The Mexigonia Weekly

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Hope in Santa Faz

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“We’re going to visit Gloria, she lives just down there,” Chris told Braden and Elizabeth as she and her husband Richard guided them through the slum of Santa Faz, in the north of Guatemala City. The four stood atop a steep hill that led down to a ravine, and looked upon the houses built into the side of this slope. To get to Gloria’s house, ‘just down there,’ they had to descend a rocky and steep path, interrupted by water pipes that neighbors splice from one another to gain access to the public system. Stairs were built into the side of the hill to aid our descent but a slip of the foot might send one down to the ravine in just a few minutes! We soon arrived at Gloria’s two-room house where she lives with husband and nine children. Chris and Richard stopped by Gloria’s house to pay a friendly visit and to make sure the three children starting school next term were adequately prepared and excited! This would be the first term that any of the nine children, who range from baby to teenager, would attend school.

Chris and Richard Rice have been volunteering in Guatemala for nearly 10 years (please see www.lifeofhope.org). When they first arrived, they worked for an organization that helps to give children who live on the street a place to live. After caring for 12 teenage girls from the street in their own home for a few years, Chris and Richard switched gears to aid in the prevention of ‘street’ children. Currently they work as independent volunteers, addressing the needs of their community in Santa Faz in all sorts of ways from house repair to education.

“This is just for preschool,” Chris said as she showed Elizabeth a long list of school supplies students must purchase in order to attend school. There is public education provided, but the uniforms, notebooks, erasers, crayons, paper, pencils, sharpener, etc. add up to a sum that many families cannot afford, especially for multiple children. There are many obstacles to education in Guatemala City, including a difficulty obtaining proper legal documents for the children (which requires various fees), but having the right collection of supplies is a perennial and expensive impediment to education across the city.

The city itself presents challenges to the work of the Rice family. In 2008, an average of 40 homicides per week took place and this year is likely to see an increase. There is also a growing rate of murder against women in the city with over 500 ‘femicides’ as of August of this year. Moreover, according to a Guatemalan Human Rights Commission report, the perpetrators of 98 percent of these cases (femicides) enjoy impunity from the law. Impunity coupled with the high prevalence of gang activity in the city illustrate how difficult it is to create a sense of community among neighbors with similar struggles. The home, however, may not be much safer, with staggering rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse reported annually. And so trust, familial bonds and the value of life are all called into question in many parts of the city, creating a very challenging atmosphere for the people to share in a community or to organize as a group to achieve changes for their neighborhood.

This is not the whole story, however. The four then walked back to the Rice’s building which houses a meeting space, office, kitchen and church. Nearly every person from the boy playing soccer in the street to the managers of stores greeted the couple as one of their own. Chris and Richard are deeply rooted in this community and devoted to its people. As independent volunteers, they are able to respond to a diversity of needs, more often soliciting solutions from others in the neighborhood to promote that sense of community. The schedule of events, which hangs on the wall of the meeting room, is full of activities taking place each week including church meetings, literacy classes, activities for the elderly, clothing sales, first aid lessons, and the list goes on.

Additionally, a noteworthy aspect of their service to the community is the sponsorship program wherein a donor can sponsor a child and assist in the purchase of school supplies and medication, among other necessities. This sponsorship program creates a special relationship between donor and child, and shows the children that many people care about their well-being, and that a bright future is possible. For more information please visit www.lifeofhope.org, a parent organization that assists four different ministries (including the Rice family), and through which you can solicit instructions on how to sponsor a child for around $15 a month.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 December 2009 02:35