Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A boy and his soccer shirt!

This is one happy little boy.....one of our sponsored students whose sponsor arranged for him to have a very special gift....a Guatemalan soccer shirt!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cooking classes

Some of the people who have participated in our cooking
classes......we have cooking classes weekly of traditional Guatemalan food. The classes are a lot of fun!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Miriam had a very, very happy birthday! Her sponsor sent her a cake and bought her a new traditional outfit to celebrate her 15 th birthday ..." Quincenera"! A Quincenera is a very special birthday. It marks the day that a girl becomes a young woman! Having new clothes is a very special gift and this was certainly a very special day for Miriam! Sharon Smart-Poage MAYAN FAMILIES a registered 501.(c).(3) Non Profit Charity www.mayanfamilies.org 


Imagine if this was your bed every night ?   There is a thin sheet of plastic underneath the straw mat to try and keep out the cold from the cement floor.
Many of our sponsored families live this way.   You can donate a double bed to a family in need for  just $170 US. 

Mayan Families Summer 2012 Newsletter

Mayan Families Summer 2012 Newsletter!
Please click on this link to read and share!

Click here now!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Hi friends, 
We have almost finished unpacking, everyone has found a desk and chair and most of the computers are up and running!
We still have lots of kinks to work out in our new location but so far we all love it!!
It has a lot more space and we will be able to be a lot better organized!

Today we had a dental clinic in collaboration with Salud y Paz in El Barranco.  They only wanted to see 50 patients ..they were doing extractions and fillings but unfortunately, their filling machine broke down and so about 15 people were turned away who only need fillings.   A grandmother of several of our sponsored students had passed away the evening before and so most of the village was at her funeral.  So we did not get a very good amount of people, only 25 for the dentist and then they packed up at midday to head off. Just as well, because it poured rain in the afternoon.

Once again the horrible story of hunger was heard again today.
One of our mothers came in ....she is not someone who comes in often and was desperate.
She is an abandoned mother...the husband left her and his six children  for another woman .... he has now started another family...he does not support his first family and they seem to have stopped existing for him...unfortunately for the mother, the problems of how to feed the family have only increased.

She lives with her mother and sister.  Her sister is  a middle aged woman who was born with hip displasure... which was never operated ....  and now in middle age...she is having terrible pains in her leg and her foot is swelling.  She made her living washing clothes by hand in private houses...which means lots of standing up...she is now unable to do so...and is not earning any money... Her mother, who is in her 60's also made her money by washing clothes in private houses....they would earn a $1.50 US per day ...sometimes $2 US per day ...but the work is not steady and they only got work a few days a week.  The mother was out collecting and chopping firewood last month when she had an accident and cut her foot badly with the machete.  She has not been able to walk for nearly a month and now can walk a little but still cannot put on a shoe....so she also cannot work and earn money.

This leaves only the mother of the six children to be able to work to feed all 9 of them.  She also washes clothes in private houses or washes dishes and cleans....but this also is not steady work....she earns the same as her mother and sister.  ...
She came today to ask for help with food because her children are so hungry.
The family has taken to stealing 2 -3 onions from a neighbors field to make a thin soup for all 9 of them,
Not only will this cause problems with the neighbors ...but it is very dangerous, if the neighbor sprays his fields with pesticides, this could be fatal for whoever eats the food.
I asked the mother what the children had eaten last night for dinner...she told me wild herbs that they had collected in the mountains...and a tortilla each with a cup of weak coffee.
For breakfast this morning, they had a tortilla with salt each and a weak coffee.
For lunch they had another tortilla each with salt but now they had no sugar left and had only unsweetened coffee.
For dinner tonight, there was nothing to eat.
For breakfast tomorrow morning....there will be nothing. 

We gave the mother and the young child with her lunch from the Elderly Care program. 
We gave them some small bags of food from Feed My Starving Children that we have had donated. 
But this will not be enough to keep them fed. But at least tonight , they have something to eat.

