teacher (of sorts) and can help her learn English when the time comes and how I worked at Familas de Esperanza for the past year, helping people learn about the organization. We explained that we had decided to move to Guatemala to make our Spanish better and help others in need. And being a water engineer, Ben asked the family if they use purified water. Claudia responded that she knows it's important, and they use it when they can afford it, but that it's not always possible. He shared a bit about his job and how he would like to help bring affordable clean water to the towns around Antigua in the future.
(Later on we asked the social worker if it would be acceptable to purchase an Eco-filtro for the family and she thought it was a good idea. A few days later we did and dropped it off at the Project for the family to come and pick up. We also purchased one to take back to the States with us with the intention that each year when we purchase a filter replacement for our own, we will also replace theirs.)
"Uncle Ben" with MelanyAs we prepared to leave, we took the obligatory photos and promised that we'd mail copies as soon as we were back to the states. We encouraged her to keep studying hard and to write us letters filling us in on the details of her life. By the front gate we exchanged lots of hugs and kisses and they told us that their home is open to us any time we return. And as we pulled away, they all stood by waving until we were out of sight, Jackeline the last to turn back toward the house.