I started sponsoring Yeymi at the end of 2010 and visited her at the start of 2013. My parents took over her sponsorship when I went to the Philippines in 2014, so I was visiting on their behalf. Yeymi is 13 years old, in seventh grade, and is the third of four girls, aged between 11 and 17.
My visit in 2013 was impacting, mainly because of what I found out about the family’s circumstances through a conversation with Mama. I was interested to see what had changed in their lives in the two-and-a-half years between visits.
The answer, it turned out, was “not much”, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. What struck me about this family was their sense of contentment and stability. They were living with Yeymi’s grandmother, in the same neighbourhood had lived in their whole life. The neighbourhood is safe and they are surrounded by extended family.
The main thing that had changed for this family was two new additions. Yeymi’s oldest sister is about to turn 18. She became pregnant, had her baby (Alexander, 8 months old) and married the baby’s father. This made Mama an Abuela (grandmother) at 32. To make things more interesting, Mama is currently seven months pregnant with her fifth child (a boy), 11 years after her youngest daughter was born. All I can say after seeing the girls with their nephew Alexander, is that he and the new arrival will be two of the most spoiled boys ever, and will not lack attention or affection.
While these additions to the family are a cause for celebration, it does make things more difficult for Yeymi’s father, who I haven’t met. He is in Guatemala City working in construction and providing for his family, and only comes home every second weekend. I asked Yeymi about him and she seems to have a positive relationship with him, which is good. She said they sometimes play together.
On this day we met at the Compassion Project which Yeymi attends on Saturdays. Days and hours of attendance vary from Centre to Centre and country to country. There were no Project activities happening, but I was able to meet some of the staff, as well as a group of Americans who were there with Living Waters International, installing a water filtration system. The church will use this clean water to sell and to give to the needy in the community.
We then went to Yeymi’s house, where all her sisters and her grandmother were waiting to meet me.
As seems to be the custom, I was welcomed with firecrackers which scared little Alexander and made the poor kid cry. We had a pleasant conversation which largely centred around what had been happening over the last two years. I told them more about my parents, my time in the Philippines and showed them an updated picture of my family. They had made a special sign to welcome me, and I noticed they had a Bible verse stuck to their front door. I believe God’s protection is over that household.
I had a win when I got out the UNO cards I had brought. When I was in the Philippines the kids loved it, so thought I would bring it on this trip. I started playing with the three youngest siblings, while the oldest fed her baby. They had never played the game before, so there was a bit of explaining to do, but my translator Mayra made it very easy. We were soon into it, and it was a good chance for me to practise my Spanish numbers 1-10 and colours (asul, rojo, amarillo and verde). Yeymi won both games, which she was pretty happy about. After two games the oldest sister wanted to join too, so I had a rest and sat back and watched these four girls engaged in a “sibling battle.” It struck me that this was probably a rare event; the four of them just being able to play together because, to put it bluntly, they don’t have much stuff. I was happy to give them this opportunity to just be kids for a while.
During the day I “rediscovered” these things about Yeymi (I already knew them, but it was all in the name of conversation):
* She LOVES chicken.
* Her favourite subject at school is maths and she dreams of being a doctor.
* Her favourite Bible story is Noah’s Ark because she thinks it’s amazing how all the animals were able to fit on the ark.
* If she could go anywhere in the world it would be Australia (no prompting from me)
* Her heroes are her parents.
* The family attend church regularly, and Yeymi enjoys it.
After the home visit we paid a visit to Yeymi’s great-grandparents, who I met last time. They are both in their eighties and still working. Their job is to feed and grow 3000 chickens and every seven weeks they sell them to a company and start again with a new batch. We took some family photos which, incredibly, contain five generations of the same family.
Then it was time to head into town. The plan was Pollo Campero (“chicken country”) for lunch and then I was going to take them shopping at the mall. I’ve decided it’s easier to buy things in their community than me bringing an extra suitcase with gifts from Australia. My parents gave them $50AU to spend on groceries and I paid for a gift for each of the girls, equivalent to $12. Three of them bought shoes (surprise!) and Yeymi bought some Uno cards.
Apparently it’s a rare and strange thing for a male to push a shopping trolley in Guatemala. When we left the supermarket I was pushing the trolley and the girls and other passersby smirked, stared and giggled in my direction. The things you learn.
Lunch was a special time. Early on in the visit I was asked how many people I would be willing to take to lunch. They were all keen to come. On my many trips I’ve made it a personal policy to take as many family members as want to come, simply because for most of them the experience of eating together at any sort of restaurant is a rare event, and is one they’ll remember for a long time. There might be extra costs involved, but really, how can I stand in the way of that?
Last time there was a motley crew and on this occasion there were thirteen of us altogether, including two babies, the grandmother and great-grandmother.
We said goodbye in the carpark, surrounded by heat and the noise and busyness of the passing traffic. The farewell was not as emotional as the previous day with Josefa, but the family was very appreciative and expressed their gratitude on many occasions.
I left the visit in a positive frame of mind. The family certainly have their challenges, but from what I could tell they seem to be content and happy, trusting God to provide for their needs and thankful for the help of Compassion for Yeymi and her younger sister, who is also sponsored.