I love this time of the year in Guatemala. The rainy season has just ended and the flowers are bursting into bloom. The air is crisp,handmade kites of colorful tissue paper soar into the bright blue sky and carpets of pine needles fill the entranceways of the houses, wafting the fragrance that signals the holidays are coming!
I guess most of us let our minds drift to times with loved ones and of Holidays past during this season. In the December newsletters I try to include some notes from my journals and this year I turned like Ebenezer Scrooge to entries on
But Wait …first off I really want to thank you for your support as this project would have never lasted 24 years without it! You have done good work and helped children who hadn’t a chance in hell get educated.You have given them incredible opportunities to realize their potentials. Please appreciate your part in this and when you feel a little down, remember that you have helped change a life.
Many thanks also to those who gave on Giving Tuesday! You won’t be receiving an online funding announcement again till the end of next April when East Bay Local Giving Day kicks in as it does every year, a relief to both of us! Meanwhile if you haven’t yet recommitted to giving your scholarship gift for 2016 you can do so here Okay I can help
(If you are unable to sponsor again then just let us know so that we can find your child another sponsor).
All right, back to …Christmas’ Past
The first Christmas season I remember in the dump was before I started Fotokids and the Sisters who introduced me to the community took me into a hut that was a plastic tented dwelling composed of salvaged boards of tin and plastic nestled amongst the piles of garbage. The family living there had made the traditional Christmas tamales to share.
Tamales take a lot of work. It is an all day job: soaking the banana leaf wrappers, mixing the ground corn, cooking up the small pieces of chicken to put in the filling and then steaming them. I was worried. They were so kind to offer us a tamale. They were precious, but I had seen the food gathered from the dump during those years; the eggs laid by chickens pecking at industrial castoff, blood products and nuclear hospital waste. Food scraps scavenged from the back of garbage trucks. I ate it anyway.
Those times were so hard. They lived in shacks scraped together like we used to throw together as kids playing on housing construction sites. Weathered boards and black plastic garbage bags patched holes in the walls and roof where wind and rain entered, turning the dirt floors into a muddy mess. A black ribbon of sewage ran between the huts.
For the kids first Christmas party at my house I had I planned on a lunch, (an imported turkey), and decorating the tree together. Oh, and presents too of course.
The kids arrived from the dump by public bus en mass at 8:30 in the morning. I was a more than a little surprised and unprepared to see them that early. I had told them we’d start at 11 am. They said they wanted to be sure they were there on time…and what time was it anyhow?
They were fascinated with my house and asked if they could look around. Sure, I said and watched as they opened doors and took out their little cameras to photograph my closets from top to bottom. They were like a small herd of home insurance adjusters documenting everything. Adelso a boy of ten asked if I would mind if he photographed the fridge door open. I thought of all the time I stand in front of it with the door open just staring in. Having a photo, I could paste it on the front…what a boon!
Time to organize the tree trimming. First, we strung on the multi colored lights I had bought in the market. That took 3 minutes. Then they set up an assembly line to stick clusters of ornaments on the tree. Finished in …5 minutes …tops! We plugged the lights in and I didn’t realize when I bought them that they each played a different Christmas tune. So Rudolph the red nosed reindeer blared alongside, Silent Night and Jingle Bells. A true cacophony of the soul.
Note: I was smarter the next year instead of cooking a turkey (I had put it in the oven, shut the door and the door fell off) I ordered tamales.
I had wondered if the reasons the little girls didn’t play with dolls were because they were sadly mature beyond their years or maybe they had their little brothers and sisters as doll substitutes.
Mirian though, who was 7 years old, loved Barbies and gathered their bodies and heads from the dump. She had a bucket for each and patched together little Barbie Frankensteins.
Barbies on the blanket by Mirian/Fotokids 1991
One year I bought a largish baby doll for a raffle just to test the waters. I overheard a nine year old, who had asked to use the phone to call her mother say, “Mama, I won a DOLL!” and in a happy voice of wonder.
Chris and Lucinda come down from NY to spend Christmas and helped wrap 50 gifts, mostly donated clothes, but I bought everyone a cheap watch and they had some shiny school supplies too.
They bought 30 smoked chickens for each of the family’s Christmas Eve dinners. Unfortunately the buses were on strike so they rented a car and had to individually deliver each chicken.
These chickens became a Fotokids tradition. Last year, 19 years later, Chris and Lucinda were still paying for the smoked chickens, now benefiting 125 families. Popular because cured they can be kept for the occasion without refrigeration, and the smoky chicken cooked in with rice and vegetables not only stretches the dish but gives everything a richer flavor.
We used to give the chickens to the kids directly to take home until11-year-old Jessica, seduced by the pungent aroma on her hour long bus ride home, began by picking at it and eventually devoured the entire chicken. Her mother never knew we had even given out the chickens… well not until much later.
