Helping Others – A Trip to Guatemala
In a recent broadcast of The Boston School’s Podcast Show, I had the immense pleasure of introducing my sister Pauline Nassif. She spoke about her trip taken with members of the Christ Community Church of Taunton, Massachusetts to Guatemala in November 2014. To Listen link here.
It was the first time Pauline went on such a mission and I admire her greatly for doing so. During the interview, we could only touch lightly on her experiences. Therefore, I would like to share a more extended, detailed account of her trip through a written blog entry. I hope her story touches you as it did me.
For the last few years CCC from East Taunton, Masssachusetts has been travelling to Zacapa, Guatemala twice a year in Feb and Nov to give humanitarian aid and share the love of God with the people of Guatemala. By developing and maintaining long term relationships between those who serve and the communities they serve, we see first-hand the transformation in the families and communities of both groups.
In conjunction with Hope of Life International founded by Carlos Vargas and World Help, both international Christian organizations, our church was the first to become part of the Total Village Transformation Program. (http://www.hopeoflifeintl.org/tvt)
Hope of Life International believes that all people are important and equal and that a Practical Gospel works only when serving the physical and spiritual needs in unity in communities. Similarly, World Help meets people’s physical needs by providing humanitarian, medical, and educational assistance and ensuring access to clean water and people’s spiritual needs by providing Bibles and establishing churches in communities.
CCC adopted the village of El Arco and helped to transform it from a place of abject poverty and hopelessness into a thriving village with new found hope and faith. We have just begun the same process in November in another village called San Juan. I had the opportunity to serve in both villages while in Guatemala.
Essentially, through Total Village Transformation, our church and partners installed a clean water system which now reaches 100’s of people in the mountains who once had no access to clean water sources and suffered from parasites and other illnesses and diseases.
As a matter of fact, something we would consider a minor illness, such as contracting diarrhea, actually causes a great number of deaths throughout the developing world and 90% of deaths due to diarrhea related illness are of children under 5 years old. (UNICEF)
10% of the global disease burden could be reduced through improved water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management so installing this system alone has significantly changed the community. (UN Water)
In addition, we have installed outside community baking ovens, planted gardens and fruit trees which supports a local and sustainable food source and is a powerful way to decrease malnutrition and provide a communal gathering place to forge friendships and relationships with neighbors.
We have helped to build a vocational school and a member of our church. Trish Holloway, established a micro-business which is a women’s sewing cooperative that has provided equipment and taught women skills and techniques in sewing, how to invest in materials and has increased their overall personal confidence and ability to provide for the families.
We also built a church and a church home for the local Pastor Eugene and his family so he can better serve the spiritual and physical needs of his community.
The members of our church back home who have not had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala have lovingly supported our mission by hand-sewing hundreds of baby blankets, gathering Christmas bags for children and providing storehouse buckets filled with essentials for families. Hope of Life has a huge warehouse where our items are shipped to which are stored until our arrival so we can personally deliver these gifts throughout the communities.
This was the first time you went to Guatemala. Can you share with us in what ways you were able to contribute to the community there? And what felt most rewarding?
I personally was involved in Spanish language translation for the medical team which was headed up in November by my Team Leaders Mario and Christine Correia, a married couple who are both nurses. We were also very blessed to have a pediatrician on hand and were able to provide medical examinations, distribute anti-parasitical medications, pre-natal vitamins, reading eye glasses, fever reducing medications and antibiotics. I was able to pray with each family who attended the medical clinics and encourage them. I am not fluent in the language and my skills had not been used in quite some time so I was quite scared but just prayed that I would be given the ability to share the necessary words to lift their spirits. My skills were definitely stretched and I grew significantly in this way.
I was also part of our Worship Team and shared music with 5 other wonderful singers and musicians and we sang songs in both English and Spanish. We visited the elderly home on the grounds of Hope of Life and sang to them and we could see they truly enjoyed it. Each day when we travelled to the villages we put on a Vacation Bible School where hundreds of children came to hear music and sing songs, listen to bible stories, do arts and crafts, play games and of course enjoy lots and lots of lollipops. We gathered every evening with our entire group to reflect on the day’s events and to share our thoughts with each other and sing songs of worship to God, thanking him for all our blessings and for making a way for us to be in Guatemala. On Sunday, we sang during church service for the communities and it was an amazing.
