The right to be counted

Janet Weber | Guatemala

The town of El Tejar, Chimaltenango, sits amongst rolling green hills only 40 km west of Guatemala City, the country’s teeming concrete capitol, but it may as well be 4,000: Dirt roads lead past corrugated tin constructs; stray dogs and chickens appear around corners; men and women in colourful clothing dot bean and grain fields.

The town’s population was about 12,500 in a 2002 census, but doesn’t account for children who aren’t registered with the state. Over the last year, OM ministry leader Ruth Schmutz has helped five children from one family obtain official papers.

Josefa, a widow and mother of six, is a friend of OM. She and her children take part in OM’s Project Rescue, which provides opportunities for families in El Tejar who suffer from poverty, malnutrition, domestic violence and lack of education. When Ruth discovered that only the eldest of Josefa’s six children had official papers, she stepped in.

“The main problem,” says Ruth, “is that if one child were [kidnapped] or lost, it would be impossible to identify the child let alone get him or her back. The place they’re living in is very dangerous; some men want to rape the women.”

Of the five children, Ruth says that 12-year-old Flor was most at risk, due to her age and because some men had had their eye on her. “We have made Flor aware of the dangers, to prevent her from being raped or trafficked,” says Ruth. OM workers ensure that Flor returns safely home before dark on afternoons spent at the Project Rescue house in town.

A right to education

In addition to the ever-present risk of being trafficked, Josefa’s five unregistered children were not accepted by the school without papers. Backed by OM, Ruth found a local ministry specialising in legal matters; with their help, all five of Josefa’s children were officially registered within one month. Ruth approached the school director on behalf of Josefa and the children, and the school agreed to take them; however, Flor’s teacher would not accept her into the class.

“The teacher was aware of thA volunteer working with OM Guatemala enjoys playing with the children of Project Rescue, a ministry focused on families and children living in great poverty.e family’s situation, that they are poor,” says Ruth. “The teacher took advantage of the fact that Josefa was illiterate—not knowing her rights—and gave excuses for why Flor could not attend school. I told the teacher, ‘We know the rules; Flor has a right to go to school.’”

Now, all of Josefa’s children are in school, and all but the youngest attend the afternoon programmes at the OM Project Rescue house on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Here, along with 25 other children from similar family situations, they receive help with homework and a nutritious meal, which is more than they would get at home. They learn about God through Bible studies and songs, and they learn about hygiene.

“At Project Rescue, the children find security,” she says. “Through their actions, we try to identify what is affecting them.”

One teenager, Jonathan, the eldest of five, was rebellious. “The children were affected because their father beat their mother,” says Ruth. “Jonathan first thought it was his mother’s fault that the father had left but has realised that it wasn’t so, and his behaviour has changed.”

The OM team works with the children and their parents. If, for example, a child comes one afternoon to the house with significant bruising, the OM workers will make the parents explain the bruises.

It takes a village

Hilda believed that, because she had not finished primary school, all she could do to support her family was to clean houses or make tortillas—until OM introduced her to jewellery making as a means of income. At first, Hilda didn’t believe she could sell the earrings and bracelets she made, but OM showcased her creations in churches they visited, and people bought her jewellery.

“The jewellery project was a revelation for Hilda,” says Ruth, “that she could do more than clean and make food. When [she and the other women] discovered that they could do more, they were excited.”
OM Guatemala teaches women participating in Project Rescue a new craft, in order to give them possibilities to earn money.

“I felt really joyful when I received the money, and that I had sold something,” remembers Hilda. “I had never heard about a project like this before, and now I can learn.” Last year, Hilda even completed her primary education. “God has done big things in my life. I was not really persevering before, but [OM workers] came and they pray for me. They tell me about God. Everything that they are doing for us, I feel happy with that.”

The project and the people of El Tejar have become dear to Ruth. She and fellow OM workers have witnessed physical and spiritual transformation in the lives of the children and parents they see every week…and it’s changed them as well.

“As God says in His Word, ‘It’s better to give than to receive,’” says Ruth. “I’ve learnt to stop buying things, just because I want those things, so that I can give to them what they don’t have. I don’t see them as mere people, but as special individuals. I love them with all my heart, and I don’t like that others discriminate against them. It has been beautiful to see how God has supported this programme. It’s a project that was birthed in God’s heart.”

For more information about the work of OM in Guatemala, or to find opportunities to serve, visit www.OM.org. To support Project Rescue financially, contact your local OM office.

Published: Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Credit: Janet Weber
© 2016 OM International This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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