A memorable home visit

by Ellen Taylor

Ellen Taylor is a member of the Vision Team from University of Maine at Augusta. The team is blogging from Guatemala about their experience. Below is an excerpt from Ellen about their home visit yesterday.


University of Maine Professor Ellen Taylor

The first family we visited lives on the end of a road with houses constructed of thin panels of corrugated steel. My first impression was how clean the dirt streets are. There is a gutter dug out for water drainage, and no trash anywhere. At our client’s house, she has a little garden of tropical flowers in the front, and the entrance is decorated with geraniums potted in plastic bottles, hanging from the wall of steel.

The woman immediately pulled out benches (wooden boards on iron piping) and plastic chairs and covered them with a towel for us to sit in her little courtyard, which is basically a living area behind two enclosures of steel for sleeping quarters, with blankets for doorways and privacy.

She has one girl aged 11 who is in school, who was washing dishes in the outdoor kitchen in a bucket of water; and three little boys, ages 2, 4, and 6, who were running about playing. The father suffers from severe headaches of unknown cause, and they make a living by selling goat milk.

In the courtyard, we sat with their three or four dogs (one with puppies nursing), chickens and chicks in a little enclosure, and two goats, Cenizas and Lodo (? – didn’t quite get her name). Cenizas (ashes in Spanish) is a gray goat, and a protagonist in the story.

After a conversation about general health of the children and parents, as well as the presentation of a certificate for the daughter to attend a special one week computer class at Familias de Esperanza/ Common Hope (FE/CH), the girl took three glasses she had just wiped spotless with a little cloth and proceeded to milk Cenizas. A short time later, we were presented with three glasses of warm goat’s milk, right from the udder.

We had been cautioned about consuming tap water or drinks from opened soda bottles, but none of this was covered. I looked at our social worker, Louisa, who gave me a “what to do?” look. She herself pleaded lactose intolerance, but to no avail, as goats’ milk is entirely different, the woman told us, and no one ever get sick, etc.

So we took cautious sips, and I must say I have never tasted anything so rich and delicious that was unadorned with sugar or flavoring. The milk was warm and tasted as though we had stirred spoons of honey inside, and it was thick as a milk shake. We drank it down and no one suffered any gastro-related illness.

This visit clarified for me the importance of the cement floor – while the woman made every effort to keep the ground swept clean, the family was sharing their dirt floor in their living space with animals’ urine and feces from the goats. This family is due to receive a FE/CH house in about a year. 🙂

It was a eye-opening and touching experience to share the morning with this family … and I will write more about it in another venue.

To read more reflections from the UMA group and see photos from their trip, click here.

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