I was also asked by our Pastor’s wife, Wendy Thornton, to share with the women of El Arco and San Juan my personal testimony at women’s bible study about what my life had been like before I found the love of God, how I found His love and how my life has changed since I accepted Him into my heart. It was a very emotional and powerful experience and I could see that it truly touched the hearts of the women who witnessed it. After sharing my story a woman named Theresa from El Arco wanted to share her story and decided that she also wanted to accept God’s love and both the women from our church and the women from the community prayed with her . Too often women these days tear each other down and judge each other instead of embracing our power to lift each other up and that will stay with me forever.
What lessons about yourself do you think you learned there?
The greatest lesson I learned about myself is that I have gifts to share with people. I believe God has given me the gift of compassion and communication and that I don’t need a fancy career or title to make an impact on our world. I think that was what I was looking for after earning a Master’s Degree in International Relations. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things through love and if love exists within you then each of us can do amazing things to make the world a better place just by reaching out to people one at a time. My plan moving forward is to start writing and sharing on a deeper level and in a wider capacity the gifts that I have and so I thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with whoever may be listening to this podcast right now.
Seeing poverty is not an easy thing. Can you share with us a story which particularly motivates you to continue helping?
We take so much in our lives for granted and even more tragically we take the people in our lives for granted. Every day that you wake up is a day that you can use to change your life and impact people around you. I witnessed one of the most horrible places on earth the day that I went to serve food at a feeding center run by Hope of Life at a community dump where families actually live.
The desperation of the people living there is much more severe than the people living in the villages I visited. Children and their mothers’ were picking through the garbage in the landfill to find something of value or usefulness for their lives. I will not sugar coat what I saw and experienced there because people need to feel uncomfortable or angry or sad because those emotions can motivate us to act instead of diverting our eyes and turning away.
Children brought dirty containers they found in the landfill which was on fire and smoldering in various places to fill with food that they receive every Monday, Wednesday and Friday thanks to Hope of Life. Flies and dirt covered their little bodies. I saw pregnant women and new born babies, packs of wild dogs, smelled the burning fires and stench of garbage and waste.
It was one child in particular who grabbed my heart and broke it into pieces. A little 3-year-old girl named Sariah who lay in the doorway on a filthy floor lethargic and sickly waiting for her mother and brothers to come back to her with food to fill her empty belly. She let me hold her hand, stroke her hair and sing to her. She gazed at me but did not move or even blink away the flies. This memory will forever be etched in my mind.
I noticed that the fields surrounding the dump had beautiful agricultural crops of mango, pineapple and bananas. It just seemed so cruel and senseless. When I inquired about the crops I learned that these fields are owned by major corporations like Dole and Chiquita Banana. I thought to myself, here is a smaller organization, Hope of Life, taking action to feed, comfort and care for people, bringing them for free to their compound for life saving medical care from this place that must be hell on earth. Because of their efforts, over many years the populations at the dump have decreased because they have been able to assist in moving people out of there into better circumstances. And then there are these billion-dollar corporate giants with an abundance of resources that choose to do nothing. The lesson here is that there is power in your will to act, not in the resources you have or do not have.
On that note, I have been reading “Dreams are Cheap” by Carlos Vargas the Founder of Hope of Life. I have been using a quote from the book as my new personal mantra. “Don’t focus on your limitations, lack of resources, or the distance to the goal. Continue to dream and to set goals and do not let anyone convince you of limitations that are too big to handle”.
If someone would like to donate to your cause or also help in volunteering, can you explain how they can do so through CCC?
If you have been inspired by my story and it is in your heart to move away from a place of apathy or feelings of helplessness into a place of action and hope, there are several ways to do so. You can be a “go-er” and go on a mission trip to serve or you can be a “sender” by partnering along side those who wish to serve on a humanitarian mission by helping them to raise the funds they need to go. I hope to return to Guatemala next November and I could not have gone this time without the help of my “senders”.
You can also give donations to both and through their websites. There are many options to give such as purchasing a goat ($100) or chickens ($22) for a family, sponsoring a child ($35) or even booking the Children of the World International Children’s Choir for a performance in your city or town. Most importantly and very often overlooked is that your time and talents are a fantastic way to take action through advocacy and outreach to raise awareness. You never know whose heart you will reach and the incredible things that can become of it.
Written by: Pauline Nassif