by Melissa Wanner, on behalf of Joel Wanner
Melissa Wanner helped record her husband Joel’s Vision Team experience through a blog they shared with family and friends. Below is an excerpt of several entries, recounting Joel’s moving visits with his sponsored student Nataly.
On Friday morning, Joel loaded up in a van with the social worker and an interpreter. They headed a short distance away from the Common Hope campus to see our sponsored child Nataly. It was a very moving and emotional experience for him. Nataly was shy for about 30 seconds, then ran over and gave Joel a huge hug while he was still standing in their doorway. She kept calling him Padrino, which means guardian or godfather, and she wanted to show him all around their little area.
The house was a caretaker shack. It included the family’s kitchen, living area, and a set of bunk beds. The adults set up lawn chairs in the little room so they could show Joel a photo album of their family. To Joel’s surprise, the picture of us that we sent down about a year and a half ago was in there. Nataly found great joy in pointing to our picture and telling Joel, “Those are my Padrinas, Melissa and Samantha.”
The family earns a small amount of money each year caretaking the cathedral next to them. It was built in the 1500’s. It is so old that it no longer has a roof, but Joel said it was just beautiful. They still have vocal performances there, so Nataly knows all kinds of songs that she hears from the performers. She told Joel that she wants to be either a singer or a ballerina when she grows up.
Nataly obviously spends a lot of time at the cathedral, because she insisted on taking Joel, the social worker, and the interpreter up to the top of the towers. The steps were in severe need of repair and they were literally as wide as Joel’s shoulders. The view from the top was unbelievable, and while they were up there the volcano gave off another puff of smoke. They sat up there and talked for some time. Nataly had lots of stories to tell her Padrino. She also sang him a sweet song. On the way down, Nataly had them crawl through some of the three-foot arches. She shot on through, but I imagine that watching the adults would have been hysterical. The social worker said that Nataly is one of the top kids in her class and loves to paint and learn. Each month we send her two or three books that are written in Spanish, and she really likes reading those.
When they went back to the little house, Joel presented the gifts we sent down. The kids were excited about the soccer ball, coloring books, colored pencils, and clothes. Nataly’s little brother is four and was especially taken by the small bright red and yellow Little Tikes dump truck that we picked up at Target right before Joel left. Joel said that the only thing even resembling a toy truck there was a frame with four wheels attached. Really makes you step back and realize how blessed all of our children are who have multiple trucks, dolls, and toys to play with. We also purchased a 75-pound bag of food from the Common Hope site for $30 to give to the family. It consisted of rice, beans, veggies, pasta, flour, cornmeal, and other staples. Each bag of groceries in the US costs considerably more than that and probably doesn’t go as far!
It broke Joel’s heart when it was time to go and Nataly wanted to go with him. She hugged him over and over again. The social worker said that it is typical for the families to walk to the Common Hope site again to see their Sponsors once they know that they are staying there.
In the end, Nataly was able to visit the Antigua site the following week along with her family, to participate in a Build-a-Bear activity with Joel. The kids got to pick out a stuffed animal and decorate a t-shirt for the animal to wear. Joel said it was a lot of fun, but it was another “long and difficult goodbye.” He continued, “The family is so thankful that we are sponsoring her, but in fact, we are the ones who have been blessed by this experience.”
For more on Joel’s experience in Guatemala, visit his blog here.