Sunday, August 17, 2014

When 2 worlds collide

Today is the last day of the brigade and let me just say that it has been a great experience once again. It has been really neat to be able to see all of the hard work that has been done behind the scenes.

I would like to share a story of what happened on Friday and how special it is to witness two worlds collide. 
2 of the teens from the home where I will be moving to as well as 2 children came to see the doctor on Friday. It was so nice to be able to see and hug my sweet friend Lilly, the director. She brought one of the teens with her who is pregnant and is only 15 years old. A weeks ago she found out that she is having a baby boy and the home threw her a baby shower. 

(Left to right) Cynthia, Meagan and Emma
A few months ago a young girl from Champagne, Illinois was gathering baby clothes and diapers to bring to the brigade not even knowing for sure if she was coming. Emma, is probably getting close to being a teenager herself. 

On Friday Cynthia, Emma's mom, told me about what Emma had been doing so when the opportunity came I was able to introduce Emma and the teen. Emma shared how she had clothes for her baby. It was a special moment. I don't know exactly what was going on in their minds as they exchanged a mini conversation, but I could see something special happening. This is something that can change a life. For the teen it could be an opportunity to give back knowing that so much has been given to her. For Emma it's an experience that she would be able to remember of how special it is to give, even to a complete stranger. 

I remember being little staying with my family in Mexico on vacation and seeing how people in the community would bring things from the states to give to others. My aunt grabbed 2 colorful shirts and I kept them until high school. Seeing it at  such a young age how special it was to get something as little as a couple of shirts, has turned into something much more meaningful in my life. 

Not only are people receiving medical attention, they are being shown compassion and who knows what it will produce in them. 
Emma givimg me the donationn
Me and the two teens, Brenny and Lidia
Medical Brigade

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guatemala Day 1

I spent all of Sunday with my family and it was so encouraging to see them all for the last time. My parents, brother and sister took me to the airport. I can't even express how special it was to have them all there. I'm going to miss them so much!

Niece and nephews (left to right)
Jacob, Layla and Luke
(left to right) Cindy, me, dad, mom and Juan

I have been in Guatemala for 24 hours and let me just say that it has been great so far. The experience at the ticket counter in LAX was a little challenging. When the clerk saw my one way ticket he asked where was my return ticket. I told him that I would be leaving the country of Guatemala and buying my ticket once I was there. Well he said he could not check me in until I had proof that I would not stay in Guatemala since I was not a Guatemalan. I was forced to buy a one-way ticket to El Salvador and let me just say that it cost me as much as the one-way ticket to Guatemala from Los Angeles. I was trying not to stress so much especially since I was able to get the ticket for it to be refundable.

I hugged my family really tight, said goodbye and walked up the stairs for the inspection area. Man, that was tougher than I thought.

I was a little nervous once I got in the plane and kept thinking of one of the scriptures that I read a few weeks prior that talks about how we were predestined in according to His will for His glory (Ephesians 1:11-12). All of the sacrifices that I had made and will continue to do is all for His glory.

Estuardo <3
As soon as I arrived to Guatemala and walked out of the airport I saw two friends holding signs then I saw my boyfriend dressed very nice with flowers in his hands and a huge card that read, "Mi Amor" which means "My love" I felt so much excitement and joy to see him.
Me and Karla

Stiven and Jessie

Our second selfie as a couple
Later that evening I met up with him and we had 2 hours to ourselves of catching up. It was really pleasant. Afterwards we walked about half a block and there were some friends from church waiting for us at a restaurant. That evening there were about 20 people who showed up to share a meal with us. Though I felt exhausted from the trip, it was a great time that was spent.

This week the medical brigade starts and I'm really excited to start serving. then, next week I get to take all of my bags to my permanent home; Esperanza y Futuro. I can't wait!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Apple Tree Early Intervention Center

Today was my last day at work. I have been dreading this moment for quite sometime because I have been there for most of my adult life, 10 years, 7 months and 3 days to be exact. This past week I have been hugging the kids a little tighter and being present at every moment. There are so many things that I have learned from the parents as well as the children. I have enjoyed every moment...well, not when I was scratched in the face or slapped by an over stimulated child.

Top left was my classroom/office

For those of you who do not know I have been doing speech therapy for children with special needs. I started as an early interventionist in the cognition classroom. I would conduct group therapy for children under age 3. We would work on object permanence for the younger children, object recognition, problem solving and following directions. Soon after I was hired my boss wanted me to do in-home services. This meant I had to go to the homes of children who did not qualify for group therapy. I did this for almost 10 years. I had such a great time meeting new families and able to see how children performed in their natural environment versus a clinic. As I drive around Orange County I get flashbacks of the different children I serviced in the different neighborhoods.