We had another mother come into the office today.
Her husband died from aids last year.
She now realizes that her two  younger children who also died,  had the same disease.
She has been diagnosed HIV positive.
She has three older children she is trying to keep in school.
But every month she has to travel to the city to be able to receive her anti viral drugs that are keeping her alive.
The money that she could use to feed her family or to pay for their schooling is now taken up with transportation and 
paying for her medical care to keep her alive. 
We are hoping that we will be able to get sponsorship for her children to help ease this burden.
If anyone  knows of any friend or family member who has been thinking about sponsoring...this certainly would be a family that would appreciate the help.


More reasons we install Fuel Efficient Stoves

More reasons we install stoves!
This home is a perfect example of why we are passionate about helping
families receive an energy efficient stove that they can cook with. It
will take the smoke out of the house...this will reduce respiratory
problems and eye irritations.   It will make it safe for little
children in the house, too many have fallen into these fires and
suffered terribly.   These stoves also reduce the need for wood by
70%....so this will help deforestation which in turn will help stop
the deadly mudslides in Guatemala.
Thank you to the group ...Families for Guatemala 2012 ...for
installing 18 stoves this week. That will make a big difference to the
lives of these families.

If you would like to donate a stove....there is a family waiting who
would love to have it.
We will send you the photo of the family with a before and after photo.
If you have a group that would like to come and do a service trip
...install stoves, meet the families who will receive the stove, be a
welcome guest in a Mayan home rather than a tourist....have fun and
make a big difference ...we would love to have you come .
Please write to Sharon@mayanfamilies.org

Jim's visits to Agua Escondido, Guatemala

Friday afternoon I visited the Agua Escondidas home-building project with Juan, the construction supervisor, to deliver bags of cement. My photos are on the Mayan Families' Picasa Web site or will appear soon. The site is about 45 minutes from Panajachel, high up on the mountain on the northeast side of the lake, nearly as far as San Lucas Toliman. Along the way we passed through the small city of Godinez.

 We dropped the cement bags alongside small piles of gravel and sand, about 50 yards from the home site. There also were large jugs of water to mix the cement. (try to imagine running short of water whilst mixing cement, and the water supply being hundreds of yards away!)

  I met Isabel, the mother of Ana Alicia, #1241. Her family is living there now in a very primitive, one-"room" plastic and wood structure with enough space for two beds and little else. In person, it seemed smaller than it did in Picasa photos from last month. Her husband and son were working with a man from another family. There was another man doing some carpentry work on another house; he said he was not a future resident and had been hired by Mayan Families. They said all the families were working together on all the houses.

   It was quite hot and very dry, and the work was very difficult. They were dry-mixing the sand, gravel and cement during our visit in preparation of adding the water after a lunch break. This particular mix was in preparation to pour a 2" thick floor. This would be the second poured flour of the 6 houses that were framed up as of that day. If you look carefully at the photos you will see that the house designs are all the same, and that each house is in a different point in construction.

   In summary: each house is about 10'x20' with one door and one window; there is an 18" deep poured footing around the perimeter, on top which is a 3-course tall wall of concrete block. There are six 4"x4" poles holding up metal corrugated roofing panels (which are not well attached and will leak once the rains come - see photos); there are horizontal wood cross beams at intervals between the poles and sheets of plywood are (or will be) nailed to them.

   And that's it. Humble homes, very close to one other. The men told me that they are all working together and that no one will move in until they can all move in. I myself doubt that this will be the case. One family was visiting the site Friday, and Isabels family as you may know has been living there for a while - if the rains come, they likely will seek shelter in something other than their patched together "home." Especially if it collapses from heavy rain.

  I did not see any sort of trench above the site that would divert water toward the nearby ravine. Sharon said there were eight families involved, but the site prep had been completed for only 6 houses. I'm not sure what is up with the other two houses. And I did not see a prepared area to begin construction for them - my memory may fail me on that point. It may show in the photos.

 The homes are on a very steep slope and I am relieved that Guatemala is having a very dry rainy season, so that work can continue as rapidly as possible. I sure hope they finish all the houses before any heavy rains come -- there is much to do yet and few hands to do it. Once all the cement is mixed and applied, they could continue to work on the wood construction in the rain.
Yesterday, I went back to Aguas Escondidas with the "Families for Guatemala" group from the Cincinnati area, who donated, and were delivering, materials to build one of the two houses that had not yet been funded. I went in the truck with Charley and Juan and Oscar from Mayan Familes, Bruce and Vic from the group, and John the filmmaker/photographer from Korea who is here documenting MF activities. (BTW:  I designed and built (and plumbed) my two houses in Connecticut, and have some rusty skills). Bruce and Vic are extremely handy and knowledgeable, and we all pitched in as best as we could under the circumstances. We wanted more tools, but that was not an option, so we "made do."