One year Gladiz and Evelyn gave up their Christmas presents and asked for donations to help other children. We scheduled a visit to the children’s hospital in the City and Linda, Vivi, Rosario and Marta spent days decorating hundreds of holiday cookies for the event, with dazzling blue and yellow icing.
Of course not all of the memories are rosy.
On Dec 23rd 2001, I dropped by the school early morning during the vacation break to drop off some photo chemicals. I found the metal front door had been forced open. I ran upstairs and discovered all of our computers had been stolen. The computers were the result of 10 years of donations. I was sickened.
I was with MT our cab driver who told me to drink a glass of water. This is a time honored Guatemalan remedy for un buen susto, a good scare.
I called the police and luckily we were able to contract a welder (who was still working on the 23rd) to fix and reinforce the door. It was obvious the burglars had planned to return as they had taken all the plates out of the china cabinet to make easier to move. The police investigation team came and dusted for prints. We later learned they had no fingerprint database.
Originally I had a hard time finding my police report of the robbery as it was filed under ‘Girr’. When I walked the finished papers over to the judicial system, the man in charge looked them over and asked, “Do you know who did it?’ “No,” I said. “Well then,” he answered, “we can’t help you.”
These days, Fotokids celebrates the season with a holiday party and we serve paches (made in banana leaves like tamales but made with potatoes-an Irish twist. I prefer those that have a hot chili pepper hidden inside) and ponche or hot punch made of stewed fresh pineapple, papaya, apples, prunes, and cinnamon.
And now for the latest news!
Rosa and Marta, as you will remember, were two of the original Fotokids from our humble beginnings in 1991.They currently teach for us where they now live in Tierra Nueva and we consider them national treasures. Rosa has decided to stop teaching to spend more time with her family and Marta has decided to go back to school to pick up a technical degree in psychology. The children and mothers of Tierra Nueva are so sad to see them go on so many levels. Not only do they mentor the kids and live their traumas, they are a mainstay of support for the mothers who have no one else to talk with. I’m sad too! Even sadder! We have been together almost 25 years. But I realize that life marches on and that they have made new exciting lives for themselves. They are such compassionate, giving young people. As you all have supported them for years, you should be aware of just how lovely they grew up to be.
We are looking for an art teacher/designer to take over the teaching positions in Tierra Nueva. Since it has become too violent for the kids to wander around with cameras we will concentrate more on painting, drawing, ceramics and writing along with studio photography and Photoshop.
Evelyn was selected as one of eighty-eight young leaders throughout all of Central America to participate in CentroAmerica Adelante,leadership for social change, a fellowship program funded by Seattle International Foundation and the Institute of International Education. The year long international program focuses on advocacy, networking, fundraising, strategic leadership, and strategic planning.
My transition within the project is moving along slowly. I spent some time with our Fotokids Board doing fundraising and reaching out to include more young people involved in technical innovation as advisors.
I have been studying how to escape the founders syndrome and will be stepping back even more next year. Looks like my special projects will be fundraising, social media and helping support the mothers in Tierra Nueva.
Next year as you know is our 25th Anniversary and we are planning a couple of exhibits and a coffee table book – best of Fotokids (commemorative edition!). Although July is the actual anniversary month we are going to stretch it out all year long.
We have scheduled an exhibit at the Spanish Hispanic Center (Cooperación Española, an entity of the government of Spain) in a beautifully restored art-deco building in the historic center of Guatemala City.
We meet the end of this week to design the curriculum for 2016 in each of our programs; Save Girls and Save Boys, the revised classes in Tierra Nueva, environmental education and photo/design classes in Santiago Atitlán and Honduras, and our classes with children of farmworkers in California’s Central Valley.
More on this and plans for 2016 in the Spring 2016 Newsletter.
How You Can Help (Tax deductible)
Out of every dollar that you donate to Fotokids, 97¢ goes directly to our programs and services. Our annual expenses for 270 kids in 2015 were $168,000. That is very little. A bigger budget we could do a lot more.
Help us organize a US or UK fundraising event for our 25thAnniversary Exhibition
Put us in your Will (obviously I’m not listing these suggestions in order of importance)
Sign up for Amazon Smile and list Fotokids as the benefactor
Save those holiday cards you get this season and send them to us at
1333 Jones #1001
San Francisco, CA 94109
Go to our Donation page on this web site or Fotokids FB page, or Make checks out to: FOTOKIDS,USE THIS ADDRESS AS WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE MIAMI P.O. BOX (and Guatemalan customs)
Scholarship info: The Educational Scholarship for young people in Guatemala and Honduras supports a child’s schooling for a year. Donations can be made monthly recurring or all at once annually.