Four years ago I completed my degree to be able to do speech therapy. This has been the most rewarding experience so far working at Apple Tree. I was moved to the speech room and never looked back. I have been given the opportunity to also see children over age 3 thanks to one of the parents who wanted to continue her services with Apple Tree after her son turned 3. Apple tree became a vendor through health insurances (Thank you Carola).

I would like to share a story of a child who has touched my heart and has been the perfect example that early intervention is key. Per parent approval I am able to share about her.

Our last day together
Sofia came to us when she was was about 18 months. There was a possible diagnosis of autism which later it was confirmed. Sofia started with Occupational therapy and I could hear her screaming for all of the session. Within a few weeks we received approval for Sofia to also receive speech therapy. Her screams did not stop after occupational therapy. She would scream and cry for 2 hours. One day I took out the barn and its animals. She became interested in a bobble head dog. Through her tears she would attempt to say "puppy".

Sofia is now 3 and has made incredible progress. Her parents have been such a great support in a all of her therapy needs and would hardly miss any appointments. I know that Sofia will continue to progress especially now that she will be starting preschool in a few days. I am looking forward to seeing her reach her fullest potential.

She will be deeply missed as well as the other children whom I have worked with. They will all have a special place in my heart. I have learned a lot about perseverance, love, compassion and resilience from the children and their families.

It's now time to move on and be ready for the journey before me in Guatemala.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Utah, Tecate and more

In a little over a week I will be in Guatemala. I was able to go to Utah with my sweet friend Priscilla and we visited Zion and Bryce. I had such a great time and I'm supper happy that I was able to share this experience with her. Priscilla has joined the medical brigades in Guatemala for a few times and has stayed at the hogar with me in February. She has also been my carpool buddy to the Tecate trips.

Utah was more than what I have expected. As soon as we got to Zion we went straight to The Narrows. It was breathtaking as well as a tough journey walking against the current and not being able to see where we were walking since the water was brown. There was a moment when I looked at Priscilla and said "This is so cool!" I had a walking stick which made it a little easier to maintain some balance. We had been walking what felt like a few hours and decided to turn back...well, let's just say that it took us a little over 10 minutes to walk back. Keep in mind that walking back meant being pushed along with the stream. It was quite funny after we realized that we didn't go out that far.

Bryce was breathtaking for sure!! it reminded me of a smaller version or the Grand Canyon. We got to one end of the park and hiked a few miles along the rim then Priscilla convinced me to walk down the canyon. It was easy walking down, but the walk up the canyon we had to make many stops so I could catch my breath. I will say that this was the most challenging park of the trip, but it was worth it.

Can you see me on the top picture??
Navajo Loop, Wallstreet

This past weekend a few of us went to tecate with Glenda, Dominic and a few others. We did our normal visit at the village and then took the 45 minute drive to La Rumurosa to visit the elderly hospice. I will say that this was a little emotional for me because this was my last trip in a while. It was such a pleasure to have had the opportunity to serve in Tecate the past 10 years with such giving people. I have learned a lot myself and about God's love for those who have been abandoned and in need. This has truly been a stepping stone to where I am now; about to leave to Guatemala.

The first couple of days I will be staying at a friends house in the city. On Thursday evening we have a meeting for the medical mission and Friday morning we start seeing clients. The following Monday I will going to the Hogar. I can't wait to see the children and give them all super tight hugs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Special Guest: Courtney Fink

From time to time I run into some special people in my life. I would like to introduce to you Courtney Fink. She had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Courtney stayed at the hogar where I will be moving to. This was my interview with her:

1. Tell me a little about yourself

When people in Guatemala found out I was only twenty years old and I had traveled alone to Guatemala, they were amazed.  When they found out I had not only been to Guatemala, but also Italy, France, South Africa, Mexico, and Haiti, they were even more amazed. In these moments, I felt filled with humility and  gratitude. Why me? Why did I, out of all the other people in the world get so blessed with a life full of adventurous travels? I have not just been traveling,  but traveling for FREE.  At this point you want to know my secret of free and plentiful travel life, so let me explain myself.