The rest of that group arrived later with a big bag of shoes and sneakers for the residents, and lunch  -- pasta bolognese! --  for everyone. I did not count, but there seemed to be dozens of children at the site, along with most of the adults who own property. The "Families" group has been great by the way -- visiting their students and families and elderly nutrition programs, installing stoves, painting murals, and helping out in myriad other ways.

 Our truck with the materials arrived first -- nearly an entire house's worth on the truck along with all of us. We carried materials downhill to the houses, and you will surely see photos on Picasa of everyone pitching in, big and small, young and "old." Bruce and Vic and I pitched in to frame a wall, along with Charley, Oscar and Juan from Mayan Families and the homeowner Leocario. John was capturing the entire scene digitally with film and still photos. The kids were just great fun and a joy to be around. They helped too.

 Several men were working on the houses at the low end of the site, where two more houses will eventually be built. They were working on various steps in construction of the second of those houses. The first of which was mostly finished. Three houses are enclosed as of yesterday, two are ready for the side wall framing to be built, and then they will be closed in with plywood. The sixth is under construction, with the footings being poured and blocks being set as quickly as possible.
 Once they are all enclosed, with the doors and windows built, there is finish work to do. For example, the metal corrugated roofing has lifted up in spots -- Petrona (a mother in one family)  is well aware of this issue and pointed it out to me -- and water will come through. There is no supporting framework underneath, so they will likely have to add a post underneath, and would benefit from lots of caulking. The plywood walls that have been installed need to be more securely attached, since they are all "cupping" and will permit water to enter. "Nailers" will need to be installed inside these areas to secure the plywood, but there is enough framing to attach these to. 
 Bruce and I were looking at  the roof angles and where the water runoff will go and I am guessing that this may well be dealt with once the rains come, as surely they soon will. There will be water running downhill from above the site, so it would benefit from a trench to send it towards the "ravine," which is not deep and they are crossing it on foot toward the nearby coffee fields. Small trenches will be needed to send the roof runoff toward the ravine. 

 I am very happy to report that there is water being piped to the site from a "chorro," or tap, far uphill. It fills two large containers and then they use small plastic tubing to use water for mixing concrete. I believe this is for  construction purposes only. 

 There is an area cleared and ready for the 7th house, and I was told the 8th house will be next to it. The site for the 8th house is a tight fit, but Juan, coordinator of the project, assured me that a large culvert will be installed to prevent water in the small ravine from undermining that house. And he said that not a lot of water comes down that ravine and problems were not anticipated. 
 So I want to summarize: Everyone is working very hard, the workers know what they are doing, and surely know all about the issues described above -- but they have a big task on their hands. There will be last-minute issues to troubleshoot and solve. Probably people and belongings will get wet. Funding is still needed for the 8th family's house.  
 On the way to and from the site, and elsewhere of course, I see humble houses similar to these, and in similar dicey locations, all over the countryside. The people at Aguas Escondidas are wonderful, you need only to spend a few minutes with little Ronny and your heart will be his and you will do anything to help him and his sisters and brothers, cousins and playmates, see their dream of home ownership come true. I really can't wait to see them again .. whenever that is.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What to send

Hi everyone,
It is often our experience that girls 12 and older like dolls....because they have never had one and it is something that they have always wanted. Also they love to use them as a decoration. If you were to get a doll for her then I would suggest a decorative type of doll rather than a cuddly one. Also girls her age would love a big stuffed animal.  Also she would like a button down sweater, hair brush, hair accessories, a bracelet, socks, underwear..a personal cd player., a backpack is a great gift, ...we give each child a backpack when school starts in January...but these backpacks get hard use.
So having an extra one is a great thing.  There is no storage for books etc at school so all materials have to be carried in every day and it can get very heavy and zippers blow out etc.

