“No podemos pagar, entonces, no vamos al hospital.” The mother, dressed in her best traditional wear, patted her 5 yr. old daughter on the stomach. The daughter had been losing weight and had serious abdominal pain. My eyes filled with tears as I heard her say they couldn’t pay for her to be seen by doctors. Although there is socialized health care, they still have to pay a small stipend – an amount too much for many. How would I feel as a mom if my child was sick but I couldn’t do anything about it because of money? She can’t even find out what is wrong- let alone treat it.
This local school is filled to the brim with needs beyond medical and dental. It is so poor that the only food the students receive is a watered down, ultra thin mush. This is their kitchen.
There are very few books, no school materials, and no opportunities to advance their education (libraries, music, art, etc.).
The only schoolyard they have is a cement floor under a very exposed, dangerous electrical system.
All around the school, built up on every side, are open air kitchens where women cook over open fires, and laundry is strung on lines. Smoke fills the school yard and children breathe the fumes.
When we asked the principal of the school what they wanted us to do for them, his answer was shocking. In a place with so little…so very, very little, we assumed he would have us build something or donate supplies. But instead, he asked us to paint murals on walls. I wasn’t sure about his request when our local contact told us that when we were planning state side. But when I heard the director of the school speak and saw the students and the structure, there was no greater gift he could be giving his students.
He had us paint hope. Inspiration. He had us create something that made their dull, pale, cracked walls come to life.
Girls as young as 12 marry and stop going to school. Other students are kept home by their parents to work in the coffee or sugar cane fields, because they need more money. But this director wants them to understand that education is their way out of poverty. If they set their minds on education, they can escape the pattern set by generations before them.
So he strives to create an ambiance in the school where the students want to come. A type of “home” for them that is beautiful. Painting the walls is a part of this vision. He also wanted a couple of the murals to say powerful words to inspire minds and dreams.
Seeing his vision with absolute clarity, we set to work.
We told them that education is power.
We told them that they can learn about the world and travel in it through books.
We painted a colorful, whimsical mural that beautified their space and gave value to the written word.
And we told them that if they can dream it, they can do it.
Throughout the day the kids played soccer games and ran a creative kermes (their version of a school carnival) with the students. We handed out soccer balls and toothbrushes. Erik examined the children and gave recommendations. The majority of them had never seen a doctor before…ever. Their teeth were black from disease and rot, and he found several that needed medical attention.
Our sad-faced team after losing to the guatemalans. It’s true. They are just better at soccer.
We know our murals are a very small piece of what is going on at that school – very small indeed. But it is something. And it was with the greatest joy that we gave that offering to them in hopes that it will inspire to something greater.