I was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. My parents have been in leadership in the church in Chicago since 2004. In 2007, I made Jesus Lord of my life and was baptized into Christ at the age of 13. I was able to attend an amazing college prep high school which led me to being able to go to the university of my dreams, Clemson University in South Carolina. It is a big school in a small town, known for engineering and farming. However, I know nothing about engineering and farming. I am a rising junior majoring in history and education and minoring in Spanish.  So Clemson definitely wasn't my dream school for the academic expertise I could gain, although it is a good school in every area. And it definitely wasn't the location that had the allure; I mainly consider myself a city girl. Clemson is as southern and rural as it gets. Amongst the many "y'all's" my thick Chicago accent has never fit in. Clemson University was my dream school because of the small church there. The church was planted in Clemson in 2009 and I wanted to go there and continue to help the church and campus ministry grow.  Another huge pull to Clemson university was something called the EETG- "education enrichment travel grant" that the honors college offered. As a senior in high school, Clemson Honors College presented me with the opportunity to use $3000 each summer to travel anywhere to enhance my educational or life goals. That alone pretty much sold me to the idea of going to Clemson.
2. What expectations did you have before going to Guatemala?

You see, before my junior year of high school, I read the books "Crazy Love" and "Radical".  These books encourage you to live outside the norms for American Christianity and look around the world, seeing the billions of spiritual and physical needs that are going unmet.  It became my conviction that being a disciple of Christ included leaving the comforts of America and helping people throughout the world. In 2012 I had my first out of country experience in an orphanage in Haiti. After that experience, I fell in love with traveling. I knew the rest of my life would be filled with travel and helping others, whatever sacrifices it would take.

So flash forward to this summer, here I am in Guatemala and Nicaragua for seven weeks. Out of all the countries in the world, why spend a month in Guatemala? After traveling around some in the last couple years, I realized I wanted to learn another language so I had the capability to help more nations and more people. My sophomore year of college I added a minor in Spanish and I knew I wanted to travel somewhere where I could put that to use. And by the glory of God and his amazing design of his kingdom, through a long strain of people I was put in contact with your very own Ana Cuevas. She told me about the home "Esperanza y Futuro" and it sounded like the perfect fit for how I wanted to spend my time this summer.  Through the spring semester, I arranged all the details of the trip and on May 11th at 3 AM, I found myself at the Chicago airport ready to leave for my 7 week adventure.
3.  Tell us about your first day at the Hogar

After a few flights, I finally arrived at the airport in Guatemala and quickly found Lilly, the director, and two of the young girls, Raquel and Karla who picked me up.  They greeted me with big hugs and kisses and I felt so welcomed.  I mainly talked English with Lilly on the journey to the orphanage, but I decided to try out my Spanish on the girls.  What came out of my mouth was met by some giggles and shifting eyes.  I realized very quickly that speaking Spanish here was going to be very different than my experiences with Spanish in the classroom.  I knew I had a very thick American accent.  But, nonetheless, I was ready to interact and be with the kids, knowing that love doesn’t need a translator; even if my Spanish was horrid, I could still love the kids by serving in my actions.

When we arrived at the home on the Sunday afternoon, I felt like a spoiled girl on vacation!  The view from the house was breathtaking.  The home is in the mountains of Guatemala and surrounded by three gorgeous volcanoes.  The home itself was gorgeous- it reminded me of vacation homes I had stayed in Italy.   I came downstairs and got to meet all the kids and workers at the home.  This is when things got a little overwhelming.  I could only understand about ten percent of everything that was going on around me and I thought learning all their names would be close to impossible.  However, this was only day 1 of 30 so I knew it could only get better from there.  That evening, after the kids got ready for bed we sat and watched TV together.  With some children sitting on my lap, I was filled with joy.  I knew the month would be hard, but so rewarding because I was already falling in love with these children.  
The next week was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  I ate some grapes my first day there without washing them, and I got very sick the next day.  I subsequently spent the next day in between my bedroom, sleeping, and the bathroom.  That evening when I went downstairs, I fainted.  However, I woke up surrounded by 15 kids and to the taste of Gatorade.  To some this may sound overwhelming, but for me I felt so loved by seeing the concern and care on each one of the faces around me.  Some of the girls helped me back up to my bed and later brought me food.  I felt so cared for; however, it was difficult going through all this not really being able to communicate with them and not being able to talk to anyone back in the States.  Luckily I quickly recovered and was ready to interact with the kids the next day.  The first week was also very difficult because everything was so new.  I didn’t know the kids or what my role should be or how to be useful.  But slowly and surely, day by day, I got to know the teens and the kids and figure out how the home ran.  By my second week there, living in the hogar had become a joy.  Sure I felt lonely at times and missed people in America, but the joy of getting to serve at the hogar outweighed all of that.