For the parents I would suggest.....father...a flashlight and batteries...or even better if you can find a good solar one, a t.shirt or shirt...usually most Guatemalan men use a size M....but it could vary...a baseball cap, a small radio,  a warm zip up jacket, socks, ( often people have to wear shoes here without socks as they just don't have them) , the fathers also would really appreciate a strong back pack. ..this is something that most men use..either to go to the fields, for shopping, carrying whatever is needed,  a packet of razors, shaving cream ( in a tube ) ....a cheap watch. a radio or cd. player for the family. 

For the mother,  ...a blanket, towels, sheets, pillows, ( most Guatemalan families do not have pillows on their beds, they use folded up clothes )
pots, pans, good quality plastic dishes, cups etc. a button down cardigan , a fold up umbrella, a purse, a watch, a locket, a blender, an iron, 
perfume, a hair brush, hair accessories,  a flashlight,  a radio or c.d. player for the family.  

We can also purchase a lot of these things for you here in Guatemala if you would prefer not to ship.

Please remember if your family wears traditional clothing, please do not send them western clothing apart from button down cardigans, underwear, socks etc .  If you would like to purchase new clothing for them, we are happy to purchase it for you here in Guatemala. 
It is a tradition that men , women and children have new clothing at Christmas.  Quite often the families we work with cannot afford that at all. 
But if you would like to give a gift that will be useful for at least 5 years ...then traditional clothing is a wonderful thing to give. It not only is a joy for the person who receives it but it provides work for Guatemalans here ....weaving and sewing.

If your family wears traditional clothing but you would like to send some clothing to them, then...socks, underwear, cardigans, jackets for boys, rain capes etc are really, really appreciated. 

Thank you so much for thinking about sending gifts to your families......it is beyond exciting for them!
Sharon Smart-Poage
a registered 501.(c).(3) Non Profit Charity

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Moving Day!

Hi friends,
Today, we are moving out of Monterey office with the big, beautiful trees and moving into the Calle El Rastro office which is just behind the local market.
It is going to be a big job and the internet will be turned off in our office and then take a little bit of time  ( read a day or two ) to be up and functioning in the new office.
So please be patient ( even more so than usual!!) if your emails do not get a quick response.
It is a big job to move everyone ...their offices and the computers etc.   
This office space is really big...it has two courtyards ...we have one side that will be the pre school.....they will be moving in to the new space probably in December. 
We already have the kitchen for the Elderly set up and a dining room for them ( this also doubles as the cooking class kitchen for visitors).
Upstairs is going to be the Trade School...we have a lot of classrooms  . When we first looked at this place, we marveled at how much space there was and how we probably would not be able to use it all.
Now we are beginning to worry that we will run  out of space!!!
Thanks to the efforts of many different people this summer, the wall for the pre shool courtyard and the pre school toilets and the walls have been beautifully painted....they look very friendly, happy and welcoming!
Our phone numbers will stay the same. 
It is quite amazing to think how much we have grown.
When Bonnie who is the administrator of the Mayan Families Connection group originally came to visit. in 2005...we had our office in our bedroom of our home....Bonnie and her family helped wrap Christmas presents on our bed for the Christmas party for the sponsored children.   
It is thanks to Bonnie and all the wonderful members of this group that has enabled Mayan Families to grow and to be able to help so many.
Thank you!!!
We look forward to welcoming you to our new offices when you come to visit!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sewing Program

