Dana Sitzman, a member of the Best Buy Vision Team, describes her memorable visit with Luis and family.
I am sponsoring a child through the Common Hope program—seven-year-old Luis. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet him and his family while on my Vision Team trip in Guatemala. Accompanied by a social worker, I went to the family’s home, which was in an extremely impoverished area of San Miguel Escobar.
The size of a modest living room
The entire property was about the size of a modest living room in the United States. Their home was made of cornstalks, with a tin door that was tied shut with a shoe string. The home was one room with a dirt/mud floor, a table, a couple of chairs, and two beds pushed together. There was neither electricity nor running water. There were sheets covering where rain comes through the cornstalks, and there was a path through the middle of the room where the rain water ran through. The whole house was coated in dirt, including the walls, bedding, and the minimal belongings. They could not keep anything on the floor because it was all mud. The family qualified for a three bedroom home, which will actually have a shower and toilet area, which is very uncommon. Once they can get into a home with cement, it will make such a difference. It will be a different world for them.
Prepared and excited for their visitors
Luis appeared so excited to meet me, as this sponsorship will be providing a new life for him and his family. They clearly had prepared for this visit, as he was bathed, his hair was slicked down and combed, and he was wearing the first pair of shoes he had ever owned (from Common Hope). Luis’ mother was so grateful. I could not understand what she was saying as she hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear, but I knew this meant a lot to her and her family. There were other children everywhere, peaking through the cornstalks at the visitors.
I talked to Luis about school. The primary mission of Common Hope is education for children, and a sponsor’s role is to support the child and family is reaching their goal of graduating high school, which is highly uncommon in this country. I talked to them about how important school is and encouraged him to stay in school. I brought a puzzle that we completed together. Luis stared at me the whole time in amazement. He was very quiet and polite. The other siblings, who are ages three and nine, were not home because they had hiked up the hills to get fruit. I didn’t see any food around the home, so I was glad I brought them a food basket, which they said would feed them for a month. It contained non-perishable items like corn, beans, soy milk, rice, and flour, as well as soap and other supplies. In Guatemala nutrition is a major issue because the primary food source is beans and rice. Many of the children, as well as adults, do not have teeth because they were pulled due to decay. Unfortunately Coca-Cola is cheaper than water. In fact, while at the family’s home I saw a toddler walking by drinking cola out of a straw.
A different kind of summer “break”
The school is on break during November and December of each year, as this is the harvest season. Luis will now start working in the family’s field during his school break. It is a one-hour walk to their corn field in the mountain where they will harvest their small corn plot by hand. His father walks to work at 4:00 a.m. each day. He then walks home to have lunch with his family, and walks back to resume his workday. (That means a total of about four hours of walking per day!) Luis’ mother said she does not see her husband much because of the tremendous time he works. You need a sixth grade education to get a job, which many adults don’t have, so do not have any choice but working in the fields.
I brought Luis several simple gifts, including a hand-made fleece blanket and a book. He loved the blanket, which was made of vivid colors and cartoon faces of monkeys; he kept running his hand over it and looking at it. The blanket that they did have was muddy and rolled up, so this was the brightest thing in the house. I did not see anything in their home that I would see in most American houses. They don’t have toys, bikes, or other activities to entertain them at home. It made sense that many of the children and families were seen hanging around on the streets and elsewhere. If not, you would instead be in a dark, tin house.
Luis’s reading goal
They said if I returned to visit, Luis will know how to read the monkey book I brought for him. It was important to his mother, which made it really important to me. He is going to do this due to Common Hope’s focus on education, and if he wasn’t he would instead be working in the fields like many other children. Many parents have not received education, which makes it hard.
I felt so thankful for this opportunity. There was so much to take in. I know the money donated to Common Hope goes to a good cause, as I got to see first-hand the difference it will make for a family. Since I met them in person, it made me and they feel accountable and dedicated to Luis’ education. It makes you think of all we take for granted and the things we give to our kids every day. Giving a child an education and helping them have new opportunities is irreplaceable. We are really lucky to be where we are. We have good jobs and provide for our family, so we are able to make such a difference in so many ways through a program like this.