viernes, 15 de marzo de 2013

Reflections from John, a Dedicated Volunteer

The Story of the Sabino and Claudia Garcia Family

Open Windows is a huge success by any standard. Behind that success there are many small victories and individual stories of success.

One such story is about the three children you see in this photograph.

Their names are Alejandra (8), Rosa (12) and Gladis (10). They are smiling, like all the children at Open Windows. Yet, behind those smiles are lives with many hardships.

These are the three oldest children of Sabino and Claudia. In addition to these three, there are two younger children, Anna (1) and Melvin (3). Here all the children can be seen with their mother. They live on land belonging to a large coffee finca on the outskirts of San Miguel, Dueñas.

They have a private room which is where the family sleeps. This photo is taken in front of that room.  It is a large room with little or no furniture. The family sleeps on mats on the ground or on thin mattresses on frames that are low to the ground. They are fortunate to have an enclosed room with a roof as protection from the weather. Many families who work on the finca do not.
The rest of their living space is communal.

Here you can see the communal “kitchen” where each of the families cooks. Each family has a space in this trough where they build a cooking fire to cook whatever food they can afford. Some of the inhabitants sleep here when the weather is particularly cold or wet. These fires consume a lot of wood.

The family’s room is one of several around a central court yard. At any one time, there may be up to 300 people living in this space. Those without rooms sleep on the ground in the central courtyard under a plastic “lean-to”. The children play there and the adults gather when they have free time or to do tasks such as sorting out the bags they use to pick coffee.

The families cannot afford to buy leña (fire wood). So, one of the tasks relegated to children is to gather the massive amounts of wood that these fires consume each day. Alejandro, Rosa and Gladis are
old enough to do this work. As you can see in this photo of Rosa and Gladis, the children carry the leña on their backs from wherever they manage to scavenge it to their homes.

Sabino, like many of the men, works year round on the finca. Claudia, in addition to the full
time responsibility of caring for their five children, works on the finca when work is available. During coffee season, she picks coffee. During the rainy season, she works fertilizing the fields of coffee. They work hard and still do not make enough to feed and care for their family. The children must also contribute to the family’s income. Alejandro, Rosa and Gladis have to work in the fields alongside their parents. Often either Rosa or Gladis is left at home to care for the younger children as another one of their duties.

With so much work that needs to be done, sending their children to school is not an option. And this is where Ventanas Abiertas (Open Windows) enters the story. What is now Open Windows started out with as a dream. Teresa Quiñónez, the director of Open Windows, wanted to help the families of her hometown. She had and continues to have a heart for all the children of Dueñas. She quickly learned that the best way to make a permanent difference in the lives of these families is educate the children. She will do whatever she has to do to get children to the library. Open Windows is, however, much more than a library – it is a learning center.

In the case of this family, she has stepped in to offer help in feeding and clothing the family as resources allow. She provides assistance on a monthly basis, but her assistance comes with a price. Claudia has to promise to send her children to the learning center on a regular basis. Teresa and Claudia agreed that the children would come to the library in the morning and they would assist their families in the afternoons. A bribe? – perhaps. Bribery or not, everyone wins.

Like many of the children who first come to Open Windows, the children arrived dirty and in tattered clothing. Teresa teaches the families, as well as the children, about basic hygiene and the need to arrive at the library clean, body and clothes. Many of the children are also malnourished. Gladis, Rosa and Alejandro are all undersized for their ages, evidence of their malnutrition. At Open Windows, they are given a nutritious snack each day. It may not undo what damage has been done, but it is a help. Many of the children have never seen a doctor or dentist. Volunteers at the library perform checkups and provide some medical and dental care.

In addition, the children are learning how to read and write as well as do basic math.  This is a big accomplishment in a family where no one else has had any formal education - neither of their parents, for example, can read or write.  They also have classes in the computer lab with Professor Héctor.

These children first came to Open Windows as shy children, afraid and withdrawn. Today they are happily adjusted, loving children eager to learn. All three seek out the teachers and volunteers to give and receive hugs. There are many stories of hardship and heartbreak among most of the children at the library. Seeing them at work and play at Open Windows, you would never guess that the lives of these children were anything but happy and carefree. So it is that Teresa’s dream continues to live on.


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