Some information on Olga and the sewing program.
Usually what happens when a woman graduates from the sewing class is that we eventually ( hopefully ) have sewing machines that have been donated that we are able to give them.  Sometimes we have them on hand....other times we have to wait until they are donated.  We do not have a time line on how long that can take. Some women can get one quickly, others wait months and months....we try to do it by class and always take the women who have been on the waiting list first for the sewing machines.
The sewing machines are donated from different people in the U.S.. ...we have groups and individuals who have been helping us.  We used to get second hand machines but now we have had all new machines donated ...which is much easier because if they need a piece replaced it is so hard to find. 
We usually have Singer , Brother or White machines donated and they have all been fantastic.
But if you would like to donate a sewing machine to Olga individually, then she would receive that as soon as we purchase it. 
We can purchase a new Singer here for $180 US.  
If you would like to purchase aprons from her, we would be really happy to organize that. 
If you would like an apron like the one in the photos that we use for the cooking classes, they are $12 US.  These are all made by women who have graduated from the sewing classes.   This is our way of trying to give them work. 
If you would like one made in all Guatemalan fabric...we can do that as well. ...it would also be $12 US. 
If you would like one for a child, they are $10 US.  We are working on a design that will have all the straps adjustable. 
We do send them up with people who are leaving for the U.S. so we cannot guarantee the exact time delivery time that the aprons will make it to your door.
Mayerlin was working with the women for the sewing classes and then Jenny took it over. We don't have anyone working with us right now that has experience with sewing etc ....except for me....this is what we did when we first came to Guatemala...we ran a little workshop and made clothing for exportation...so I am doing it for the present ...and I enjoy working with the fabrics again! There is nothing like the materials and the colors of Guatemala.
I had a meeting with the women from the sewing group who are making bags for a hospital in the U.S. ....they were concerned about the colors that were combining and felt that they didn't know which colors to use .....so I had everyone look at their  own traditional clothing and the woman  sitting next to them...   I put up different colors and asked them ...would this combine with this guipil  ( blouse ) that you are wearing or that your friend is wearing ? and they were adamant that it would not or that it would..........and then they realized that they already knew how to combine colors!
Thank you for wanting to help Olga, these women come to these classes and it is a sacrifice for them to do so ...but they do it with the hope that this will bring a brighter future for themselves and their children. They don't expect to earn huge amounts of money, they want to be able to buy a little more food, buy a pair of shoes for their child , help their children with their extra expenses in school or  be able to buy medicine .. and it is so wonderful when this can happen for them! 

Sharon Smart-Poage
registered 501.(c).(3) Non Profit Charity

Monday, August 13, 2012

A happy visit!

This family recently met their sponsors!
It was an incredibly wonderful event for them.
They not only got to meet the sponsor but they received the amazing gift of a bed.
The mother of this family was so excited.  She told us that she had never had a bed in her life!  This family has slept on a woven straw mat till now.  This is going to be such a warm, comfortable change for them!

Irma's funeral today

Today has been a very emotionally wrenching day.........Dwight, Gloria , Susie and I went to the funeral in Tierra Linda for little Irma. 
Getting to the house is very difficult , especially because it had rained very hard the day before.  We had to climb down a steep, very muddy, slippery path...with a big drop off on the not too far side. 
When we got to the house ....half of the village was there...the house and the small land in front of it was just a sea of people. 
We were taken into see the mother and father who were in their bedroom with their 9 children. ....the parents were overwhelmed with grief....all of the children were crying.  The younger ones were clinging to their parents for comfort but the parents looked liked they were too grief stricken and overwhelmed to be able to offer comfort to their children. 
It was heart wrenching just to see their pain.
We were then taken into the room that were the coffin was lying...there were a few wreaths of flowers but flowers are hard to come by in Tierra Linda so I was glad that we had brought some with us.  The room was full of people who were sitting vigil over the coffin. 
We realized that everyone had been waiting for us to arrive before the final prayers were said and the coffin was taken out of the house.  We were humbled by this honor . 
After the prayers , they brought out a photo of Irma with her previous sponsor...from several years ago.....Tricia who had given much love and joy to Irma....the framed photo was placed on the coffin.....Irma had been the first child sponsored in the family and it was very special to them. 
As is the custom here sometimes....the mother does not always accompany the child to the cemetery...the fear is that the child's soul will not want to leave the mother and will follow her back home. ....but in this case both the mother and father were too overcome emotionally to be able to accompany the coffin.  The siblings stayed back with the parents.  They had already been two nights without sleep and were just distraught. 
The parents and the siblings let out terrible cries when Irma's coffin was taken out of the house.  
As is the custom, the coffin was turned 4 times from each direction to make sure that the soul would not return back to the house.
Then the coffin was carried to the school where Irma had been a student.
There were hundreds of people there.
Everyone entered the school grounds, the director of the school started to talk but could not hold back the tears and someone else took over from him.
They invited all the children who had been friends with Irma to come to the coffin and say good bye to her.  Once again, the sponsor's framed photo with Irma was placed on top of the coffin.
Several children came up and talked about Irma and what she meant to them.
The procession then left the school and walked up to the small Catholic church at the top of the hill.   
The padre talked about how just on Friday he had given Irma classes to practice her dance with the children that she should have performed on Saturday in Solola. 
The church was full. 
Candles were lit, prayers were said. 

