A Reflection by Brian Adams
“So how was your trip to Guatemala?” It’s a simple question right? But what I found was that “It was great!” or “It was challenging!” didn’t begin to answer the question. I usually found myself spending ten or fifteen minutes describing people and places and situations to try to convey my thoughts and feelings to help them understand my experience. Here are a few reflections on my trip; my hope is that your heart might be moved by these words.
So let me start by asking: How did you get ready for your day this morning? Taking a shower was as simple as turning a knob or two and waiting for the water to warm up, maybe a few extra minutes to let the room get a little steamy and warm and then hopping in and lathering up. We then put on our freshly laundered or dry cleaned clothes and walk into the kitchen for breakfast to cook up some eggs and toast… or perhaps a little parfait…maybe a smoothie, there are so many options. As you back the car down the driveway you have to remember to click the garage door closed and make a mental note that you really need to paint that trim on the house…a little Starbucks on the way in to work to start your day off right. (Starting to feel a little uncomfortable, like you are being set up for a guilt trip?)
There are over 14 million people in Guatemala and some of them live just like that, hot water without a thought, never wanting for food or clothing and picking up their cappuccinos as they drive into work. Many others, however, live a very different life. The area around the Hope School for example, a place called “the tracks”.
“The tracks” is a squatter community that lives along a railroad corridor that has long been in disuse, with parts of the railway pulled up and dragged away for its scrap value. Most “houses” are not houses in the conventional sense, we would call them shanties; built from cinder block, corrugated metal panels, old road signs, tarps, whatever material can be scrounged up. If the homes have power it is probably because they pirate power from the power line that runs along the railway corridor. (This consists of chopping the end off of an extension cord, baring the wires and wrapping one around each of the wires out at the power line!) Running water often means there is a child running with a bucket of water from the neighbor’s and the bathroom facilities are sparse to say the least.
Life on the tracks is missing many things that we would consider normal and even needed, but the most important thing missing is hope. Children born on the tracks are like children everywhere; they run, laugh, play and live life without knowing there is any other way to live. As they become teenagers, they begin to realize that the life they were born into is filled with much hardship, violence and struggle, when you are born on the tracks you are probably going to die on the tracks. This is not to say there aren’t similar situations here in America, but there is a difference; in America we have free available public education where buses can bring us to safe clean classrooms feed us lunch and bring us back to our homes, join the military, there are grants and foundations to assist those in need, there are ways to escape, ladders to climb up out of the basement. On the tracks there are very few ladders.
The guilt trip I laid on you earlier was meant to poke you a little, make you uncomfortable…my service trip to Guatemala made me uncomfortable, made me examine my priorities in life, made me feel a little guilty over how much I had. But that’s not where it stopped, because I realized that I could make an impact…I may not be able to fix the problem but I could help.
The Hope School is an escape ladder, a safe place with teachers that give their time sacrificially, where kids can get an education and maybe climb out of the hole they were born into through no fault of their own. Hope is the perfect name for this place because that is exactly its mission, to give people hope.