4. What has been the most memorable moment and what are you taking from this trip?

What was so cool about the month I spent in Guatemala is that although I was often surrounded by many teens and kids with a lot of energy, never in my life have I had more time to be still in God’s presence.  Times where I helped do the dishes or fold the laundry often turned into times of prayer since I could not always talk to the girls very well.  I valued my time reading the Bible more than ever because it was the only contact I had with English!  It was difficult, but refreshing, not having internet on my phone or computer for the month.  With my lack of Spanish and my lack of internet, God truly became my best friend.  It was so amazing too because God constantly was showing me himself through the interactions I had with the kids. In the Bible he makes it clear that we need the same humility and attitude that children have, and I felt spoiled to get to observe and imitate so many adorable children that I knew God holds so dear!

There was not one day or moment that stood out amongst the rest while I was there; the whole month was filled with small, precious moments.  When I think of the times I will always treasure, I think of the little curls cuddling up to me and falling asleep with their head on my chest.  I think of the girls and I staying up late to do Zumba together.  I think of the time the taught me how to make tamales from scratch, or the times I spun them around and we danced together in the middle of washing all the dishes.  Many nights the kids and I went out and jumped on the trampoline together underneath the beautiful night sky of Guatemala.  Each day was filled with so many moments of love and laughter.  What was so amazing about this to me is that these girls and kids had lives completely filled with hardship.  They had been abandoned or abused or betrayed and yet they were still so capable of loving me and sharing these precious moments with me.  Many of them worked hard day in and day out, washing clothes, cleaning the house, helping in the kitchen- frankly, things that North American adolescents never have to do for themselves.  Yet these girls and kids had so much fun together.  They did not mope around, constantly complain, or act lazy.  The loved each other and cared for one another.  The thirty kids were knit into one big, happy family despite all the broken homes they had come from.  I learned so much about being a hard worker and being grateful from the girls and workers at Esperanza and Futuro.  I also learned how to enjoy the small moments the company of those who are directly around you.  You don’t need television or internet or any outside source to bring you joy and entertainment.  The people right in front of you are the ones who matter and you can make incredible memories by just living life together. 

Thank you Courtney for your love and your service for these kids. I am more than confident that you have left a special mark in their hearts. I hope you will be able to visit the Hogar.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy Birthday


As I sit here waiting for family to come over to celebrate my birthday in this beautiful summer day,  it's hard not to think of the things I am super grateful for. In exactly 5 weeks I will be saying my goodbyes to my family and friends. I have been getting a lot of Facebook birthday wishes, texts and voice messages. I'm feeling the love. 

I have been having a lot of fun getting together with old friends and making plans to visit and do things that I have not done such as going to Utah to visit their national parks and possibly learning how to shoot a gun...I know it's a little weird, but I come from a family of men who would go hunting. Obviously as a girl, I never was able to go. I am super excited to make some new memories. 

I can't wait to be in Guatemala to serve at the medical mission then to see the kids the following week. Eeeekkkkkk

Would you like to give a gift? You are more than welcome to click on the Go Fund Me site and make an offering. The money will be mostly going back to the orphanage to celebrate their birthdays. The children are so amazing and they deserve to be shown how special they are. They history is horrific for they have escaped malnutrition, abuse, neglect and many other things. I want to show them love, compassion and express how much more God lives them. 

Thanks again for your love and support an for your continual prayers...they are needed. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Moving on soon

I'm less than 2 months away from moving and I will say that the excitement is increasing by the day. I have so much on my mind and on my to-do list, but I have just been trying to enjoy every moment.

I would like to share with you a little something that happened today at work. We have been desperately looking for someone to replace me. We are looking for someone who speaks Spanish, has experience and loves kids. We had someone interviewed today and I felt...weird. This is real. I have been working for Apple Tree for over 10 years. This is all I know and I have learned so much from my co-workers and the children here have taught me so much about life and love. Today we had a new child attend our program and he had a difficult time. It was so amazing to see the other parents encourage the mom as she began to get overwhelmed. I'm going to miss being at work and playing with the kids. Today one of the boys verbally said "more". He has been signing it and he finally attempted to say it. I got a little teary eyed. The mom was so excited to hear her son say a word. The kids here are so exceptional as well as the parents. They are fighters and I honestly cannot imagine what they are going through, but their victories are so vibrant.

When the children turn 3 they graduate our program and the school district takes over (this does not apply to our clients whom we see individually through health insurance). It's sad when they leave, but I know that they will continue to blossom in their development.