While I listened to the ceremony I could not help but think how Irma's death, while not a direct result of malnutrition was caused just as much by hunger and poverty.
The mother had told Gloria that she doesn't have a lot of food to feed her children. Sometimes the father has work but it is not steady....and they grow some crops but this does not bring them a lot of money.   They had 12 people to feed in the family and the money was just not enough.  So on Friday....the mother made a very thin soup of potatoes for the children to eat.
 I thought about how many children we work with who face hunger every day.  I thought about a mother who had recently had two of her children taken to an orphanage....she told me with tears in her eyes, that she didn't have a lot of food but she always had a least one egg that she would share between her four children. ...

On Friday, Irma like every day, came home from school, picked up the maize mixture to take to the molino to have the corn ground........and then brought home the ground corn to help her mother make tortillas.   Usually, every day after lunch, the mother and the children then walk down the mountain from Tierra Linda to Panajachel to work in the onion fields. ...then around 5.30p.m. they go home.   On Friday, Irma was very excited about being in the dance the following day and asked her mother could she please stay home to bathe and wash her hair.   (remember there is no hot water and washing her hair at night would mean that it would be wet all night)  .   The mother told her no, that she really needed her help in the onion fields. ...So off they went. 

The mother told us that they all ate radishes from the field.
They started walking home a little earlier ....around 4p.m. ..and on the climb up the mountain path is where Irma started to vomit. It would have been about a half an hour after eating the radishes.
Her mother said she only vomited 4 times and then started frothing green foam from her mouth. 
By the time the mother got her home, around 6p.m. she was already unable to speak ...they got her to the hospital around 8.p.m. and she died before midnight.

When Irma's coffin left the church.....approx. 200 people or more followed the coffin by foot.   It was carried first by young teenage girls from the church ..and then on the journey it was swapped over several times.    It was an incredible sight watching this small, white coffin going up the path and a sea of people going with it. 

We followed the procession in our car.  I was in awe of the dedication of the people who followed behind the coffin.  Women carrying babies on their back, small children by the hand, young people, old people...they all showed their respect and love by accompanying the coffin.  This was a 2 and half hour walk to get to the cemetery.
At the entrance to the village , the coffin bearers stopped once again and turned the coffin four times so that they soul would not be able to find its way back.  

Anyone who has been with us to Tierra Linda knows how steep the climb is up the mountain roads.  It was a long walk .
We had a Mayan Families pick up with us to be able to give a ride to the people who needed it. 
But it was quite some time before people took advantage of that.  One mother with her young daughter of about 8 made it half way on the journey before asking for a ride. 

Along the way, people came out of houses to bring an offering to give to the family....they would bring a quetzal or two 
   People all along the way came out to look at the procession and share in the grief of a family losing a child. 

When we were about half an hour from the cemetery it started raining.....but everyone kept on going ...some pulled out pieces of plastic covering they had brought with them and just kept on going.

By the time we got to the cemetery it was raining very heavy.

We left the procession at the cemetery...we had already been over four hours at the funeral and we were all tired and emotionally drained. 

Tomorrow we have the milk program..where children receive milk and/or cereal.    We have a female doctor coming who is going to give a talk about how to prepare food for children....and we will ask her to talk also about not eating foods that have not been washed and the dangers of pesticide. 

We are not sure what happened to Irma....we will never really know ...but we hope that it never happens to another child.

But hunger happens here every day. If you sponsor a child and can possibly afford to send a few dollars, no matter how few...it will make such a difference to the family.

It would mean maybe that each child in the family has an egg rather than the mother dividing one egg between four children. 

If you don't sponsor a child but would like to help a family with food ...that would be very appreciated.

I want to thank the sponsors of the children in this family...and Tricia ..the previous sponsor...who have made it possible for the family to not  have to carry the extra burden of the costs of the funeral and have made it possible for them to have food for the coming weeks.