This past week, Yesenia and I received a pair of visitors from La Cuchilla, the impoverished community that houses one of our feeding programs.
They live in wood-framed homes with tin sheets for walls and rooftops. At least one of their floors is natural earth. One of them wears her favorite shirt, which looked just as nice on Yesenia in its pre-donated life.
Their husbands work long hours for minimal wages. It is barely enough to get by. Their children have been coming to our feeding program for years. They have nothing by any normal standards.
But you never invite yourself to someone’s home without bringing something. So it was that fresh melon, papaya, and bananas wound up in our fruit basket.
That’s how it goes in Guatemala. Generosity and sharing are important.
When the pyroclastic eruption of Volcano Fuego rocked Guatemala, we were blessed to be in a position to help. We pulled up to a shelter with our first load of baby supplies the very next morning.
It was stunning how many people beat us there.
Certainly, the police and army were in charge, but they didn’t bring the thousands upon thousands of bags full of clothes and food with them.
The hundreds of people carrying supplies and cooking and cleaning and making lists of what they should bring next… they weren’t wearing uniforms for the most part.
This was the community spilling out of their homes and businesses to care for thousands of people they didn’t know, because they had something to share.
As we approach the three-month mark, there is still a huge need to share. Even the people lucky enough to return to their homes face desperate food shortages and health concerns.
International organizations showed up for a while. In our visits to shelters, we see the trademarks of CARE, USAID, and UNICEF. World Central Kitchen was a godsend. The local and International Red Cross made their presence felt.
We personally saw donations from Germany, Spain, Israel, Japan, and the Netherlands. It seemed like half of Mexico responded, with search teams on the mountains, and health and psyche services in the shelters.
But local residents and visitors bore the brunt of housing and feeding the displaced. They still do.
There is little evidence of continued assistance from the international community. Cruz Rojo pops up occasionally with a health clinic. There is practically nothing from the government.
Instead, it is regular people, like the former Texan who still runs a shelter with 80 survivors and provides everything that isn’t donated. It’s the young folks from Antigua who prepared and ferried thousands of meals to rescuers and survivors every day.
It is the woman who turned her home into a staging area and begs for more donations as she discovers more and more survivors in need.
It is the grandmother housing 70 people from 12 families in her home since June and the taco truck guy who parked in front of shelters every day giving away lunches until he was broke.
It is every one in Guatemala, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Jersey, Georgia, and beyond- who donated money to us or to other local organizations working directly with survivors.
Small and nimble organizations have been way more effective than the gigantic relief organizations we think of when disasters happen. We bypass the politics and logistics that come with international aid.
We see needs. We fill needs. We put important things into the right hands the next morning, if not later the same day. We never sent things to government centers or staging areas.
Local volunteers and organizations get close to the affected people when we deliver our goods. Whether it is a 1-cent hair tie or a big microwave oven and coffee station, we looked them in the eye and showed they weren’t forgotten.
But we are falling short. There isn’t a single volunteer or organization that isn’t running out of money, us included. We’ll continue to visit and pray and talk and smile with the survivors. But we could do much more with just a little help.
After three months, we are reduced to providing the most basic foods, like milk, eggs, vegetables, and meat. The mountains of baby formulas, flour, and beans are dwindling down, too.
We can’t stop helping these folks just yet. We still work alongside locals who continue to share homes, rides, tools, and their meager means with Fuego survivors. It is getting tougher every day. We can only do so much without outside help.
Every little bit helps. You would be amazed how far we can stretch your dollars in Guatemala. We promise that every penny donated for Volcano Fuego survivors will end up in their hands. Our operating expenses are covered under a separate fund to make sure of that.
100% to the survivors… bigger charities can’t say that.
We would like to thank everybody who already donated money to the Volcano Fuego survivors, including those who have come back a second or third time. It is a blessing to have supporters like you.