All Eyes on the Storybook

by Lisa Hetzel, Human Resources Director

<p>San Rafael, Sumpango</p>

San Rafael, Sumpango

In my role as Human Resources Director, most of my week is spent inside the walls of our central offices in Antigua, Guatemala. Therefore I appreciated the recent opportunity to accompany a group of social workers on their home visits in the rural village of San Rafael, since I’ve seen that the best way to re-connect with our mission and stay inspired is to visit affiliated family homes and learn about their challenges first-hand.

We arrived at Doña Lidia’s home by way of a narrow dirt path, littered with bright plantain chip wrappers that the recent heavy rains had scattered in all directions. The roof had been cobbled together with scrap pieces of corrugated aluminum, wooden slats, and thick plastic sheets, all precariously held together by yellow plastic cords.  One wall of the room was made of concrete block, while two others had been formed with a single row of sugar cane stalks.  On the dirt floor near the concrete wall, Doña Lidia was starting a fire with pinecones and sticks to begin the many-step process that would eventually produce corn tortillas for another meal.  A few hens wandered in and out of the room, looking for a hand-out of corn kernels they could claim as their lunch.

Doña Lidia told us how each of her four children, now playing quietly on the ground next to her, had been sick with upset stomachs and colds.  “The nurse up at the clinic says that there is really no way to get them completely better.  I have to go out of the house during the day and leave them here by themselves, where they end up playing in the dirt and getting some in their mouths.  They will constantly have microbes.”

Patty, the Common Hope social worker who I was accompanying, listened carefully to Doña Lidia’s complaints and offered practical suggestions.  She encouraged Doña Lidia to stick with the clinic’s treatment plan and be sure to administer prescribed medications with care.  After talking about each of the health issues, she turned to Marleny, Doña Lidia’s eldest daughter.  “Marleny, how are you doing in school?”  Marleny told her she was doing quite well.  “Well then, come here and let’s see how your reading is coming along.”

Patty had Marleny stand next to her with a storybook, A Chair for My Mother.  Marleny turned to the first page and began to read in a clear, confident voice, “My mother works as a waitress in the Blue Tile Diner…”  All of the energy in the room focused on Marleny.  Doña Lidia stopped checking in on her boiling water and looked on with pride.  Against so many odds, here was a third-grader who had strong reading skills and loved to show them off. After a few pages, Patty asked Marleny, “would you like to continue reading?”  Marleny gave a resounding, “¡Sí!

Originally from Oak Park, Illinois, Lisa has a degree in sociology from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.  She was a statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau before coming to Guatemala in 2003 to work for Common Hope.

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2 Responses to All Eyes on the Storybook

  1. Dave Schmid August 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    Thanks for your story, Lisa. I met you on one of the days in July that you visited San Rafael. I too was impressed by Patty’s skill in supporting the health and development of the family I visited. I hope that Blanca, their fourth-grader for whom I am privileged to be “padrino,” continues to read as well as Marleny!

  2. Lisa Hetzel August 20, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks for your comment, Dave. Patty is an amazing social worker (as well as HR coordinator!) I think Blanca, Marleny and many others at San Rafael have a very bright future ahead of them!

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