“I Xin J’o! “I Xin J’o!” , “We love you!” “We love you!” chanted the kids from the rural Indian community after our visit to their school.
They were the sweetest kids we had visited during our two week expedition to Guatemala and El Salvador, during which we did programs for many hundreds of kids, in small settings as well as in big groups of up to 200 children. We had faced many rowdy crowds before in destitute urban neighborhoods, but there, in remote villages surrounded by the quiet mountains of Guatemala where Indians tribes live in rudimentary conditions, the kids were so sweet and appreciative!
During a week in Guatemala and five days in El Salvador, we held 11 programs, and distributed 4,500 educational storybooks, coloring books and puzzles, created and produced by the Family International, and sponsored for the trip by Activated Ministries.
Our programs were simple and interactive, with groups of 20 to 200 kids. Many of attendees came from traumatic backgrounds. It was heart-breaking to hear their stories and caused us to do all we could to make them know that they are loved, and to introduce them to the One who wants to be their best friend, Jesus.
Each book distribution, besides the clown show, included a dance contest. Beautiful donated stuffed animals were the coveted prizes. This was one of the highlights of the program, making these kids feel special, singled out and rewarded. There was such surprise and delight on the faces of winners, I am not exaggerating when I say that many of them had never held a stuffed animal in their hands.
At the end of the event every child personally received three or four books and immediately started to read them (again, for most of them it would be the first books they would own).
MISSION TO EL SALVADOR
In a dilapidated school in gang territory, the principal explained to us that the majority of her 40 students, aged between 6 and 14, had tried to commit suicide due to the enormous psychological trauma they have to endure.
We had specifically asked the organizations we worked with to take us to the most needy neighborhoods and to gang-controlled communities where we could reach the children most at risk, and they did just that, taking us to areas where the police do not venture and where the chauffeur of their sponsored van didn’t even want to wait while we were doing our programs. It was safe enough for us, as our sponsors accompanied us, and they are known and accepted by the gang members for their work. Our hearts broke at the dismal living conditions -- one-room houses made of corrugated metal, narrow gloomy streets, shadowy gang members painting the walls with graffiti, untold numbers of shoes hanging from the electrical cables, and loads of children with eager faces and eyes sparkling at the sight of our lively crew bringing them activities, colorful books and puzzles.
Most, if not all the children we met receive about four hours of schooling a day (those who are allowed by their parents to go to school), and work for another five to six hours every day from a very tender age. We were surprised at the extent of child labor in the areas we visited: they work at many tasks: fabricating “piñatas”, hollow paper dolls that are filled with candies and used at celebrations all over Central America, putting together fire crackers (many of the kids get their hands and faces burned from it, or are victims of pierced ear-drums), and in the rural communities, unending work in the fields. Many rarely have time to play and do not own toys, much less books, so the toys and books they received from us were a very special treat.
We were able to minister not only to extremely needy children, but also to the special people who have devoted their lives to making a difference in the children’s lives. On the last night of our programs in El Salvador, the social workers who had organized all the distributions for us invited us for dinner and told us that we didn’t realize how far-reaching our visit would be in the lives of these children. One of them also stated privately that he knew the Lord was calling him to be more than a social worker, and that he was considering becoming a missionary to give people the real help that they need.
We are very grateful to Activated Ministries for the donation of the inspirational and educational material to distribute during the trip, which allowed us to sow seeds of faith and to impart much-needed values to some to the neediest children of Guatemala and El Salvador. God bless you!
THE RESULTS OF OUR TRIP
• Four book distribution programs held in Guatemala, and seven in El Salvador
• 800 very needy children lead to receive Jesus into their hearts
• A total of 4,500 Grandpa Jakes books, Early Bird coloring books, puzzles and Conéctate magazines distributed
SOME OF THE KIDS WE MET
Osiris, a year and a half, has three brothers and sisters: Her mother moved away to escape the gang she was a member of, but then elements of a rival gang gunned her down at her new work place. Her four children now live with their grandmother, who has no resources and takes them with her every day to street lights where they all sell trinkets to survive.
Wilson, 7 years old, lives in a community perched on a gulch by a river full of sewage waters. A few kids have already disappeared in the turbulent waters covered with thick white foam. Wilson’s mother is a prostitute and lives isolated on the opposite bank of the river. Wilson didn’t come to our program as he was too busy working, so we met him in the evening, when he was bringing back wood for his mother to cook dinner. The social workers fear that vulnerable Wilson will be recruited by the gangs who often visit his neighborhood to sell drugs and spread fear.
A brother and a sister in an orphanage we visited were rescued from their father days before he was going to sacrifice them at a witchcraft ceremony, after having sacrificed his other two children.